2019 Kia Forte: Yes, a Compact Car Can Be Refined and Spirited

Kia Forte Compact Car

Taking a few cues from the Kia Stinger, the Forte sets the stage for the road ahead.

When I graduated from college and landed my first job, the first thing I wanted (and needed) to do was get a new car. My second-hand Subaru had run its course, and, I wanted to drive a car that reflected my new status: A member of the executive class (well, sort of). I wanted to get rid of my kid car and drive an adult car.

I wanted something that looked good on me, that reflected my achievement and that provided the features I would need for my daily commute. And I didn’t want to compromise.

Kia Forte Compact Car

The Kia Forte profile shows the Stinger DNA from front grilled to the gentle lift at the tip of the trunk. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Who This Car is For

  • Young or first time car owners
  • Buyers who want lots of standard technology and safety features
  • Drivers who appreciate active safety features
  • Parents assisting their teen or college-aged kid purchase a new car
  • Families with teen drivers who need a reliable and well-equipped second car for the household
  • Commuters who appreciate good fuel economy
  • Buyers who don’t want to spend their entire budget on a car payment

We took a tour of the Kia Forte on Facebook Live and answered your questions

Kia Forte Compact Car

The Kia Forte steering wheel includes function buttons with a solid, substantial feel. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What the 2019 Kia Forte Costs:

  • FE base model, which includes 8” touch screen (and remember, a rear view camera is always standard by law), Apple Car Play/Android Auto, 2 USB ports and a 12V power port, forward collision mitigation, lane departure assist, remote keyless entry, and is available in a manual transmission: $17,690 (add $900 for automatic continuously variable transmission)
  • LXS, which adds the CVT transmission, soft touch surfaces, multiple drive modes and Sirius XM interface: $19,090
  • S, which adds larger wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a sportier exterior look and the option of a sun roof: $20,190
  • EX, which adds ventilated heated and cooled front seats, blind spot monitors, rear cross traffic detection (which detects pedestrians or cars in your path when the car is in reverse), a spare tire, leatherette seats, push button starter, proximity trunk opener (activated when you stand near the car with your key fob on hand) and the option of adaptive cruise control, Harman Kardon premium sound, wireless charge pad: $21,990
  • Delivery charge adds $895 
Kia Forte Compact Car

Side view silhouette of the 2019 Kia Forte. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Learn to Say it: Key-a For-tay

Millions have already learned this. Forte is Kia’s #1 selling model in the US, representing 20% of the brand’s US sales. And, it’s where so many of Kia’s fans get their first experience. Realizing this, Kia wanted to make sure the redesign delivered even more features that people wanted.

So they asked owners for their wish list in a new Forte and they got two answers: Safety and technology. The ability to connect a phone to the infotainment system (an infotainment system is a modern car technology must), and safety systems that keep drivers safe on the road. Apple Car Play and Android Auto were added as standard features, as well as 2 USB ports, a 12V power port, forward collision mitigation, lane departure assist and a keyless remote. Oh, and the infotainment screen is standard, too.

Further Reading: The Stinger inspired the Forte’s redesign; see why we love this car! 

Kia Forte Compact Car

Pittsburgh makes a cameo both in the front windshield and through the sunroof. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Then, It Gets Louder— or Better

From the base model the “Forte” builds — as in the music keeps getting louder. A solid group of  safety and tech features are standard on all models. Then, Kia added sport and smart drive modes to the next trim level. Sport makes the steering more responsive and allows the engine to get up to higher RPMs before shifting, resulting in a more powerful and responsive drive experience in lower gears. Smart mode is a machine learning mode that learns when you most need power and when you don’t, and gives you the extra power and steering when you need it, but dials it back to normal when you don’t. At the top trim level, Kia added heated and cooled seats, adaptive cruise control, leatherette seating, and a few options including a sunroof and a Harman Kardon premium sound system.

All in, buyers of the top of the line model will spend about $25,000, and for the nearly loaded model, about $21,000. But even for $25,000, there are a lot of features you won’t find on another similarly priced compact sedan (heated and cooled seats, and adaptive cruise control, for instance).

