by Roger Biermann
You'd hardly think of Kia as the kind of manufacturer that would produce a hatchback with any sporting aspirations. Yet with the Kia Forte5 the brand is beginning to display the intent that may lead to a full on hot hatch in the near future. After all, it shares the same underpinnings as the Hyundai Elantra, which has already been subject to development of a hot hatch over in Europe. But until such time as a hot one does arrive, the Forte5 is Kia's comprehensive all rounder to tackle the likes of the VW Golf, Ford Focus, and Chevrolet Cruze.
Whilst its Hyundai sibling still feels a bit drab, the Forte5 moves up market with a well designed, well thought out cabin packed with high quality materials, especially in higher trim levels where soft touch materials are good enough to give class leaders a run for their money. The Forte5 features an available 7-inch touch screen infotainment system that features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The touch buttons are large and placed intuitively, and the system integrates as one of the better ones available – though perhaps not as good as Chevy's MyLink.
Inside, the Forte5 is incredibly well packaged. It offers seating for 5 in a spacious, comfortable setting. Even six foot tall rear passengers will comfortably fit behind front occupants of the same height. The trunk of the Forte5 boasts 23.2 cubic feet worth of cargo capacity, with a 60/40 split folding rear seat enlarging that further still.
Even on the base model's 15-inch steel wheels, the Forte5 exudes a firmer than normal ride comfort for the segment. On optional 16s or higher trim's 17- and 18-inch wheels, the ride becomes jittery, and though over most bumps the Forte5 is composed, the secondary ride comfort is severely compromised. It's the damping that's to blame – as the springs are set up on the right side of firm to produce a controlled ride that maintains grip with the road and produces minimal body roll.
The steering doesn't have the same firmness – the turn in is slow and the electronic power assistance removes all feel from the process of directing the Forte5 through bends. The brakes take a similar approach – with a numb pedal and stopping power that feels below par in this segment.
Base LX and EX models derive their power from a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4 cylinder engine with outputs of 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic gearbox only, and economy is rated by the EPA at a combined 28 MPG. If you want a six-speed manual gearbox, you'll only find it on the sportier SX model, along with a 1.6-liter turbo motor that develops 201hp and 195 lb-ft. The SX is optionally available with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox which affords a combined economy figure of 27 MPG.
Trim level dependant, the Forte5 can be equipped with a range of equipment including HID headlamps that swivel directionally, LED taillights, a power moonroof, 10-way power adjustable heated and ventilated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, and navigation. A rear-view camera is available on the base LX trim, but standard on EX and SX models. Kia has made available several safety features that few in this segment offer. These available features include blind spot detection, lane change assist, and rear cross traffic alert. The Kia Forte sedan is a 2017 IIHS Top Safety Pick +; with the hatchback differing little it should sore similarly when tested.
With quality materials and a vast array of standard and optional features, the Kia Forte5 has moved up market. The ride quality leaves much to be desired, and lags behind the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus – but it show promise. The SX model offers a sportier ride, and as the only model with a manual gearbox, it's the enthusiasts pick.