After driving the 2014 Kia Forte, I exited the car with one overriding thought: Honda should watch its back. For the fifth model year of its popular compact sedan, the Korean automaker is seriously upping its game, offering luxury-level amenities at what is likely to be a bargain-basement price.
Like the 2013 Honda Civic, the 2014 Forte now includes Bluetooth, steering wheel controls and a backup camera as standard equipment. But what's more impressive is the many amenities it offers as options, including a heated steering wheel, seats that are cooled as well as heated and engine start-stop technology, among others.
Clearly, Kia is determined to shed its rep as the maker of unrefined econo cars by offering features ordinarily associated with higher-end nameplates. The 2014 Forte starts at just under $16,000, with a well-equipped model costing a bit more than $19,000.
The sedan is marginally longer, lower and wider than the outgoing model for a sportier stance. Its exterior design has also been tweaked with a more windswept body shape and steeped windshield to create the illusion, on first glance, that the Forte just might be European rather than Asian.
The interior is spacious and quite deluxe, with perforated leather seats and a curvaceous dash trimmed with can't-go-wrong black and faux carbon fiber. As in the Civic, the center stack is angled toward the driver.
When the car is likely to come into contact with an unwanted object, its collision avoidance system not only beeps, it shows the area of the car that's in danger. The same screen also displays an instant fuel-economy bar graph that serves as a coaching mechanism to improve the car's fuel economy based on driver inputs. Kia hasn't yet released anticipated fuel economy figures, but I averaged 33.6 mpg. The outgoing model with the same powertrain had a combined EPA fuel economy rating of 29.
The base model LX is powered with a 1.8-liter in-line four-cylinder engine. The EX I was testing uses a direct-injected 2.0-liter in-line four with continuously variable valve timing and a six-speed automatic transmission.
My biggest issue with the Forte is the same bugaboo as most cars of modest means: road noise.
Baffle it, and prospective buyers who might not have considered Kia previously could very well have a similar reaction to mine: I can't believe it's a Kia.
2014 KIA FORTE EX
Base price: About $15,900
Price as tested: $19,400
Engine: 2.0-liter, inline 4-cylinder, DOHC
Power: 173 horsepower at 6,500 rpm
EPA fuel economy: Not determined
Curb weight: 2,857 pounds
Width: 70.1 inches
Height: 56.5 inches
Length: 179.5 inches
Bottom line: Sporty sedan raises the bar.