The 2014 Kia Forte sedan is a stylish and roomier-than-expected four-door car that's longer and wider than its predecessor and offers features not usually found in affordable cars in the segment.
As an example, Forte sedan buyers can add heated seats for both front and rear passengers, a heated steering wheel, puddle and door handle lights and a telematics/communications system that will help find the parked Forte in a crowded shopping mall parking lot.
Too bad, though, that the base Forte sedan doesn't include a standard rearview camera, like the one that's standard on all Honda Civic sedans.
Still, the newly revamped, five-seat Forte, with base 148-horsepower four cylinder, has more power than the base, 2014 Toyota Corolla, whose four cylinder develops 132 horses. It also has a tad more than the 2014 Honda Civic, which has a 143-horsepower four cylinder.
Not to be missed: The Forte comes with Kia's generous warranty program that includes 10 years/100,000-mile limited powertrain coverage and five years/60,000-mile limited basic warranty.
In comparison, the Corolla and Civic have limited powertrain coverage for five years/60,000 miles and limited, basic car warranty good for three years/36,000 miles.
Best of all, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the base, front-wheel drive, 2014 Forte LX sedan, which has a six-speed manual transmission, is $16,700.
This compares with the $19,180 starting retail price for a base, 2014 Honda Civic LX sedan with five-speed manual transmission and the $17,610 starting retail price for a base, 2014 Toyota Corolla LX with six-speed manual.
The lowest priced 2014 Forte sedan with an automatic transmission is $18,200.
In calendar 2013, while 66,146 Fortes were sold in the United States, more than 300,000 buyers purchased Civics and another 300,000-plus bought Corollas. Of course, the Corolla and Civic are well-known small car names and have had reputations for reliability and longevity.
In contrast, the Forte debuted some five years ago as a replacement for Kia's ho-hum Spectra car. Consumer Reports does not list a reliability rating for the newly revamped 2014 Forte.
The test Forte impressed with its handsome exterior, which looked expensive and had a family resemblance to the Optima, Kia's larger mid-size sedan that has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $22,300.
And just like a luxury car, the test Forte EX with two option packages had perimeter approach lighting that illuminated the door handles and activated light-emitting diode puddle lights under the outside mirrors. This kind of feature is rare in mainstream sedans, even among competitors that, like the tester, have a $25,600 sticker price.
Inside the test Forte, the dashboard arrangement of controls and buttons was well done and easy to understand. But the black, plastic-dominated environment didn't convey richness as much as function. Still, the knobs and buttons were large enough to use without fuss.
Plus, the optional, leather-trimmed and heated seats were a nice touch, easing passenger comfort on cold mornings and not leaving out the two passengers riding in the outboard rear seats.
The heated steering wheel was a good idea, too, during this season's wintry weather, and neither the heated rear seats nor heated steering is offered in the Civic. These extra "heated" features, however, require buyers move up to the pricier Forte EX trim level that starts at $20,300 and then add a $2,300 option package.
The Forte EX had the uplevel, 173-horsepower, 2-liter, gasoline direct injection four cylinder. It's revised from before and really gave the test car an eager and responsive personality that made highway merges comfortable and maintained good speed on mountain roads. Torque peaks at 154 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm.
The new-for-2014 six-speed automatic also performed well, delivering power smoothly.
Fuel economy is decent in federal government ratings — 24 miles per gallon in city driving for the test car and 36 mpg on the highway — though there are other similarly sized sedans that can offer higher ratings.
Indeed, the test Forte EX, which was driven in a spirited fashion, averaged just under 25 mpg in travel that involved 70 percent city driving. This translated into a travel range of just 329 miles on a full, 13.2-gallon tank.
The best mileage rating for the Forte sedan is with the base, 1.8-liter, double overhead cam, four cylinder that develops 131 foot-pounds of peak torque at 4,700 rpm. According to the federal government, this base Forte sedan with manual transmission is rated at 25/37 mpg. Note the base engine is the same engine that's used in the Hyundai Elantra. South Korean automaker Hyundai owns Kia, and the Forte is built in South Korea.
The test Forte EX rode on uplevel, 17-inch tires, and moderate road noise came through to passengers. Wind noise wasn't as noticeable.
The new Forte has a more rigid structure and revised suspension, which contribute to better handling. The tester was easy to move through mountain twisty roads with a good amount of speed because body motions were surprisingly controlled. The car felt more balanced than the earlier Fortes, and even harsh road impacts, while reaching passengers, were managed and muted more than expected.
Back-seat legroom of 35.9 inches is improved and about on par with that in the Civic sedan but is less than what's in the longer-length Corolla.
But the Forte's trunk space, measuring 14.9 cubic feet, bests the Corolla's 13 cubic feet and the 12.5 cubic feet in the Civic sedan trunk.
Finally, the 2014 Forte sedan rated four out of five stars overall in federal government crash tests, with only three stars in frontal crash testing.