The 2017 Kia Forte sedan gets a mild design update, adopting a more shapely front end and redesigned headlights. But its elongated roofline, arched profile, and sculpted side sheet metal are far less distinctive now than when the car launched. Virtually every small sedan has adopted the same shape to reduce aerodynamic drag in the interests of boosting fuel-efficiency ratings.
We'd call the Forte sedan one of the best-looking models in its class from the outside. The rake of the front end is almost sports-car-like, while the roofline arcs gracefully, with the stubby, near-vertical trim piece at the back of the side glass visually bracketing the passenger space. Side glass now dips ahead of the sideview mirrors—as is quite common in the latest batch of compact sedans—while the rear end narrows and works reasonably well with the chamfers of the taillights. The thin lip of chrome around the back doesn't add up to anything nearly as distinctive as what's in front, but in all it's a good-looking, perfectly proportioned small sedan.
We still consider the exterior styling to be one of the Forte's strengths, but it's less striking today despite getting the proportions right—a tough call on compact sedans, but still worth a 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
There's also a five-door Forte hatchback that remains a carryover model, though a new Forte 5-door has been revealed at auto shows and is likely to go on sale for the 2018 model year.
Inside, the Forte feels simple and straightforward, with a design and details likely modeled after those in sport sedans. A split console design cuts down on what could be a bulky center panel. That bank of controls emerges smoothly from a dash surface finished in better plastics than we've seen in the Forte before, and the very light touch of metallic trim.
The cockpit is finished in higher-grade plastics—with large analog hooded gauges, for instance—plus sturdy, round climate-control knobs and covered console storage. The clean layout and effective infotainment systems finishes a look and feel that's tastefully simple yet just a bit upscale.
The 2017 Kia Forte gets a mild styling update, with the latest Kia front styling among other tweaks; we like the shape, though it's less striking these days.
The 2017 Kia Forte may look like a sport sedan from some angles, but it's not one by any stretch of the imagination. It's a respectable contender in a tough segment of the car market, and this year, it's got mechanical upgrades to go with the restyled front end.
The result is solid economy-car performance—including reasonably good steering and handling, general powertrain perkiness, and reasonably good gas mileage. But you won't find it class-leading in any performance categories. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
A new standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, rated at 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, replaces the previous 1.8-liter inline-4. A 6-speed manual is standard, though the vast majority of buyers will likely opt for the updated 6-speed automatic transmission.
The second engine option is a direct-injected 164-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, rated at 151 lb-ft of torque. The larger engine offers more relaxed tuning, but neither is among the quickest or most powerful for compact sedans. And we found the updated automatic transmission to be slow and deliberate in its shifts, with short pauses as if to think about what to do before executing the shift. It's easy to get used to, but it all gives the impression of a car that's at the opposite end of the scale than sporty—despite the "S" model name on the mid-level version we tested briefly.
You can get LX models with a choice between a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, while the EX is only offered with an automatic. The Forte's drivetrain manages to remind us of some of the better 1990s-era compact cars, with its 4-cylinder engine quite rev-happy and mostly vibration-free, yet also quite noisy at times. And the direct-injected models share the distinctive ticking noise at idle that most of those kinds of engines exhibit.
The Forte isn't all that quick, even in EX form, but it handles reasonably well, with some models getting three modes of steering boost, selectable via a button on the steering wheel. Users can choose from Normal, Sport, or Comfort modes, which add or subtract weight while leaving the quick responsiveness alone. We expect a car like the Forte to feel at home in the base two modes, but the sport mode proved useful to help it track cleanly on the highway.
Overall, the 2017 Forte continues to lack the firm resolve of a Ford Focus or a Mazda 3. There's somewhat more body motion that you might expect from a sportier small car, yet at the same time choppy pavement can ring in loudly—and we remain to be convinced that the Forte serves up any more comfort in return. It's perfectly adequate, but it's not terribly special.
The 2017 Kia Forte offers unremarkable performance and handling; it's the opposite of sporty, despite the addition of a new "S" model this year.
We give the Kia Forte a 7 out of 10 for comfort and utility. The front seats are supportive and cargo space is good, but back-seat space is just average. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The 2017 Kia Forte offers decent room for four adults front and rear, though head room in the rear will be tight for taller adults—a result of the rakish roofline that reduces aerodynamic drag. The caution is that with the available sunroof in the EX, head room can be quite tight. The longer body and cabin make more of an impact on its handsome styling than it does on its usable room.
Taller drivers may find the lower cushions slightly short, while other would prefer more bolstering; our test drivers were split on this issue, unusually. Seat comfort is average, and while the driver-side power and seat ventilation that come on the Forte EX are useful and eye-catching at order time, the effort might better have been spent on lifting that average rating.
The back seat cushion sits low, meaning taller rear passengers will sit in a knees-up position (for those buyers who ever put more than one commuter into their compact sedan). In back, the doors are cut in to open wide, yet the swoopy roofline can get in the way of easy of entry and exit.
The cabin appointments and materials of the 2017 Forte convey an elevated sense of quality. From the soft touch of the plastics to the pleasing mix of materials here, it looks upscale, with flat-black plastic surrounds on some models the only sour note. But once underway, the Forte lacks some of the isolation from rough road surfaces and general noise that vastly improved competitors have brought to the compact sedan class in recent years.
One high point is storage space, which is very good indeed. There's a useful bin hiding under a sliding screen in front of the shift lever, and a fair-sized glovebox and center console bin. There's even a little tray perfectly sized to hold the key fob. And we continue to view Kia's infotainment system as among the best and most intuitive in the business.
