2019 Kia Forte Sedan: Vastly Improved But Unlikely to Best the Hatchback

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
2019 kia forte sedan vastly improved but unlikely to best the hatchback

Today at the North American International Auto Show, Kia Motors bestowed the all-new 2019 Forte upon the world. Granted, it’ll mainly be in the hands those entering the workforce for the first time, but those budget-minded youngsters will be please to learn that the third-generation Forte boasts improved fuel economy and features.

It’s not all touchscreens and gas savings, however. It doesn’t look like the new model has had to make many sacrifices, but Kia is launching the base Forte with a CVT instead of the six-speed automatic the current generation uses. That has us a little uneasy, though Kia promises it won’t be an abysmal substitute and that the rest of the improvements should help deliver a vehicle that represents a net gain in refinement.

Excuse the phrasing, but it’s nice to see the rear end getting some attention. I recently walked through a rental lot littered with late-model compact sedans from Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, Chevrolet, and Ford. Seeing them all lined up, asses exposed, made me realize just how little energy goes into styling the back half of this particular segment. While it’s not quite as magnificent as Kia’s earlier renderings led me to believe, the restyled rump is a vast improvement over the current model year and will make the car significantly less boring to sit behind in traffic.

The front has also received some love. There are deeper creases in the hood, the headlights taper upward a bit, and Kia added a substantive black valance. We’re not swooning over the latter inclusion, it does give the car a bit more attitude and pairs well enough with the Stinger-inspired changes to the grille and upsized air curtains.

Has this transformed the Forte sedan into the sexiest car in the compact segment? From the back, maybe. But the frontal updates leave me feeling lukewarm overall. The transformation isn’t so dramatic to completely metamorphosize the vehicle. Instead, we’re left with a more interesting Forte with sporting pretensions.

How sporting remains to be seen. The 2019 Forte launches with the second-generation 2.0-liter Nu four-cylinder that’s in the current LX-trimmed models. Updated for fuel efficiency, Kia isn’t convinced it will break away from its current 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. The upside is that it anticipates a 3 mpg improvement (Kia wouldn’t break that down into highway and city miles). Much of that will be the end result of the new transmission — a CVT.

However, Kia assured us it made an effort to ensure this particular chain-belt CVT, which it dubs an “Intelligent Variable Transmission” (IVT), sucks far less than the competition. It claims they’ve eliminated the rubber band-like feel of a variable tranny and replaced it with something that could be confused with a multi-geared setup. We’ve heard this from other automakers in the past and witnessed slight successes and utter failures. That said, a CVT isn’t the end of the world in a economy minded car and the Forte will still come with a six-speed manual option for driving enthusiasts. We’re just hoping Kia is willing to dump in a peppier engine as an optional extra.

The current incarnation of the Forte5 SX has an available turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four with direct fuel injection. But that’s the hatchback, Korean sedans have have historically gotten the short end of the performance stick. This sedan’s future may be no different — at least Kia hasn’t indicated otherwise to us.

For the most part the best goodies are isolated to the interior, which has grown in size along with the rest of the car. Now 3.2 inches longer (182.7 inches in total), 0.07 inches wider, and a smidgen taller, Kia says passengers will more room on the inside. But the real selling-point is that it’s been made more comfy and filled with more things you’d want as standard. The most blatant is the 8-inch color touchscreen, which comes equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. For 2019, the Forte can be had with blind-spot warnings, lane assist, forward collision-avoidance assist, and smart cruise control (which has adjustable following distances).

Kia is also claiming the vehicle is quieter and more robust than its predecessor. In conjunction with its higher-tech safety features, it thinks the added rigidity should improve handling as well as crash-worthiness. The 2018 Forte sedan was already chosen as Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Since the new Forte builds upon that framework (both structurally and electronically), the company is confident in a repeat victory.

It’s probably not quite so “Stinger-like” as Kia had wanted. But the company still managed to delivery a car that looks to be better than the one it’s replacing in almost every single way. Unfortunately, the 2019 Forte5 hatchback will probably make it look like garbage.

[Images: Kia Motors ; © 2018 Bozi Tatarevic/TTAC]

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  • CKNSLS Sierra SLT CKNSLS Sierra SLT on Jan 15, 2018

    So here we are in the auto/truck world starting to see 8 and even 10 speed automatic transmissions (and rumor to be even MORE GEARS coming) and many cross perfectly fine vehicles off their list because of a CVT transmission. So basically-with more gears in auto transmissions-those things are going to be shifting "all the time" hunting for the right gear. I had a 2012 Subaru Legacy with the CVT and it was acceptable. I got rid of the car for other reasons. I don't get it.

    • Stuntmonkey Stuntmonkey on Jan 15, 2018

      Having used a CVT for almost 1/2 a year now, it's my opinion that a lot of the complaints can be resolved with programming and adjusting how the CVT behaves. The modern batch do the job, they respond quickly to throttle input, and they manage rpm's at absurdly low levels compared to what a human could do on a consistent basis.

  • Bd2 Bd2 on Jan 16, 2018

    Actually found the rear of the Elantra to be pretty nice as compact sedans go. Going to differ with MP - find the front fascia more appealing than the rear, but overall, a much need improvement over the rather bland outgoing Forte, and esp. the dashboard design. Nonetheless, don't get all the "Stinger-like cues" remarks from the press as doesn't really look anything like the Stinger (only thing may be that they increased the hoodline so that the Forte has more of a RWD proportions). Wouldn't be surprised if Kia did their version of the Elantra Sport in a "GT" version (so would have the 1.6T and DCT combo with an IRS). But on lower trims, remains to be seen about the CVT, but using a chain-type belt and having programming that mimics an AT, may not be bad as CVTs go.

  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!
  • Sgeffe As was stated in another comment, the FAA nominee went down in flames. But the NTSB chairwoman certainly didn’t, and she’s certainly not qualified either!Lots of this kind of stuff going on both sides of the aisle—Ben Carson would have arguably made a better Surgeon General than HUD Secretary under Trump, for example.
  • Art Vandelay Interesting, the Polestar 2 I had as a rental utilized Android Automotive which is what GM said it is going to exclusively, yet it still offers Apple CarPlay according to this. Wonder if GM will do the same.
  • Stuart de Baker EVs just aren't ready for prime time for those with a single car and who take road trips. Being able to charge as soon as you arrive at a charging station, and even the chargers working on your car is a crapshoot. In the former case, you could have to wait for nearly an hour while someone else is charging.I also don't find EVs particularly fun to drive (I've driven a Tesla Model S and an Ionic 5.) I LOVE driving my '08 Civic (stick). I love the handling, the feel and responsiveness of the engine, the precise steering (the Michelin Pilot Ultra Sport tires help, but even with the snows on, the car is a joy). I have 152k on the clock, and hopefully another 25 years or so of driving (I was born early in the Eisenhower Administration and I have exceptionally healthy habits), and I'm going to try to keep the Civic for the duration.My Civic causes a less global warming emissions than some of these humongous battery operated trucks.
  • FreedMike They should throw in a Lordstown pickup with every purchase. Make it the “vapor twofer.”