OTTAWA, Ont. — Kia arrived on these shores less than two decades ago. The early years were littered with lessons. The learning curve was steep and improvement pursued relentlessly. As a result, the Kia story has changed — from price to value
Kia is now the number-one brand in initial quality and has been for four consecutive years, according to respected sources like J D Power and Consumer Reports. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has awarded Kia vehicles its coveted Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus ratings — 10 models to date.
Value conscious Canadians have rewarded this march to recognition and respect. Over the last decade, sales have more than doubled, from 35,000 to more than 76,000.
All this makes the arrival of the 2019 Forte worthy of note. The compact segment, the largest car category in this country, is crowded.
This fifth-generation Forte makes a choice even more difficult.
The new Forte is packed with safety features, technology and new-found driving dynamics at a price that invites comparison.
The design is similar to the Stinger, the company’s surprising entry in the hot car field. The new Forte is 80 mm longer and 20 mm wider than the outgoing model. The base of the windshield is set back 10 mm. The resulting long hood and sloping roofline has not only changed the proportions and profile, it has resulted in more legroom and cargo capacity. At 434 litres, the trunk, of the new Forte is among the largest in the segment.
The combination of active and passive safety features determines how vehicles protect occupants in a crash — and thus how they are rated by safety agencies. The body structure of the new Forte is 26 per cent stronger. There is the usual array of airbags (six), anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control.
All but the base manual transmission model come with forward collision warning, lane keep assist and driver attention alert. The remaining trim levels add the advanced driver assistance system. This includes lane departure and blind spot warning, automatic high beams and rear and cross-traffic warning.
To make the new Forte easier to get in and out the design and engineering teams revisited door openings and seat positions. The seats themselves are stronger and lighter and have been recognized by the IIHS for their contribution to increased passenger protection. The passenger seat on all trim levels is now height adjustable.
The dash is horizontal in appearance with a 20-cm floating screen for the infotainment system in the centre and a two-level tray beneath, the upper one providing a wireless charging pad.
The 2019 Forte is available in six trim levels. In a bold move it is not going to base its marketing on the least expensive model, as is the industry norm. Knowing that fewer than five per cent of Canadian consumers buy that version, it has selected the most popular trim level, and equipped it with the features consumers want. Instead of advertising the $16,500 LX model with a manual transmission, Forte ads will feature the $21,000 EX.
The base LX MT comes with: heated front seats, heated steering wheel, cruise control, air conditioning, 20-cm display with rear view camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, wireless connectivity and remote keyless entry. At $19,000 the LX adds automatic transmission, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist and driver attention alert.
The EX trim, featured in all marketing efforts, adds blind spot collision warning, rear cross traffic alert, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, wireless charging pad and automatic high beams.
There are EX plus ($22,500), EX Premium ($25,100), and EX Limited ($28,065) trims as well. As you go up the trim ladder, they add things like larger wheels, sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, power driver seat, UVO telematics, smart key, smart cruise control, advanced collision warning, navigation, Harmon Kardon audio system, ventilated front and heated rear seats.
All come with the 147-horsepower, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine used previously. But, it is paired with an entirely new and significant continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Regular readers will know I am not a fan of the CVT. In fact, that alone would stop me from purchasing a vehicle so equipped.
Kia engineers have come up with a version that thinks it is a regular automatic; it thinks it has distinct gears.
A brief explanation is in order. CVTs rely on belts and pulleys instead of actual gears. They put the engine in its most efficient (high) rev range, and keep it there while continuously varying the length of the belts. The result is an annoying loud moan from the engine at constant high revs while vehicle speed increases.
Kia’s new “intelligent variable transmission” (IVT) swaps the usual fabric-like belt for a steel chain belt. The IVT includes eight simulated gears and seven shift points. Under acceleration, engine revs rise and fall in a “normal” manner. There is very little indication of it being a CVT — something all of my fellow scribes at the introduction commented on.
Performance is class competitive and fuel mileage impressive. Kia claims a 17 per cent improvement over the outgoing model with most of that due to the new transmission. I averaged 6.5 litres per 100 km during several hundred kilometres of mixed conditions over rural Quebec roads and dipped into the fives on occasion.
Those poorly-maintained roads did point out that the suspension of the new Forte has been weighted toward the handling side of the ride/handling spectrum. The car handles extremely well but the ride is slightly harsh over poor surfaces; it was fine when we got to smooth surface.
The 2019 Forte benefits from a serious upgrade, making it a viable competitor to anything in the class.
- Model: 2019 Kia Forte
- Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 147-horsepower, 132 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
- Transmission: continuously variable automatic
- NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 7.7 / 5.9
- Length: 4,640 mm
- Width: 1,800 mm
- Wheelbase: 2,700 mm
- Price: $16,495 to $28,065, plus freight
- Primary competition: Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla