2021 Kia Forte

2021 Kia Forte Review: High-Value Family Chariot

The Kia Forte is a compact sedan that aims to topple segment leaders in the US like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3. That's a tough ask, but then again, Kia has proven that it knows how to build a capable and desirable sedan with the likes of the stunning K5 and engaging Stinger higher up in the price range. Does the Forte capture the same magic at its more affordable end of the market? That remains up for debate, but the Forte does bring a stylish exterior, lots of features, and admirable fuel-efficiency to the party. On the downside, the base 2.0-liter engine is rather gutless, and upgrading to the more powerful 201-horsepower turbocharged motor hikes up the price. In most other aspects that count, however, the Kia Forte sedan impresses enough to be shortlisted in a hotly contested segment.

Read in this review:

2021 Kia Forte Sedan Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2020 Forte?

For the 2021 model year, the new Kia Forte receives just a few specification changes. The GT Premium Line Package now adds a ten-way power driver's seat. The EX receives a welcome tech update in the form of standard navigation, a Harman Kardon sound system, wireless charging, and a power sunroof. On the GT Turbo with the dual-clutch automatic gearbox, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are now included by default. For GT derivatives equipped with the manual gearbox, Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires are fitted as standard. Finally, the EX now comes with a UVO link, which, when accessed via the Kia app, avails features like remote climate control and 911 Connect/roadside assistance.

Pros and Cons

  • Excellent gas mileage
  • Low starting price
  • User-friendly infotainment system
  • Comfortable seating
  • Many standard features
  • Comprehensive warranty coverage
  • Underpowered base engine
  • Rides firmer than some competitors
  • CVT gearbox isn't the most responsive

Best Deals on Forte

2021 Kia Forte Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
FE
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$17,890
LXS
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$19,390
GT-Line
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$20,490
GT
1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Manual
7-Speed Automatic
Front-Wheel Drive
$22,790
EX
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
Front-Wheel Drive
$23,090

Forte Exterior

While not quite as striking as Kia's new K5, the Forte is an attractively designed sedan that is both inoffensive and not so dull that it'll put you to sleep. The base model rides on basic 15-inch steel wheels, but alloy wheels measuring up to 18 inches become available higher up in the range. Regular DRLs make way for LED DRLs on pricier trims, but all versions have auto on/off headlights. Available equipment includes LED projector headlights, heated mirrors, and a power sunroof. The sporty GT Line and GT boast gloss black exterior accents and a decklid spoiler.

2021 Kia Forte Front View Kia
2021 Kia Forte Side View Kia
2021 Kia Forte Side View Driving Kia
See All 2021 Kia Forte Exterior Photos

Dimensions

At 182.7 inches in length and 70.9 inches in width, the Kia Forte shares these exact dimensions with the Honda Civic. At 56.5 inches tall, the Forte is almost an inch higher than its rival, though. The Kia rides on a 106.3-inch wheelbase. In terms of curb weight, the Forte starts at 2,707 pounds for the FE in manual guise and goes up to 3,079 lbs for the GT with the dual-clutch gearbox.

  • Length 182.7 in
  • Wheelbase 106.3 in
  • Height 56.5 in
  • Max Width 70.9 in
  • Front Width 61.5 in
  • Rear Width 61.9 in
  • Curb Weight 2,707.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

The Kia Forte range avails a choice of eight colors: Clear White, Gravity Grey, Aurora Black Pearl, Currant Red, Deep Sea Blue, Silky Silver, Snow White Pearl, and the flaming Fire Orange. However, color availability is heavily affected by the chosen trim level. For instance, only the first three choices are offered on the base FE (with the black costing extra), while Fire Orange can only be equipped to the GT Line. This shade, along with Deep Sea Blue, are the most eye-catching shades on offer and work well with the Forte's lines.

  • Aurora Black
  • Currant Red
  • Snow White Pearl
  • Gravity Gray
  • Deep Sea Blue
  • Fire Orange
  • Clear White
  • Silky Silver

2021 Forte Performance

If you don't mind life in the slow lane, the base engine will be just fine, but as we found in past Kia Forte reviews, it will frustrate drivers with a heavier right foot. This 2.0-liter naturally aspirated unit generates 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque and, when paired with the continuously variable transmission, independent tests showed that it needed just over eight seconds to reach 60 mph. That's not particularly quick and the Kia takes its time to reach top speed, but then again, rivals like the base Subaru Impreza aren't much more powerful. The standard manual transmission on the FE evokes a bit more energy from the engine, but it's still no firecracker. The 1.6-liter turbocharged four-pot is much more willing, producing 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque to see off the 0 to 60 sprint in under seven seconds, making it the much more spirited partner when overtaking or taking gaps in traffic. All Fortes send their power to the front wheels, with no all-wheel-drive option as in rivals like the Mazda 3.

