For 2011, Kia has introduced a five-door hatchback version of the Forte as well as some minor changes in appearance and mechanics. The Forte, which debuted last year as a replacement for the much-maligned 2009 Spectra, is steadily rising as viable competition for similar small car offerings by Honda and Toyota. With an opening MSRP of $14,995 (to $18,895 on the high end) and average fuel economy of 25 city / 34 highway, the Kia sits high on the small car list. Its most notable competition comes from the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda3, and Volkswagen Golf.
For 2011, the Forte is offered in three models: sedan, Koup, and the hatchback. Kia is targeting daily commuters with this car, and while the Forte isn't powerful, it does offer accurate steering, an overall air of refinement, and good enough acceleration for day-to-day situations. The suspension is up to even bumpy roads, but passing power does leave a bit to be desired. There are two engine options, both four-cylinder. The 2.0-liter puts out 156 hp, while the 2.4 is capable of 173. Both are paired with six-speed manual transmissions with an option for an automatic.
Reviewers have been more than kind about the Forte's exterior, which is modern and not at all boxy (and from some angles it's even a little sporty.) The trick in designing small cars is to get away from that "toy" feeling, which the Kia manages quite well. You won't be embarrassed climbing into this compact in the parking lot. Once inside, you'll find yourself in a high-quality cabin with well-placed gauges and controls. The front seats include warmers and, in the upper trims, leather. Don't expect to be comfortable in the back, but that's not unusual for this genre. The backseat can be folded down to expand the 14.7 feet of cargo space in the trunk.
Standard features include Bluetooth, controls on the wheel, Sirius satellite, USB, four-wheel disc brakes, and stability control among others. These features are generally optional in other models in this class and save the buyer in the neighborhood of $1800 that would be spent on upgrades in other models. You do have to go up to the SX trim to get a telescoping steering column, and only the LX and EX offer tilt. For taller drivers, getting comfortable behind the wheel will be difficult without these options.
The 2010 earned five stars from the federal government for driver and passenger protection and was a top safety pick by the insurance industry. The Forte has anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and a full array of air bags including side-curtain units.
There is no reason to feel that the 2011 Kia Forte is a compromise in any sense of the world. It's a well-designed small car with excellent fuel efficiency and a solid reputation for day-to-day commuter performance. The model is certainly up to road trips for one or two people and although acceleration can be on the sluggish side, the Forte gets you where you're going with comfort hinting toward luxury. A nice entry in the compact car class and excellent value for the money.