Review: 2010 Kia Forte EX

Jehovah Johnson
by Jehovah Johnson

First impressions last. Except when they don’t. A few years back, I didn’t think the new-generation Accord was all that special. The enlarged Honda mid-sizer did the monkey-making thing; ascending the sales charts to become America’s top-selling mid-size family sedan. My first impression of Kia’s all-new Forte: it’s a hit. The Kia Forte’s a cheap (as in inexpensive), safe, somewhat stylish, fuel-efficient sedan that transports up to four adults in perfect comfort, without driving like a penalty box. In fact, this car is good enough that it could be a turnaround product for Kia, which has struggled to establish its place on the American automotive scene. But will it? What am I, psychic?

Design may not be the Forte’s forte, but it’s got the whole non-objectionability thing nailed nailed. Kia’s California design studio crafted a car where cleanliness cozies-up to divinity. The Forte’s tall greenhouse provides plenty of glass; a welcome change from the current trend for rising beltlines (and plunging sight lines). The Forte’s front fenders have flair, albeit with a clear Mazda influence. But the Kia’s overall shape could have been penned by a European Ford stylist; it reminds me strongly of the Ford Mondeo and VW Jetta.

The Forte’s cabin is as simple and inviting as the Fairmont hotel’s restrooms. My tester came in a mix of grey hues. As is the way of such things, none of the materials or shapes looked cheap or flimsy, although the price point demands the former and time will tell on the latter. Still, someone’s sweated the details. The Forte’s steering wheel offers an attractive symmetry, the right grippable thickness, and a soft, leather-like polymer covering that’s easy on the palms. There’s ample leg room for all four passengers, and a large trunk.

The Forte tries to be the Hannah Montana of ergonomics; combining knobs and buttons to get the best of both worlds. In this it succeeds, in both the good (popular) and bad (as satisfying as bubble gum) sense. The learning curve is as steep as a bunny slope; major gauges are large and easy to read at both day and night. Taste-wise, well, an airplane model plastic silver bezel surrounds the center stack of the instrument panel. Make of that what you will.

On the road, the Kia Forte moves with more enthusiasm than you’d expect from a 156-horse, 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine. While the Forte’s target market probably doesn’t even own a stopwatch, I estimate the quad cog autobox-equipped sedan’s zero to sixty mph times live somewhere in the mid-eight second range. (A five-speed manual is available. The SX has an optional five-speed automatic). Bottom line: the Forte EX’s powertrain is more than sufficiently spirited for suburban driving and quite capable of drama-free passing maneuvers on two-lane highways.

Thanks to a well-sorted suspension and modestly aggressive 16-inch rubber, the Kia’s handling is poised and . . . poised. More importantly, the four-wheel disc brakes come complete with electronic brake-force distribution. Nanny rides shotgun. Alas, you can’t switch of the electronic stability control system in the Forte EX. Did I say alas? [A lass joke deleted.] Yes, I did. When flung through a series of very tight esses (flung I tell you!), my test Forte remained flat and composed. That said, even before turning a wheel, Jack Baruth would tell you that front-wheel-drive understeer is the name of this game.

Unfortunately, the Forte EX’s engine goes all Suicidal Tendency (i.e., thrashy) at anything above 4000 rpm. It’s not enough to be irritating, unless you’re irritated by such things. As Kia Forte buyers are more likely to dine on budae jjigae as push the four banger to its upper reaches of its rev range, it’s no biggie. Still, it’s too bad that Kia doesn’t fit the five-speed automatic on the EX; it would make a huge difference in the NVH department.

The Forte’s suspension tuning needs some, perhaps any, refinement. On frost heaves and worn concrete pavement joints, the Forte feels loose, hard riding and crashy, even at moderate speeds. Again, it’s not quite enough to enervate budget shoppers, but urban drivers might be happier in something, anything, a little more plush riding.

Value, though. Value. The Forte features a lengthy list of standard equipment, including Bluetooth, the aforementioned electronic stability and brake-force distribution, anti-lock brakes and a tire monitoring system. With a $19,000-and-change bottom line on my Forte EX, the Monroney could be the best looking thing about the whole car.