As for trunk space, the Forte's 14.9 cubic feet beats almost all competitors. The trunk lid's cut wide, for easy loading, and the rear seats fold down, almost flat, when needed.
The 2017 Kia Forte is roomy for most adults, its interior finishes are pleasant, useful storage abounds, and its infotainment interface is among the best—but it can get noisy.
The 2017 Kia Forte sedan has acceptable safety ratings, but isn't particularly a leader among compact cars, which add greater levels of standard and optional active-safety features every year.
Using our new scale, it rates a 5 out of 10, gaining points for NHTSA scores and for a fairly inexpensive series of collision avoidance tech, but losing points for visibility and the lack of a rearview camera as standard. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The Forte sedan's overall NHTSA score is now up to the top level of five stars after a structural refit two years ago that boosted its frontal-crash score from a worrisome three stars to an acceptable four. The IIHS hasn't yet rated the 2017 Forte sedan, but the 2016 model (which should be structurally identical) received the top rating of "Good" after its previous "Poor" rating in the IIHS small overlap frontal test was brought up to "Marginal." That's still not great.
The two much lower-volume Forte variants, both still on a previous generation platform, haven't been recently rated by either organization.
Relative to key rivals, the Forte sedan is no more than average in crash-test results and occupant safety. A rear-view camera is standard on the S and EX trim levels, but part of an optional package on the base Forte LX model.
Kia has recently added a list of active safety systems, including forward-collision warnings, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitors, and rear-cross traffic alert. As well as the usual roster of airbags and stability systems, the Forte also includes four-wheel disc brakes—not a feature to be taken for granted in this class.
Outward vision isn't all that great compared to other compact sedans—another consequence of the stylish design—although you now get a rearview camera across the model line. In previous years, we'd suggested that based on safety ratings alone, we're wouldn't necessarily have pointed safety-conscious families to the Forte. That's now no longer the case.
The 2017 Kia Forte gets decent safety ratings and now offers active-safety features, though a rear-view camera still isn't standard on every model.
|Overall Frontal Barrier Crash Rating:||(4/5)|
|Overall Side Crash Rating:||(5/5)|
|Overall Side Barrier Rating:||Not Rated|
|NHTSA Roll-over Resistance Rating:||(4/5)|
|Side Impact Test||Not Tested|
|Roof Strength Test||Not Tested|
|Rear Crash Protection/Head Restraint||Not Tested|
|IIHS Small Overlap Front Test Results||Not Tested|
|IIHS Moderate Overlap Front Test Results||Not Tested|
The 2017 Kia Forte continues Kia's reputation for value-packed vehicles, offering considerable features for the money, worth a 6 on our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
All Forte versions include keyless entry; air conditioning; a rearview camera; power windows, locks, and mirrors; satellite radio (with three months' free trial service); Bluetooth hands-free calling; and steering-wheel audio controls.
This year, Kia has upgraded the standard cloth trim and added a new Forte S model between the base LX and the top-of-the-line EX versions. While its on-road behavior remains a way from sporty, the S model adds "sport tuning" for the suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, a chrome exhaust tip, LED positioning lights, and a standard rear-view camera.
The EX now has leather upholstery and heated front seats as standard, plus items like a cooled glovebox, dual-zone full automatic temperature control, rear vents, and a push-button start with Smart Key. Options include a UVO infotainment system that can use a smartphone to tap into Google Maps), a true on-board navigation system, ventilated driver's seat, LED taillights, and a garage-door opener.
The Forte offers relatively few stand-alone options, simplifying ordering, but a number of packages wrap together sets of features that add convenience and luxury. The Popular Package to the LX brings 16-inch wheels; keyless entry; and cruise control; the Eco package tops it off with ISG stop/start control. And the Premium Package on the EX includes a 10-way power driver seat; four heated seats; driver-seat ventilation; leather upholstery; a power sunroof; keyless ignition; 17-inch wheels; and a new standalone navigation system.
A Technology package gains LED taillights; a color LCD readout tucked between the gauges; and automatic climate control. And the UVO system is one that leverages the driver's smartphone for live information access, tapping Google for mapping information and your smartphone's data stream for streaming audio. It also offers nice touches like service scheduling and a parking reminder.
The 2017 Kia Forte offers good value for the money, though active-safety systems remain options, including a rearview camera on the base model.
The 2017 Kia Forte sedan, with a revised engine and some other updates, manages to improve its EPA fuel-economy ratings slightly despite changes to test calculations for this year that slightly penalize most cars. But it's not among the most fuel-efficient of all compact sedans; that honor is split by the Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic lineups.
Across the entire Forte lineup of sedan, Forte 5 hatchback, and Forte Koup two-door, ratings range from 23 to 29 mpg on the city cycle, 29 to 38 mpg on the highway cycle, and 25 to 32 mpg combined. The most efficient model is the 2017 Forte sedan with the 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed automatic transmission (29 city, 38 highway, 32 combined).
Alll models with the 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder are at the low end of the scale, with combined ratings from 25 to 27 mpg. Manual-gearbox versions of the turbo engine do worse than those with the 6-speed automatic.
The Forte Eco version of previous model years has been dropped, and the fuel-saving stop-start system that was due to be introduced will not be arriving in the Forte. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
One model of the 2017 Kia Forte sedan gets a 32-mpg combined rating, but this isn't among the more fuel-efficient compact sedans.