Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kia Forte 5-Door - Mostly Great

I was looking forward to my week with the Kia Forte 5-door for a while. It seemed like the perfect car for me--compact, reasonably agile and fun to drive, and with a rear door and dropping second-row seats, ideal for bass-hauling. Now that week is ending, and the car mostly met the mark.

The 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine feels energetic, especially if you turn off the ECO setting. I normally keep cars in any position that helps them achieve maximum fuel economy, but the car felt like it dropped its lead shoes when I removed the ECO. Maybe it's the later upshifts. As it was, the car's EPA ratings are 23 City, 32 Highway, and I averaged about 23 miles per gallon on regular, which is decent if not especially outstanding. A 156-horsepower, 2.o-liter engine is also available in some Forte models that gets 26/36.

The scores in the EPA Green Vehicle Guide, which rates cars on a scale of 1-10 (10 is best) for greenhouse gases and air pollution, gives the car two 6's--just enough to qualify it for "SmartWay" status. One may wonder if the manufacturers build to a "12 total" standard.

Living with this car proved to be as I expected--comfortable and quiet, and the interior feels substantial and looks competitive. The exterior appears well proportioned and even a little elegant in Ebony Black.

A few annoyances, though. The automatic climate control didn't heat that well much of the time. I didn't freeze, but I had to crank the knob to 80 degrees and pray. Also, the CD player skipped. And when I went to use my iPod I needed to use a special cable from Kia (thankfully, supplied) that used both the AUX and the USB ports. My friend Fred describes this as a "cheap" setup. It did work fine, however, although if I wanted a "Random" shuffle setting I had to re-enter it each time I started the car. I've noted this in other Kias. Lastly, when I folded down the second-row seats, it didn't create a flat load floor.

My test car, an SX model, was upgraded with a $1,000 leather package, $750 power sunroof and $1,800 Navigation package, which pushed the bottom line to $23,640. No econobox this. The 2012 EX model 5-door starts at $18,850.

If I had faith that my troubles with the heating system were unique to this car I could see buying one, although there is a pretty nice selection of small wagons out there now.

Photo by Chris Kidwell.

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