2014 Kia Forte5 SX Luxury. Click image to enlarge
Review by Jacob Black, photos by Jacob Black and Madeline Wallcraft
The award for “best business decision made by a car company” in the past decade might just belong to Kia. When the Korean marque signed former Audi ace designer Peter Schreyer as Chief Design Officer in 2006 they set in motion a process which has given us some of the most attractive “economy” cars on the road.
The Forte5 is no exception, but then again, it’s hard to get a hatchback wrong. Kia’s tiger nose grille is thinner in this iteration, and is sandwiched above an Elantra-esque lower grille in the bumper. The LED-accented HID headlamps, large fog lamps and aggressive air dams in the corner of the bumper all give the Forte5 a purposeful, aggressive appearance. The lip spoiler on the tailgate makes the Forte5 appear even longer than it is, but adds a bold flare that is carried further by the diffuser and large twin-exhaust outlets under the rear bumper.
Kia’s (well, Schreyer’s) signature LED tail lamps are among the most beautiful on the market and fit this car well. If there’s anything slightly amiss in the design it’s the rake in the rear window, which is more aggressive than needed. It’s only really noticeable in profile though, where most of your attention is on the wheels anyway. Intricate flower-petal shapes with impeccable surface treatment set off the Forte5 beautifully and fill the wheel arches. These ones are the 18-inch wheels with P225/40 tires standard on the SX Luxury trim. The base model gets less-sexy 16s.
Why am I talking about styling so much? Partly because this market relies heavily on looks to win the hearts of buyers, but also because styling this well executed implies wealth and status over and above the car’s price tag. Kia does an excellent job of looking like a more expensive car than it is – and that’s important too.
Inside, that sense of premium quality is carried through with some neat woven plastic surfacing on the dash, leather seats, a leather hood for the instrument cluster, aluminum pedals and a leather-wrapped steering wheel as well as aluminum trim sprinkled throughout. The sense of quality is let down by the thinness of the leather around the wheel and too many hard plastic surfaces on the console, dashboard and door trim. The adjustment lever for the tilt and telescopic steering wheel also feels dinky.
That’s a trivial criticism, though, as the rest of the cabin feels excellent.
If hiring Peter Schreyer was the best automotive business decision of recent times, then “throwing all of our cheap-to-make-but-hard-to-get-elsewhere electric-gadgetry at our cars” is a close second. True to form, the Forte5’s feature list reads like an episode of Oprah’s Favourite Things: “You get a heated seat, and you get a heated seat, and you get a heated steering wheel and you get a cooled seat…”
2014 Kia Forte5 SX Luxury 18″ alloy wheel & dashboard. Click image to enlarge
The gauges are clear and have excellent definition. Sandwiched between them is a full-colour TFT screen with access to navigation, vehicle settings, trip computer information, audio information and telephony.
You can scroll through the TFT menus with steering-wheel controls on the right-hand side of the bottom spoke. Audio is on the left spoke, telephony on the left side of the bottom spoke and cruise control is up on the right spoke.
That is paired with the 6.5-inch UVO infotainment system with nav and a back-up camera. I’m a big fan of UVO with simple, attractive screens, a tuning knob and a volume knob, plus hard buttons to get you to the section you want quickly – phone, map, audio sources, etc. The steering wheel controls work well too – but I use the tuning knob so I can switch through stations rather than the steering wheel controls which scroll presets only.
2014 Kia Forte5 SX Luxury gauges & centre stack. Click image to enlarge
The centre stack is angled towards the driver for better ergonomics so every button and knob – including those for the dual-zone automatic climate control system – fall easily to hand. The infotainment system could be faster to respond though. It seems like Kia’s system takes longer to tune in to satellite radio stations than other systems, and it doesn’t show track information until after the station is selected.
Other than that minor drawback the system comes with everything a driver could want in a beautifully designed package.