2010 Kia Forte EX
2010 Kia Forte EX. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2010 Kia Forte EX

Ottawa, Ontario – The compact sedan segment is an interesting one, shopped by a number of different car buyers. There are the drivers who want basic transportation at an attractive price; brand-loyal buyers who return to the same dealer every few years for another of the same model they’ve been driving for years; and those who shop for driving satisfaction and style on a budget.

Kia doesn’t have the kind of reputation so far that would engender much brand loyalty or attract many enthusiasts, but they’ve had budget pricing nailed for some time. The Forte though – Kia’s new compact sedan and replacement for the Spectra – is the company’s chance to sell not only an inexpensive small car, but also one that could keep people coming back for more.

2010 Kia Forte EX
2010 Kia Forte EX. Click image to enlarge

On paper, the Forte is a very promising piece. Its base engine is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder making 156 horsepower, and can be matched with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission in LX and EX models, while the top-end SX trim gets a 173-horsepower, 2.4-litre engine that can be paired with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.

Through about 500 km of in-town driving, my tester averaged an estimated 11.1 L/100 km (my calculations were done manually, as the Forte SX is the only one with a trip computer), against the Natural Resources Canada official ratings of 8.1/5.8 L/100 km (city/highway). My tester was well-broken in, with almost 10,000 kilometres on the clock, so I can only assume that cool (but not cold) November weather is at least partly to blame for the Forte’s not-so-great performance at the pumps. The Forte Koup SX (with 2.4-litre engine and manual transmission) I tested in August 2010 averaged 11.0 L/100 km in the city (though that car only had about 1,300 km on its odometer).

2010 Kia Forte EX
2010 Kia Forte EX
2010 Kia Forte EX. Click image to enlarge

The Forte’s ride is on the firm side, though the suspension in LX and EX trims is notably softer than that in the sportiest SX model. The result is a comfortable ride over most roads, but the car is easily unsettled by particularly rough pavement.

The Forte handles well, but the lack of steering feel discourages hard driving. Likewise for the brakes: they’re grabby at the top of the pedal’s travel, but the pedal itself is spongy and soft.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is one of the most powerful base engines in its class and feels that way, too, with strong acceleration, even with the four-speed automatic in my tester. I have the same complaint about this car’s throttle response as I did with the Forte Koup SX I drove last summer: tip-in is very abrupt, so a light foot is required to launch the car gently. Also, this engine is noisier and rougher at high revs than those found in the class benchmarks from Mazda, Honda and Toyota.

The transmission shifts smoothly, as expected, but it’s programmed to save fuel by upshifting as early as possible. That’s not so bad in itself, but it results in a lot of unnecessary shifting: often, the transmission will be already be in third gear before it realizes you’re not done accelerating, and needs to downshift back to second to help get you up to speed.

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