2021 Kia Forte Front View Driving Kia
2021 Kia Forte Side View Driving 1 Kia
2021 Kia Forte Engine Kia

Engine and Transmission

Two engine options and three gearboxes continue to do duty in the Kia Forte range, offering a couple of configurations within the range but limiting the top engine to the priciest trim. The base 2.0-liter engine can only manage outputs of 147 hp and 132 lb-ft, and it comes mated with either a six-speed manual or a CVT. The latter transmission mimics a conventional automatic by working its way through simulated gear changes, but these "gear shifts" tend to be on the slow side, particularly in Comfort mode. Around town, the less powerful engine will be fine, but it battles when more is asked of it. Higher up in the range, the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine delivers 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, making for much stronger acceleration off the mark and on the move. On the GT, this engine can be paired with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which is a much more engaging transmission than the slow-witted CVT. It's just a pity that this engine is only offered on the most expensive trim.

  • Engines
    1.6L Turbo Inline-4 Gas, 2.0L Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmissions
    6-Speed Manual, 7-Speed Automatic, Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
  • Drivetrain
    FWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

It's a bit of a mixed bag for the Forte in this department. While not seriously falling short in any aspect, our review found that the compact sedan lacks the polish of some rivals. In general, the Forte asserts itself well through the corners without resorting to excessive body roll, and changes in direction are dealt with smoothly. The steering is well-weighted but lacks feedback, and the Kia's smooth progress can occasionally be disrupted by mid-corner bumps. A sport-tuned suspension endows the GT with a touch more athleticism than other models within the range, but it's not exactly going to threaten any sports cars.

The ride quality is on the firm side for a family sedan, lacking the polish of a Honda Civic in this regard. It's not bad, but a back-to-back test drive with some rivals exposes the Kia's harsher suspension and a tendency to struggle with larger bumps. On smoother surfaces, the Forte is a fuss-free commuter and manages to suppress external noises well.

Forte Gas Mileage

That base engine may not deliver in the power stakes, but it makes up for it with excellent fuel efficiency. On the base FE with the CVT gearbox, the Forte returns the best EPA-rated figures of 31/41/35 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. With the same engine but the manual gearbox, these figures drop to 27/37/31 mpg. The turbo motor isn't bad, either, with best economy figures of 27/35/30 mpg for the DCT, although the manual turbo's numbers do take a bit of a dive to 25/32/28 mpg. By comparison, the Mazda 3 manages best figures of 28/36/31 mpg from its new base 2.0-liter engine. Equipped with a 14-gallon gas tank, the Forte will achieve a maximum range of around 490 miles on a full tank.

  • Fuel Tank Capacity
    14.0 Gallons
  • Fuel Economy
    City/Hwy: 27/37 mpg
* 2021 Kia Forte FE Manual

Forte Sedan Interior

Climb inside and the Kia Forte greets you with a smartly designed and well-trimmed cabin. We like that Kia has stuck with physical controls for the ventilation system, making it simple to adjust these settings on the move. This same sensible approach extends to the traditional, legible dials within the instrument cluster. All versions come with a tilt/telescoping steering column and a central touchscreen display, while regular air conditioning and cloth seats make way for dual-zone climate control and a power-adjustable driver's seat higher up in the range. Four passengers will have more than enough space and the use of robust materials distinguish a generally excellent interior.

2021 Kia Forte Infotainment System Kia
2021 Kia Forte Climate Control Kia
2021 Kia Forte Steering Wheel Kia
See All 2021 Kia Forte Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

The Forte is a car that can seat five passengers at a squeeze, but as usual for a compact sedan, the rear bench is more suitable for just two people. In front, there is more than enough head- and legroom on offer and a useful range of adjustment for the driver ensures that the majority of people will be able to get settled behind the wheel. Rear-seat legroom is adequate rather than generous, and the headroom will only be a problem for taller than average individuals. Seating comfort is good across the range, although the leatherette upholstery and sport seats on offer higher up in the range are preferable to the entry-level version's cloth seats. From the driver's seat, the Forte affords a clear view out despite the broad front pillars. Ingress and egress are aided by tall door openings.

  • Seating capacity
    5-seater
  • Front Leg Room 42.2 in
  • Front Head Room 38.8 in
  • Rear Leg Room 35.7 in
  • Rear Head Room 37.5 in

Interior Colors and Materials

On the base model, black woven cloth seats are the order of the day, as is a polyurethane steering wheel and a PVC gear shift knob. Moving up to the LXS gets you lighter gray woven cloth seats but also adds a soft touch dash along with soft-touch upper/center door panels. The GT Line is a welcome step up with a leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel and a leather-wrapped gear shift knob. This level also mixes black synthetic Sofino leatherette/cloth trim with white stitching. On the EX, black synthetic leather seats are standard while the GT features a sporty mix of black synthetic leatherette/cloth with red stitching.

