Starting the morning with a fuel readout of 411 miles till empty is a happy start to any commuter’s day. That message greeted me in my first drive of the redesigned 2019 Kia Forte sedan, which has a highway fuel-economy rating of 40 mpg.
But Kia is adamant that its Stinger-influenced Forte is more than “just a commuter car.” It is, but with a more efficient four-cylinder engine, a new continuously variable transmission engineered by Kia-Hyundai and a 14-gallon tank with a possible driving range of more than 500 miles. So forgive those with hyper-miling commuters who seek Forte’s mpgs, range, looong new-vehicle warranty and tempting price.
The trouble with sedans, large or small — and no matter how well done — is that four-door cars are being bypassed for SUVs, small ones or large. No matter that a small SUV costs more than a comparably sized sedan. According to the latest tally by Kelley Blue Book, the average price of a new compact car is about $20,500 and the average price of a compact SUV crossover — is $28,409.
The 2019 Forte is sold in four, front-wheel-drive trim levels with automatic or manual transmissions. Starting prices range from $18,585 for the entry FE with six-speed manual to $22,885 for the EX with CVT, leatherette upholstery and smartkey locking and push-button ignition. Pricing includes the $895 freight charge from Pesqueria, Mexico.
The warranty is for 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance and 10-years/100,000-miles for the engine powertrain.
The midrange Forte S tester ($21,085) was $22,410 with two options: carpeted floor mats, $125, and the S Premium package, $1,200, which adds a power sunroof and LED interior lighting and LED headlights with high-beam assist.
Kia did a good job in re-creating the third-generation Forte with its Stinger-infused styling elements — Stinger is Kia’s performance-tuned five-door coupe hatchback that has gotten rave reviews but not big sales numbers.
But Forte is a functional family car and an ideal ride-hailing car. The redesign increased its length by 3.2 inches, which went toward more rear legroom and trunk space, now at 15.3 cubic feet — and larger than many full-size sedans. While the wheelbase stayed the same at 106.3 inches, the car is about three-quarters of an inch wider, a bit taller and about 93 pounds lighter.
Much design effort went into creating a heads-up driver area for eyes on the road. The 8-inch center touch screen in the instrument panel is about parallel with the gauge array facing the driver. Eyes move easily left to right and back. Sightlines are reasonably open but the outstretched windshield pillars have a wide base at the side mirrors that can block clear views of pedestrians in crosswalks. The plastics, fabric and headliner are of premium materials and appearance. Nothing looks or feels cheap.
The firm fabric seats are comfortably bolstered, but those on the long haul might wish for more lower-back support or adjustable lumbar. The shifter console has an accommodating e-bin with USB, audio aux-in and two 180-watt 12-volt plugs, plus a tray to rest a phone, which can be optioned for wireless charging. (But there are no back-seat charging ports on the S model.)
The cabin has more soundproofing and the ride quality is comfortable. The rear torsion-beam suspension is a budget choice, but it allows an improved and flatter trunk space.
There are just enough electronic technologies to the Sport model to enhance without overwhelming the driver. Standard equipment includes remote locking, projection headlights, fog lights, LED taillights and running lights, rearview camera, AndroidAuto or Apple CarPlay infotainment systems, manual height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 folding back seat and steering wheel controls
for Bluetooth, audio and cruise.
The new body has 54 percent more high-strength steel and is 16 percent stiffer, which always helps durability way down the road. Safety features are substantial for an economy car, including forward collision avoidance warning and assist, lane-departure warning and driver attention warning.
Stopping power is confident from four-wheel disc brakes with 11-inch vented front rotors and 10-inch solid rotors rear. The 34.8-foot turning circle is urban friendly.
The much-revised, Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter engine has the same power ratings as before but better fuel economy. The Atkinson-cycle technology is frequently used with gasoline-electric hybrids. It uses less fuel and generates lower horsepower but higher mileage ratings. And that’s pretty much how the 147-horsepower engine performs, mileage over muscle. But, oddly, there is no auto stop-start at idle (It is under study, Kia said).
Power delivery gets an assist from the re-engineered CVT automatic transmission, which Kia calls Intelligent Variable Transmission. The revisions were to take away the wail and the uneven rubberbanding of acceleration common to most CVTs. The initial start out has a quicker response, but there’s no denying it’s a CVT. Its standard drive mode is for maximum mileage, but punching up the Sport mode adds just enough urgency to guard your line in the commute. Kia says the engine and IVT are “Smart Stream” powertrains that will make their way into the Kia lineup in the future.
Forte’s curb weight is trim at 2,762 pounds, to benefit mileage. Fuel economy ratings with the CVT are strong at 30 mpg city, 40 highway and 34 mpg combined, on 87 octane. I was averaging 24.8 to 32 mpg with limited highway driving and mostly in Sport mode.
The base FE model can be ordered with a six-speed manual with 15-inch wheels. Its fuel economy is 27/37/31 mpg, so I’m not sure what incentive there is to go manual.
Whether picking up paying passengers or in the school carpool, the back seat legroom is long, almost 35 ½ inches, with tall headroom (37.5 inches). The bench seat has adult-class thigh support and a relaxed seatback angle. Extras include a well-padded center armrest, overhead lights and grab handles, but no USB or 12-volt charging ports.
The trunk has useful storage under the floor — because there is no spare tire, just a flat-tire inflating system.
You can’t always get the SUV you want for $22,000. But the Forte’s complete remodel makes a competent, comfortable and attractive car, whether as commuter, family sedan or ride-hailer.
2019 Kia Forte S
- Body style: compact, 5-seat, front-drive sedan
- Engine: 147-hp, 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder; 132 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm
- Transmission: CVT
- Fuel economy: 30/40/34 mph city/hwy/combined; 87 octane or higher fuel
- Fuel tank: 14 gal.
- Trunk space: 15.3 cu. ft.
- Front head/leg room: 38.8/42.2 in.
- Rear head/leg room: 37.5/35.7 in.
- Length/wheelbase: 182.7/106.3 in.
- Curb weight: 2,762 lbs.
- Turning circle: 34.8 ft.
- Standard equipment includes: remote locking, projection headlights, fog lights, LED taillights and running lights, 8-inch touch screen, rearview camera, AndroidAuto or Apple CarPlay, manual height-adjustable driver’s seat, fog lights, LED taillights and running lights, 60/40 folding back seat, steering wheel controls (Bluetooth, audio, cruise)
- Safety features include: 6 air bags, forward collision avoidance warning and assist, lane-departure warning, stability and traction controls, hill-start assist, driver attention warning
- Base price: $21,085, including $895 freight charge; price as tested $22,410
- Options on test vehicle: S Premium package, $1,200, includes power sunroof, LED overhead interior lighting and LED headlights with high-beam assist; carpeted floor mats $125
- Where assembled: Pesqueria, Mexico
- Warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance; 10-years/100,000-miles powertrain