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

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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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.

  • Stephen My "mid-level" limited edition Tonino Lambo Ferraccio Junior watch has performed flawlessly with attractive understated style for nearly 20 years. Their cars are not so much to my taste-- my Acura NSX is just fine. Not sure why you have such condescension towards these excellent timepieces. They are attractive without unnecessary flamboyance, keep perfect time and are extremely reliable. They are also very reasonably priced.
  • Dana You don’t need park, you set auto hold (button on the console). Every BMW answers to ‘Hey, BMW’, but you can set your own personal wake word in iDrive. It takes less than 5 minutes to figure that that out, btw. The audio stays on which is handy for Teams meetings. Once your phone is out of range, the audio is stopped on the car. You can always press down on the audio volume wheel which will mute it, if it bothers you. I found all the controls very intuitive.
  • ToolGuy Not sure if I've ever said this, or if you were listening:• Learn to drive, people.Also, learn which vehicles to take home with you and which ones to walk away from. You are an adult now, think for yourself. (Those ads are lying to you. Your friendly neighborhood automotive dealer, also lying to you. Politicians? Lying to you. Oh yeah, learn how to vote lol.)Addendum for the weak-minded who think I am advocating some 'driver training' program: Learning is not something you do in school once for all time. Learning how to drive is not something that someone does for you. It is a continuous process driven by YOU. Learn how to learn how to drive, and learn to drive. Keep on learning how to drive. (You -- over there -- especially you, you kind of suck at driving. LOL.)Example: Do you know where your tires are? When you are 4 hours into a 6 hour interstate journey and change lanes, do you run over the raised center line retroreflective bumpers, or do you steer between them?
  • Mike Bradley Advertising, movies and TV, manufacturing, and car culture have all made speeding and crashing the ultimate tests of manhood. Throw in the political craziness and you've got a perfect soup of destruction and costs.
  • Lou_BC Jay Leno had said that EV's would be good since they could allow the continued existence of ICE cars for enthusiasts. That sentiment makes sense. Many buyers see vehicles as a necessary appliance.