Test Drive: 2010 Kia Forte SX sedan car test drives kia
2010 Kia Forte SX sedan. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2010 Kia Forte

When your competitors are some of the most popular cars in Canada – Civic, Corolla, Mazda3, Cobalt, Focus, Elantra, and Sentra – it’s awfully difficult to get noticed.

Just ask Kia. Their compact Spectra sedan was sold here from 2002 through 2009 – but who knew? Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but how often do you see a Spectra on the street?

The Spectra’s replacement, the new Kia Forte sedan, is up against the same entrenched competitors, but this time, Kia has created some very handsome sheetmetal, added a bunch of unexpected standard features, improved the handling, and added a more powerful optional engine in the sporty SX model.

The Forte sedan was designed by noted stylist, Peter Schreyer, who also styled the Audi TT and VW New Beetle. Though there are styling similarities with the Honda Civic, Acura TSX (first-generation) and Mitsubishi Lancer, the Forte sedan has a distinctive, sporty, well-proportioned appearance with a wide stance and clean lines. To my eye, this is a handsome car, uncluttered by exaggerated styling features like an oversized grille, hood scoop, bulging bodywork, or garish taillights.

Test Drive: 2010 Kia Forte SX sedan car test drives kia
2010 Kia Forte SX sedan. Click image to enlarge

The 2010 Kia Forte sedan comes in three trim levels: LX ($15,795), EX ($18,095) and SX ($21,095). LX and EX Fortes have a zippy 156-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission; while the top SX sedan gets a 173-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine and standard six-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic.

LX sedans come with six standard airbags, 15-inch tires, four disc brakes with ABS, radio/CD/MP3 player with auxiliary and USB ports and four speakers, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, power windows, locks and heated mirrors, and split folding seatbacks, and a complete five year/100,000 km warranty.

Forte EX models add standard electronic stability control and traction control, 16-inch tires and alloy wheels, air conditioning, keyless entry, heated front seats, cruise control, telescopic steering wheel, two additional tweeters in the sound system, and heated windshield wiper de-icer.

Test Drive: 2010 Kia Forte SX sedan car test drives kia
2010 Kia Forte SX sedan. Click image to enlarge

Top-of-the-line SX sedans add the 2.4-litre engine and standard six-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic, 17-inch tires and alloy wheels, front fog lights, leather seats, leather steering wheel and shift knob, metallic interior trim, metal pedals, automatic temperature control, power tilt/slide glass sunroof with sliding sunshade, trip computer with average fuel consumption readout, and a three-month subscription to Sirius satellite radio.

Our Smokey Grey Forte SX test car included the optional five-speed automatic transmission with sequential manual shifting capability ($1,200). Including a freight charge of $1,455 and air conditioning levy of $100, the as-tested price came to $23,850.

Driving impressions

With its extra power, stiffer shocks, larger front brakes, and better tires, the SX sedan provides a considerably sportier driving experience than the Forte LX and EX models do.

According to Kia, the Forte SX with automatic transmission zips from zero to 100 km/h in 8.7 seconds vs the LX/EX models in 10.5 seconds. Independent acceleration tests by AJAC indicate a zero to 100 time of 9.3 seconds for the SX – the difference may be due to the driver and/or the track conditions.

Test Drive: 2010 Kia Forte SX sedan car test drives kia
2010 Kia Forte SX sedan. Click image to enlarge

Certainly, the Forte SX is very quick off the line, with a rather sensitive throttle, which proves useful when accelerating from a traffic light, or darting in and out of traffic. And the 173-hp 2.4-litre engine has more than enough power and torque (168 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm) to move this 1350 kg (2976 lb) sedan in typical highway passing and merging situations. The engine features variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust cams, and a variable air intake system, providing generous torque even in higher gears. Most impressive though, is how quiet and smooth this engine is, even under acceleration. This is due in part to the gearing of the automatic transmission – at 100 km/h in top gear, the tach reads just 1,800 rpm.

Fuel consumption averages around 10 or 11 L/100 km in the city and around 7.5 L/100 km on the highway, according to the onboard average fuel consumption display. That compares with published figures of 9.0/6.2 City/Hwy. Notably, those figures are even better than the Civic Si (10.2/6.8), Corolla XRS (9.5/6.7), and Mazda3 GT (10.1/6.9).

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