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2014 Kia Forte is another feather in the hat for former Audi designer

The 2014 Kia Forte is like a cross

The 2014 Kia Forte is like a cross between the Rio and the Optima, both of which are now fine automobiles. The new Forte is a bit longer than the outgoing model, but also has less base horsepower. Credit: Kia

Well, they can't all be homeruns, all the time, now can they?

Despite being an all-new model for 2010, the Kia Forte never really caught on in a big way. When you look at the numbers now, it really has nowhere to go but up; and with this redesign, that's where this compact is headed.

The new Forte that launches this spring bears the unmistakable influence of design chief Peter Schreyer. For the past six years, the former Audi stylist has been largely responsible for the style of Kia's fleet, as well as those built by its Hyundai parent. With Schreyer's assistance, Hyundai Elantra sales have more than doubled since the 2008 model year, while the Forte, which trails by a considerable margin, has experienced a more modest advance since arriving for 2010. The Forte's platform is shared with the Elantra.

It was pretty obvious, however, that to keep up, the Forte was going to have to undergo a dramatic metamorphosis. The Forte's looks for 2014 have been dramatically changed from play-it-safe conservative, to fashionably sophisticated. The car contains elements of the Elantra, particularly above the beltline with its dramatically sloping windshield, while the distinctive familiar "tiger nose" provides an important point of differentiation. Overall length has increased by about an inch, while the distance between the front and rear wheels has been extended by two inches. That stretch pays off in terms of added legroom for front and rear passengers, but a lower roofline means there's a bit less total passenger volume than before.

Also dialed back somewhat is the Forte's power. The new base 1.8-liter engine (also shared with the Elantra) pumps out 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque, compared with 156 horsepower and 144 pound-feet for the previous base 2.0-liter. The now-optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder (that surprisingly is not on the Elantra's menu) produces 173 horsepower and 154 pound-feet of torque. That's the same output as the outgoing 2.4-liter powerplant, but it's shy on peak torque by 14 pound-feet.

A six speed manual transmission comes with the 1.8, while a six-speed automatic is optional, but standard with the 2.0 along with Kia's "Idle Stop & Go." This piece of new fuel-saving tech shuts off the engine when the Forte is stopped in traffic, then restarts it when the brake pedal is released.

Official fuel-economy stats (a touchy subject for Hyundai/Kia lately, given its recent recanting of mpg claims on certain models) have yet to be released, but the mpg numbers for the base 1.8 should be in the upper 20s in the city and in the high 30s on the highway.

Spending time aboard the Forte will prove comforting for passengers and especially pleasing for the driver who faces a clearly legible, intuitively laid-out dashboard and control panel. He or she also has command over the level of steering effort with the Forte's optional Flex Steer system. With it, the electric power steering can be adjusted to Comfort, Normal and Sport settings, with the latter offering the least amount of assist.

Of the Forte's two trim levels, the starting-point LX leans to the simpler side of the ledger with its smaller engine, 15-inch steel wheels, basic audio system and the lack of cruise control or a keyless remote entry button on the fob.

Move up to the EX and it's a different story. Along with adding the LX's missing items, you can count on dual-zone climate control, a Microsoft-powered infotainment system, backup camera, glove-box cooler and 16-inch alloy wheels. Oh, and the optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder is also an EX staple.

But it's the lengthy option list that can turn the EX into a junior-sized luxury sedan. A navigation system, power sunroof, heated front seats and steering wheel, 10-way power driver's seat, 17-inch wheels and high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlights are all available.

The new Forte Sedan with its estimated $16,000 starting price will be joined by an equally new Forte5 wagon this fall. Both vehicles will elevate the brand in the eyes of compact-car shoppers and put yet another feather in Peter Schreyer's cap.

What you should know 2014 Kia Forte

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan
Engines (hp): 1.8-liter DOHC I4 (148); 2.0-liter DOHC I4 (173)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (1.8); six-speed automatic (opt. on 1.8, std. on 2.0)
Market position: The Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze dominate the compact sedan class, making it difficult, but not impossible for runners-up such as the Kia Forte to make some headway.
Points: Greatly improved looks courtesy of Peter Schreyer - a German who came in from Audi - puts Forte on similar footing as Hyundai Elantra; Roomier, classier interior avoids the cheap look. * Less potent engine choices won't bother Forte customers; Driver-adjustable steering feedback should be standard on all cars with electric power steering; Forte5 wagon to return later, as will coupe (Koup) version.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 28/38 (1.8, est.)
Base price (incl. destination) $16,000 (est.)


Ford Focus
Base price: $17,500
Sedan and hatchback joined by sporty ST and electric versions for 2013.

Nissan Sentra
Base price: $16,800
New-for-2013 car is more spacious, stylish and fuel-efficient than ever

Honda Civic sedan
Base price: $18,800
Added style and standard content for 2013; coupe, hybrid are untouched.

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