Forte Trunk and Cargo Space

The Forte asserts itself well in the cargo stakes with 15.3 cubic feet of trunk space. This is yet another metric where the Kia is uncannily closely matched with the Honda Civic, which offers a maximum of 15.1 cubes. The Forte's trunk is big enough to easily swallow a week's worth of groceries. If you need more space, the rear seat can be folded flat, but on the base FE, the entire seatback must be tumbled. Trims above this feature a more practical 60/40-split design.

Small-item storage is pretty good, too, with all variants getting a front center console with cupholders and a useful storage box, along with an overhead console for stashing a pair of sunglasses. From the GT Line upwards, there is a rear center armrest with cupholders, while all four doors have storage bins with an integrated bottle holder.

2021 Kia Forte Driver Seat Kia
2021 Kia Forte Rear Passenger Seats Kia
2021 Kia Forte Side View Driving 2 Kia
  • Trunk Volume
    15.3 ft³

Forte Infotainment and Features

Features

The base Kia Forte doesn't cost a lot but it misses out on some of the most desirable features in the range, although it's not completely barren inside. It gets a tilt/telescoping steering column, a 3.5-inch TFT LCD information display, six-way manually-adjustable front seats, air conditioning, rear heater ducts below the front seats, remote keyless entry, a rearview camera, cruise control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and driver attention warning. Things get considerably more luxurious after this, with features like dual-zone automatic climate control, wireless phone charging, push-button ignition, power sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats, and a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat. Rear park distance control and smart cruise control are among the available options.

Infotainment

Kia's infotainment system gets the basics spot-on, so it's both easy to use and the menus are logical. All versions come with an eight-inch touchscreen display fully equipped with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and both USB/auxiliary input jacks. On upper trims, SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation, and HD Radio are standard. The EX is the only one to get a standard eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with a subwoofer and 320 watts of power. The lower two trims make do with a four-speaker sound system, while other models use six speakers.

Forte Problems and Reliability

Both the 2020 and 2021 Kia Forte are so far free of recalls which bodes well for reliability, although the 2019 version was subject to two: one for reduced visibility caused by improperly angled headlights, and another for a left front axle driveshaft that may break.

Few manufacturers offer better peace of mind than Kia with its comprehensive warranty, though. The five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty is complemented by a brilliant ten-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty that, together with what Hyundai offers, is class-leading. A five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty and 24-hour roadside assistance for five years or 60,000 miles is included as well.

Warranty

  • Basic:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    10 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ 100,000 Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles

Kia Forte Safety Reviews

Based on the NHTSA's evaluation, the Kia Forte holds an overall safety rating of four stars. Although this includes a five-star rating for the side crash, the NHTSA did note that the side barrier test for rear passengers caused intrusion of the left rear door, which could increase the chances of a thoracic injury. Over at the IIHS, although the 2021 model does not yet have a safety rating, the 2020 version achieved a Top Safety Pick award, with the only black mark against it being a Poor headlight rating on specific trims.

US NHTSA crash test result

  • Overall Rating
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
  • Side Crash Rating
  • Rollover Rating

Key Safety Features

All Kia Forte models come standard with six airbags, with the suite including dual front airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. From the base model, a rearview camera, electronic stability control, vehicle stability management, ABS brakes, hill-start assist control, and tire-pressure monitoring are also included. Kia's Drive Wise suite comprises forward collision avoidance (city and urban), forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and driver attention warning. Higher up in the range, you'll get lane change assist, blind-spot collision warning, high-beam assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. Available driver aids are smart cruise control, rear parking sensors, and forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2021 Kia Forte a good car?

Without revolutionizing the segment, the 2021 Kia Forte hardly misses a beat as a high-value, comfortable, and spacious compact sedan. Highlights include an impressive list of standard features, excellent fuel efficiency, and a brilliant warranty. The base engine does little to excite and it's disappointing that most trims have access to only this power plant, but it gets the job done and helps to keep running costs low. In this segment, there is no shortage of tough competition, from the well-rounded Honda Civic to the premium-feeling Mazda 3, both of which offer sportier hatchback alternatives, too. Neither of these great cars comes close to embarrassing the competent Kia, though, which may not sound like high praise but aptly demonstrates how good the Korean is. The Forte is the only one of these three to boast a base price starting below the $20,000 mark, and for many, that will be enough reason to choose it.

🚘What's the Price of the 2021 Kia Forte?

The 2021 Kia Forte has a starting MSRP in the USA of $17,890 for the FE with the manual gearbox, rising to $18,790 with the CVT. Next is the LXS at $19,390, the GT Line at $20,490, and the EX at $23,090. These mid-range trims are all only offered with the CVT 'box. The top-spec GT carries a price tag of $22,690 with the DCT and $23,290 with the manual. Every Kia Forte price here excludes a destination charge of $965, plus tax, licensing, and registration costs.