But even at the base level, the Forte has a lot of attention to detail that pampers every buyer. This includes a nicely designed cabin, USB ports that are lighted and outlined in white so you can see them, dual climate control so you don’t have to argue with your companion about cabin temperature, more leg room so your back seat passengers are comfy and plenty of head room and lots of trunk space so you can live out of your car (like we all do…).

Further Reading: Why I bought my Kia Forte, and why I bought a second one!

Kia Forte Compact Car

The Forte lets you know when it’s in sport mode. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Forte Engine: Getting the Most Out of 147 Horsepower

Gear heads looking at the new Forte are talking about this: The CVT transmission, which is an upgrade for this price category. I am a CVT fan; they are more fuel efficient, less expensive to build and keep the engine’s power under your right foot by continuously shifting gears for optimum performance.

But really, all I want is confidence. To know that I can merge onto the highway, drive my friends around town, haul my stuff out of a dorm room and into a grown up apartment. That is what matters more than horses and engine specs.

And, the Forte has it. On our test drive we drove up some significantly hilly roads and my drive partner MotoMan put the Forte to the test. To me, the engine sounded and felt fine. I probably wouldn’t drive it pedal-to-the-metal like he did— he averaged 22 MPG in the Forte while I averaged 33???? — but it was a good test. The Forte didn’t feel like it was lagging or working too hard to make it up the hill. And, when I drove judiciously, the Forte responded with greatly improved MPG.

Further Reading: Need more space and utility but still want a small car? Check out the Kia Sportage

Kia Forte Compact Car

Leg room in the Kia Forte; the front seat is set for me an I could still cross my legs in the back seat. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Kudos for a Comfy Rear Seat

And as we charged up that hill and around the curves, I was sure I was going to be car sick. But no. I was fine. It helped to look out the windows, and the Forte’s head room helped, too. The attention to the rear seat was obvious. While this isn’t a car I’d expect to always have back seat passengers in, when you do, they’ll be just fine.

Kia Forte Compact Car

Sporty and posh details include chrome frames for the dashboard and the round, spoked air vents. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Wait. Did You Say Stinger?

Why, yes I did! This is one of the things I love most about Kia: Its design legacy. You might remember that Kia introduced the Stinger last year, a design and performance mastery from the company’s president and chief of design, Peter Schreyer (who you can read all about here and I hope you will).

Peter is the Karl Lagerfeld of car design: While he designs the high end Genesis line and was the design master behind Audi — and Karl Lagerfeld is the design guru behind Chanel — Peter believes everyone deserves great design. So, the elements that define the high end also shape cars everyone can drive (similarly, you can buy Karl Lagerfeld’s beautiful designs at much more affordable prices at Lord & Taylor).

The result is that there are design cues from the Stinger that you’ll see in the Forte: the more tightly tailored front grille, the turn signals, the side and tail lights, the silhouette from the front grille to the rear spoiler—all infect Stinger DNA. Inside, you’ll see chrome framing the dashboard, the gear shift and the circular spoked air vents, a sporty but expensive touch.

Kia Forte Compact Car

The center console; with my phone plugged in Apple Car Play is activated. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Art of Being Grown Up: Look Good, Feel Good and Drive Well

And, make wise investments that take care of you. After all, you’re just starting to repay your student loans, save for that first home and eeking enough out of your paycheck for music festival tickets and midnight sushi. You don’t want your car to be a burden, you want it to do its job and look good doing it.

Kia Forte Compact Car

The Harman Kardon sound system is integrated into door panels. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We Listened to in the 2019 Kia Forte

Touring Pittsburgh’s city streets and country roads in the Forte made me pine music that builds to a crescendo, and also, some local musical stars. This what I thought sounded great in the Forte; see if you can find the Pittsburgh natives, too!

Disclosure: I was Kia’s guest for this first look test drive. Travel and accommodations were provided, but all opinions are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss