The Kia Forte looks more handsome and finely detailed for 2017, as well as even better-equipped for the money, although its tight packaging and lackluster safety scores will likely remain concerns.
The 2017 Kia Forte includes a family of compact cars, with a pair of different body styles and some revised powertrains. An extroverted design, a nimble driving personality, and a value-centric feature set are common points among them, and what helps this nameplate stand out in a tightly competitive segment of the market.
This year, the entry-level LX and top-of-the-line EX trim levels are joined by an intermediate S model as well. The slow-selling Forte Koup two-door has been dropped.
Kia appears to be looking for a little more synergy between the Forte and its successful Optima mid-size sedan and Sorento and Sportage crossovers—bringing a new direct-injection engine to some of the lineup, a sportier Forte S version, and a new package of active safety features to the lineup. While it offers good value for money, it lacks strong standout features (beyond interior storage and display interface), and that lack keeps the stylish Forte from greatness.
We give the 2017 Forte a rating of 6.5 out of 10; it rates well for its roomy interior and high fuel economy, but loses some ground on comfort and performance against rivals that are newer from the ground up. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
As Kia’s compact-car family, the Forte is offered in sedan and Forte5 (five-door hatchback) forms. It's the sedan design that gives the Forte an advantage, as it's hard to get right in this size of vehicle. With its last redesign, the Forte gained a little bit of width and length, but not height; and that works especially well in the handsome, elongated roofline and profile of the sedan. For 2017, the Forte gets a new front bumper, as well as a “tiger nose” grille that sits visually a bit lower and blends right into the headlamps, as in the larger Optima sedan. Taillights have also been redesigned and have optional LEDs
The Forte’s interior feels simpler and more straightforward than those of Kia’s larger vehicles; it’s a sporty look, with a clean layout, effective infotainment systems, displays that have a hooded array of analog gauges and just a hint of sport-sedan style.
For 2017, the 1.8-liter inline-4 is now gone from the lineup. The Forte still offers two different engines; they’re both 2.0-liter inline-4s, but that’s where the similarities end. Forte LX and S models get a 2.0-liter iron-block 4-cylinder, while EX models come with a 2.0-liter four that has an aluminum block and direct injection. The Forte gets a 6-speed automatic transmission for most of the lineup, although a 6-speed manual transmission is standard on the base LX (with the automatic optional). Fuel economy ratings are slightly better this year, but only average for the segment.
In recent drives, the front-wheel-drive Forte's drivetrain manages to remind us of some of the better 1990s-era compact cars, with its 4-cylinder engine quite rev-happy and mostly vibration-free, yet quite noisy at times. It also handles reasonably well, though it's hardly a match for sporty rivals like the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus. The suspension tunes out some pavement coarseness, but irregularities still ring into the cabin, and there’s more of a din at highway speeds than is now typical for this class.
The Forte remains a compact sedan with rather long, low roofline, and that brings some compromises to back-seat space especially. Entry and exit are definitely a little more difficult in back than it is for models with more formal rooflines, like the Jetta, but legroom is decent. One sore point in past drives—especially to our taller testers—has been the front seats that are rather skimpy on bolstering.
Although the Forte might not be quite there in ride refinement, it’s come a long way compared to the Forte models of just a few years ago in cabin trims, materials, and details. You’ll find higher-grade plastics; climate control knobs are large and feel sturdy; and in upper trims the center-console storage is covered. For 2017, the Forte gets upgraded upholsteries, special black cloth seats with contrast stitching in the Forte S.
Value for money
The 2017 Kia Forte packs in some new active-safety features, including autonomous emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, front collision warning, lane change assist, and dynamic bending lights. The Forte has been below par in safety compared to other models in its class. Last year Kia improved the Forte's frontal impact score to four stars, and its IIHS small overlap rating up to “Marginal,” yet it remains one we wouldn’t recommend to the safety-focused.
Otherwise, the Forte remains a small sedan with an extremely robust feature set and a high feature content for the money. Even base Forte LX models have included keyless entry, air conditioning, power windows and locks, a rearview camera, steering-wheel audio controls and Bluetooth audio. The 2017 Forte EX gets newly standard heated (in front) leather seats, dual-zone climate control, rear vents, and keyless ignition.
The 2017 Kia Forte S and EX models come with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, as part of a new UVO3 system that has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, to access your smartphone functions through the vehicle’s interface and allow easier text-messaging and streaming-music functions.