By Derek Price
Kia may be drawing attention to LeBron James’ swagger-mobile, the roomy and luxurious K900, but its real strength lies elsewhere.
Kia’s forte — if you’ll excuse the pun — lies with smaller cars like this.
I just spent a week driving the Forte5, a hatchback version of the Korean brand’s popular compact car, and it’s a much better example of what Kia is traditionally known for. It’s designed for people who want a lot of car without spending a lot of dough.
And, for the most part, it succeeds.
Pricing starts under $16,000 for the Forte and $19,400 for the snazzier Forte5, although my fully loaded tester rang up at a less budget-friendly $27,035.
For that higher price, though, it comes with some over-the-top luxuries that were impossible to get in economy cars until recently. If you’ve ever dreamed of getting 33 mpg on the highway while streaming digital music through your phone and sitting in a ventilated seat, now’s your chance.
One downside is that the ventilated seat is only available on the driver’s side. You’ll have to explain to your significant other why their backside deserves to burn in the summer, so good luck with that.
Another is that the Forte5’s fuel economy isn’t quite as impressive as some other compact cars.
It makes up for that in two ways: peppier power and a roomier interior.
The cabin in this car feels freakishly big. I used to think of this Kia as being a tiny, dinky economy car, but the Forte sedan — and to a greater extent, the puffed-up hatchback version — feels bigger on the inside than its outside appearance would suggest.
I had the chance to fold the back seats flat and load it to the ceiling with boxes of paper. It was amazing how box after box would fit inside it, almost like a miniature delivery van, thanks to the squared-off cabin shape and big opening for cargo at the back.
But its most impressive aspect has got to be the drivetrain.
Unlike most cars in this class that have switched to the dreadful continuously variable transmission (CVT) to save on gas, the Forte is still available with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The auto transmission in my tester had a fast response and quick, crisp shifts — just what I like to see. It’s a refreshing change from the numbness of CVTs.
The base engine is a nice 2.0-liter direct-injected four cylinder, but the sportier SX version gets something even more special: a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that makes 201 horsepower. That’s 28 horses more than the base version, which is just enough to get you in trouble if you let your foot linger a bit too long on the gas pedal.
For people who want a European-inspired body, a practical cabin and a sense that you’re driving a bargain, the Forte5 is worth a close look.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 Kia Forte5 SX ($21,890). Options: SX premium package ($2,300), SX technology package ($1,900), carpeted floor mats ($120). Price as tested (including $825 destination charge): $27,035
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Length: 171.3 in.
Width: 70.1 in.
Height: 57.1 in.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder (201 hp, 195 lbs.-ft. torque)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Estimated Mileage: 21 city, 29 highway
2016 Kia Forte5
Why buy it?
The hatchback version of Kia’s compact Forte adds practicality and European styling. It offers a lot of value at the low end of the range and a luxurious cabin, including a ventilated driver’s seat, at the top end.