Kia and Hyundai are developing into a formidable tag team.
The South Korean manufacturers are partners, although they compete with each other as well as against other Asian, European and American companies.
Hyundai owns 38 percent of Kia. Their high-rise headquarters sit side by side in Seoul, and they operate a gigantic joint engineering facility. Their vehicles share platforms, including engines and transmissions, but they maintain their own design and styling studios.
With a few exceptions, their model lineups parallel each other. Hyundai sells the midsize Sonata sedan; Kia offers the Optima. In the large-car category, Hyundai's entry is the Azera while Kia recently introduced the Cadenza.
Others include the entry-level Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, and Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. The companies diverge with a couple of specialty vehicles: the Hyundai Veloster and Kia Soul. Hyundai also markets several high-end cars, the Genesis and Equus.
With so many comparable models, they form an effective tag team. In 2012, for example, the Hyundai Elantra was voted U.S. Car of the Year by an independent panel of journalists.
Now Kia tags up and enters the ring with its 2014 Forte, which has been redesigned but still has the underpinnings of the Elantra. That should enhance its appeal among aficionados.
The new Forte is a refined car with sporty styling, LED running lights and other embellishments. With attractive curves, it nevertheless is a bit more conservative and not as swoopy looking as the Elantra. Like the Elantra, it competes in the compact class despite its interior volume of 111 cubic feet, which edges it into the EPA-defined midsize category.
It carries four in comfort, although as is usual in most cars, the center-rear passenger is consigned to a tight, uncomfortable perch.
The standard engine is a 148-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder linked to either a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission. The base model starts at $16,700 with the stick shift.
Unfortunately, the only version available at the national introduction was the top-of-the-line EX model. It comes with a 173-horsepower, 2.0-liter direct gasoline injection four-cylinder engine, linked on the test car to the six-speed automatic. The EPA rates its city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 24/36/28 mpg.
With premium and technology packages that included a navigation system, perforated leather upholstery, motorized glass sunroof, heated front seats with an air-cooled driver's seat, automatic dual-zone climate control and memory settings for the driver's seat, the tested Forte was equipped as well as some near-luxury and luxury cars. But it brought the suggested delivered price up to $25,310.
The 2.0-liter engine was more than up to the task of moving the Forte briskly through traffic and powerfully on the freeway, where the tightly snubbed suspension system and well weighted steering kept the car tracking straight with few corrections. Inside, the cabin was quiet with minimal wind, road or mechanical noise.
Out back, there's a spacious trunk with 15 cubic feet of space, or as much as most midsize cars. However, the trunk's C hinges are unprotected and could damage luggage.
Even with its tag team partner Hyundai, Kia looks as if it wants to team up with itself as well. Hardly had the Forte sedan landed when the company introduced a new four-door hatchback at the Chicago Auto Show. It features a turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower.
2014 Kia Sorento: When it introduced the new Forte, Kia also unveiled the new Sorento, a crossover utility vehicle built in the United States in a new plant in Georgia. Though it looks much the same as before, Kia says the five-passenger vehicle is 80 percent new.
As with the Forte, the operative description here is refinement. The new Sorento, especially in the top level EX version, easily classifies as luxurious. It featured perforated leather upholstery, faux wood grain trim, a panoramic glass sunroof, navigation, blind spot detection and even shades for the rear side windows.
It cruises serenely on the highway, powered by a 290-horsepower, 3.3-liter gasoline direct injection V-6 engine connected to a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Handling is secure in lane changes and around curving roads.
Four seats offer first-rate comfort, and even the center rear position is tolerable despite a hard cushion, thanks to a minimal floor hump and no intrusion from the front console.
There's plenty of storage, including space beneath the cargo floor. However, the tradeoff is a spare wheel that is mounted outside under the cargo area.
Model: 2014 Kia Forte EX four-door sedan.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 173 horsepower.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Overall length: 15 feet.
EPA passenger/trunk volume: 96/15 cubic feet.
Weight: 2,857 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined mpg: 24/36/28 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $20,200.
Price as tested: $25,310.
(Comments or suggestions? Contact Frank Aukofer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service. For more columns, see www.shns.com.)
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