2019 Kia Forte First Look Review: The Mini-Stinger

First Look

New Forte loses an engine, gains efficiency, and comes wrapped in Stinger-influenced sheetmetal.

After eight years on the market in the United States, Kia is giving its Forte compact sedan a third generation that borrows design cues from the Kia Stinger and simplifies its drivetrain options by dropping the top direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder on its top trim. The 2019 Kia Forte is more so a very extensive refresh than it is a wholesale re-engineering of the model, through it does get a brand-new continuously variable transmission—the first for the brand—to boost fuel economy up to an expected 35 mpg combined in LX trim.

Unlike the 2018 model, the 2019 Kia Forte will be motivated by just one engine: a second-generation 2.0-liter Atkinson-style four-cylinder engine with multi-port injection, producing 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. A previous, more powerful 2.0-liter engine has been dropped. Base-model LX trims are equipped with a six-speed manual transmission as standard while Kia's first continuously variable transmission, which the automaker said will be used with other models in the future, is an option on LX models and standard on S and EX trims. Kia has not published expected fuel economy numbers for any other model than the LX CVT, and it has only provided a combined fuel economy figure of 35 mpg for that model.

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The CVT itself, which Kia dubs Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT), is a latecomer to the industry. Kia states it did this on purpose so it could better analyze the results of CVTs introduced by other automakers before it designed its own unit. As a result, the transmission uses a chain-type belt instead of a push belt, which the automaker claims will provide smoother, more linear acceleration. Also, to remove the rubber-band feeling often associated with CVTs, Kia has introduced a step function to make it feel more like a traditional automatic transmission during wide-open throttle or under heavy acceleration.

Beneath the Forte's new Stinger-esque body, a new chassis consists of 54-percent advanced high-strength steel, formed to provide a stiffer and safer base for the compact. It has grown in nearly every dimension to offer a larger 15.1 cu. ft. trunk along with more leg and headroom for passengers. Meanwhile, its increased rigidity contributes to lower in-cabin noise and better handling, the latter aided by an enhanced electric power-steering system and retuned brake and throttle feel. Inside, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard kit on all trims, while wireless charging and a 320-watt audio system are available.

The Forte isn't solely about convenience items when it comes to electronic wizardry. Forward Collision Avoidance (FCA), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) are standard on mid-trim S models, while Lane Change Assist (LCA) and Blind-Spot Collision Warning (BCW) are added to the top-trim Forte EX. High-Beam Assist (HBA), Parking Distance Warning - Reverse (PDW-R), and Smart Cruise Control (SCC) with steering-wheel mounted controls are available options on EX.

While Kia is known for offering value-focused alternatives, the Forte's trim ladder starts with the LX model rolling on 15-inch steel wheels and a cloth interior. However, it does come equipped with auto-on/off headlights, tilt/telescopic steering, dual 12V outlet, dual-zone automatic temperature control, rear-view camera, USB/aux ports, satellite radio, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, front/front seat/side curtain airbags, and hill-start assist. S models add 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, LED DRLs, LED taillights, chrome exhaust tip, decklid spoiler, TFT instrument cluster display, 60/40 split rear seat, and a soft-touch interior.

The range-topping EX model brings 17-inch alloy wheels and a full-size spare, heated wing mirrors with integrated turn signals, puddle lamps, windshield wiper de-icer, dual USB chargers, ‘SOFINO’ seat trim, heated front seats, upgraded infotainment with connected services, six-speaker audio, push-button start, and a vehicle immobilizer. The 2019 Kia Forte will be available later this year. Full pricing and fuel-economy details will be available closer to launch.

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