The Forte is a three-base hit for Kia. With more powertrain and suspension tuning refinement, the Forte could go yard against some of the toughest rivals in the automotive league. Provided my imprimatur is not the kiss of death, the Forte will go a long way to bolstering the budge brand.

Jehovah Johnson
Jehovah Johnson

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  • Forte SX Owner Forte SX Owner on Jun 05, 2010

    I bought my Forte SX almost a year ago and still love it. Someone on this forum mentioned that they would prefer a used BMW 3-series. That's comparing apples to oranges. Let's stick with just apples... the Forte SX (manual 6-speed) is fun, peppy, sporty and has A TON of features. I love to drive and have thoroughly enjoyed this car. If you choose manual, the clutch IS difficult. Once you get used to it, it's not so bad, but after almost a year, I still stall it occasionally. A minor inconvenience for everything else I get with the car. Also, suspension is a bit rough - you definitely feel the bumps in the road - but, I'm a roller coaster kind of person, so actually kind of like that :) Fuel economy is good, handling is good, features are great and price tag is perfect. I am a car lover - but also a realist. Would I love a 3-series? Yup. But, let's talk about what I can afford... And to compare apples to apples, this car has more than any others in the same price range, so why not?

  • Mlewis73 Mlewis73 on Nov 06, 2010

    What you guys are largely overlooking is Kia's SUPERIOR warranty. Let's see... I can have a PAID FOR Kia with 5/60 bumper-bumper warranty and 10/100 powertrain warranty OR that used BMW (insert number here)-series with no warranty. Don't even get me started on Ford, GM, Toyota, and Honda warranties that are SUBSTANDARD. 3/36? Give me a break. Payments last five years. Basic warranty should last at least that long. I've test drive the Forte EX and SX, and will probably end up with an EX in my garage tomorrow night. Going to a Sonata or Optima isn't even an option, as they do not offer the bang for the buck. The Sonata came close... but this year's new redesign is more expensive that I recall last year's models cost. Not worried about depreciation... I keep cars 9 years. As far as domestics go... My 2001 Impala needed a very expensive ($1200) intake manifold replacement at 100,000 miles. First transmission replaced at 37,000 miles. Catalytic converter, left/front hub, and tie rod ends at 41,000 miles. 3 intermediate steering shafts. Transmission problems again at 105,000 miles that went away after a few days. Coolant issues and coolant sensor issues beginning at 45,000 miles. Left/front hub assembly going bad again at 112,500 miles. The best day of my life when she hit 113,500 miles and I sold her. Won't buy another GM, ever, and won't consider Ford until they man up and provide better warranty coverage from the factory. Good on Hyundai and Kia. I'm looking forward to that new dark cherry Forte EX, with leather and some other options, being in my garage tomorrow night. About $16,500 including current incentives. As much luxury as the $25,000 Impala the car replaces, although it will take some time to learn to live without that 3.8L Buick V-6.

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.
  • Susan O’Neil There is a good reason to keep the Chevrolet Malibu and other 4 door family sedans! You can transport your parents and other somewhat handicapped people comfortably and safety! If someone can stand and pivot you can put them in your car. An armrest in the back seat is appreciated and a handle above the door! Oh…and leather seats so your passenger can slide across the seat! 😊Plus, you can place a full sized wheelchair or walker in the trunk! The car sits a little lower…so it’s doable! I currently have a Ford Fusion and we have a Honda Accord. Our previous cars were Mercury Sables-excellent for transporting handicapped people and equipment! As the population ages-sedans are a very practical choice! POV from a retired handicapped advocate and daughter! 😊
  • Freddie Remember those ads that say "Call your doctor if you still have...after four hours"?You don't need to call your doctor, just get behind the wheel of a CUV. In fact, just look at one.I'm a car guy with finite resources; I can't afford a practical car during the week plus a fun car on the weekend. My solution is my Honda Civic Si 4 door sedan. Maybe yours is a Dodge Charger (a lot of new Chargers are still on dealer lots).
  • Daniel J Interesting in that we have several weeks where the temperature stays below 45 but all weather tires can't be found in a shop anywhere. I guess all seasons are "good enough".
  • Steve Biro For all the talk about sedans vs CUVs and SUVs, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any modern vehicle. And I know it’s only going to get worse.