New Kia Forte Model Summary

The 2021 Kia Forte is available in a choice of five trims: FE, LXS, GT Line, EX, and GT. All versions send power to the front wheels, and all besides the GT are powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine. The more powerful GT uses a 201-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Only the FE and GT can be had with a manual gearbox.

The entry-level FE comes with 15-inch steel wheels, projector low-beam headlights, and daytime running lights. Inside, cloth seats are accompanied by a tilt/telescoping steering column, an eight-inch touchscreen interface, a four-speaker sound system, air conditioning, and safety gear like forward collision warning and lane departure warning.

Next in line is the LXS. It looks a bit more upscale as Kia specs it with 16-inch alloy wheels, a single chrome exhaust tip finisher, and a gloss black accent on the front bumper. Added features include a split-folding rear seat, a soft-touch dash, and selectable drive modes.

The sporty GT Line comes with 17-inch graphite finish alloy wheels, front foglights, gloss black exterior mirrors, a rear decklid spoiler, leatherette seat bolsters, two extra speakers for the sound system, and blind-spot collision warning.

The EX is the most lavishly equipped derivative and gets full leatherette-upholstered seats, a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a premium Harman Kardon sound system.

At the top of the range, the GT offers the most performance from its turbocharged engine and dual-clutch gearbox. It ships with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED projection headlights, and twin chrome exhaust tip finishers. Inside, you'll find sport seats in leatherette with red stitching. Optional equipment here includes rear parking distance warning.

See All 2021 Kia Forte Trims and Specs

Additional Packages

Not many upgrades are on offer for the lower two trims, but these do offer an interior lighting kit ($300) and remote start ($495, not available on the manual). The GT Line gets its own GT Line Premium Package which will cost $1,700, an outlay that adds a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat, the Harman Kardon sound system, a power sunroof, and more. On the already fully loaded EX, remote and push-button start are available at $495 as the most noteworthy option, while an auto-dimming rearview mirror is a $350 option. The only other package is the GT2 for the GT trim. Only compatible with the dual-clutch transmission, this $2,000 upgrade gets you wireless phone charging, a ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat, reverse park distance warning, smart cruise control, the Harman Kardon sound system and more. The GT manual already has some of these features, such as the Harman Kardon system, fitted as standard, which is why this package applies only to the GT with the DCT.

🚗What Kia Forte Model Should I Buy?

We'd love to go straight for the turbocharged GT, as it's a much more enjoyable car to drive than other versions in the range, but as the Forte must also tick the value-for-money box, it's worth looking lower down in the range. Our choice would be the GT Line, which comes in at just over $20,000 but offers a decent array of added features and a sportier look than the FE, such as blind-spot warning and a more powerful sound system. If you can stretch to the GT, this model remains out top choice in the range.

2021 Kia Forte Comparisons

Hyundai Elantra Hyundai
Honda Civic Sedan Honda
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Kia Forte147 hp27/37 mpg$17,890
Hyundai Elantra 147 hp33/43 mpg$19,650
Honda Civic Sedan 158 hp30/38 mpg$21,250

2021 Kia Forte vs Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai's all-new Elantra brings dramatic styling to the party, both inside and out, which leaves the Forte looking rather tame by comparison. There's less drama under the hood, though, as the Elantra uses the same 147-hp 2.0-liter mill found in the Forte. However, a sporty N Line that is likely to use a turbocharged motor is in the pipeline. Until we drive the brand new Elantra, we can't definitively say that it eclipses its Korean rival, but we expect it to offer a good balance between a comfortable ride and sure-footed handling. The more modern Elantra's cabin appears to take the lead, though, with a dashboard-spanning ventilation outlet and an available digital instrument cluster, so it is the more advanced of the two offerings. When it arrives, expect it to offer the Forte a stern challenge.

See Hyundai Elantra Review

2021 Kia Forte vs Honda Civic Sedan

The Honda Civic is close in many ways to the Forte, but the 2021 sedan starts at a higher base price of $21,050. In a couple of ways, the Civic does admittedly feel like it's worth the extra outlay, though. Its base engine has a superior 158-hp output, while the Civic has a 174-hp turbocharged motor that is available across more trim levels than the turbo engine in the Forte. The Honda also rides more smoothly, yet remains a fun-to-drive sedan when the road gets twisty. While the Forte has a larger trunk by the tiniest of margins, it's the Civic that offers an extra 1.7 inches of rear legroom. The Kia has a far superior warranty, though, but the Honda promises to be very reliable. While closely matched overall, we give the edge to the Japanese car.

See Honda Civic Sedan Review

Kia Forte Popular Comparisons

The most popular competitors of 2021 Kia Forte:

24
Photos
$17,890 - $23,390
Price Range (MSRP)
Kia Forte
Back
To Top