EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 19, 2013

New Kia Forte boldly leapfrogs forward

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — Here we go again. A Korea-based car company is making another high leap. This time the company is Kia Motors America, the California-based arm of Kia Motors Corp., headquartered in Seoul, South Korea – with American manufacturing operations in Georgia.

The model making this latest leap is the 2014 Kia Forte. The compact-to-medium-sized four-door sedan just arrived as a completely remade, third-generation version of a car that typically appeals to practical, frugal-minded people who want solid transportation at an approachable price. Starting at a list price of $16,700 and running into the low $20,000s, the 2014 Forte certainly is approachable.

But the new Forte also adds higher style and greater luster to the equation. It aims to leap to the level of popularity and owner commitment enjoyed by the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla, two of the most successful models in America. This is going to get interesting, because the new 2014 Kia Forte has abilities that could make it succeed.

“The Corolla and the Civic have had so many years of success that it’s a tough market to break into,” observed Charles Daher Jr., manager at Commonwealth Motors, Lawrence, which sells Kia vehicles as well as the Chevrolet, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen brands. “The Forte has a shot at breaking into it. It could be just a matter of time before it’s bumping heads with them.”

We’ve been here before, with other striking new models from Korea-based companies suddenly emerging to mount credible challenges to well-established rivals. In addition to Kia, Hyundai Motor America has been repeating that pattern of late.

Kia and Hyundai are the two outfits with Korean roots that sell autos in America, although General Motors sells some Korean cars as Buick and Chevrolet models. Both Kia and Hyundai operate in the second tier of the U.S. auto market, beneath Detroit-based Chrysler Group, Ford and General Motors, and Honda, Nissan and Toyota of Japan. But over the last five years especially, Kia and Hyundai have experienced faster, more impressive growth than any other car company in America. Both brands have advanced remarkably in status, becoming commonplace on American roads and building solid reputations among U.S. drivers.

They’re doing it by introducing strikingly designed models that grab attention for their style, yet remain high-value purchases for their quality and for the amount of equipment they package at competitive prices. Noteworthy recent examples are the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima mid-size sedans, the Hyundai Elantra compact sedan, the Kia Sorento and Sportage crossover wagons, and the Hyundai Tucson crossover.

The new 2014 Forte sedan arrived at Commonwealth Motors about two weeks ago, the latest model to follow the Korean companies’ excel-and-conquer approach.

“The major things right now are its looks and its fit and finish,” meaning the quality of its construction, said Daher. “The Forte is by far the best looking model out of everything else in its class.”

The new 2014 version is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor, providing greater cabin space while also contributing to the stretched and stable, athletically poised appearance that gives Forte a sporty attitude. It has a low-slung nose and steeply raked hood and windshield, finishing with a fast-sloping rear window and a flicked-up tail. The Forte’s at-the-ready, low-planted stance and long, prominent side creases make it appear a size larger than its actual vehicle class, said Daher.

“Its lines make it look more like a mid-size car,” he explained.

The sedan is the first of three new Forte types to be introduced this year. Expected in the fall are a redesigned two-door coupe version, with a flashier attitude meant to appeal to young drivers, along with a five-door hatchback wagon that will provide more cargo capacity than the sedan. According to established patterns, the sedan should remain the most popular model by far, Daher noted.

Kia sells the new Forte sedan in two levels. The base model, Forte LX, comes with a 148-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission, with a six-speed automatic adding $1,500 to the base price. Standard features include adjustable steering wheel with embedded audio controls, tire-pressure monitoring, advanced antilock brakes, dynamic stability control, trip computer, outside temperature display, air conditioning, split folding rear seats, power-adjustable heated outside mirrors, and Bluetooth wireless capability.

Starting at a list price of $20,200 the Forte EX uses a larger four-cylinder engine that produces 173 horsepower, linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. It adds such features as chrome trim strips, larger, alloy wheels, back-up camera, fog lights, adjustable steering levels, leather cabin accents, remote locking and additional audio speakers.

While Forte’s equipment list is generous, Daher noted that Kia no longer stands high above other car makers in its willingness to give more for less, making its models better values by packing in more equipment even at lower-priced trim levels. Other car brands have caught on to the practice and now load more features into their more basic versions too, he said.

Instead, the Forte’s success more likely could come from the durability and reliability reflected in the rising used-car values of Kia vehicles, Daher explained. A model’s resale price is high when buyers in the used car market know that the car is still sturdy and strong even after a few years of use. With Kia, Daher has witnessed an encouraging rise in the prices people pay for used models.

Kia, together with Hyundai, has already forced other companies in the car biz to take notice. The two Koreans fostered the impulse to offer more value by packing more features in low-level cars, as Daher noted. Other commentators have pointed out that stylish, high-visibility body design gets more emphasis today in segments like the mid-size sedan class, after the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata made waves.

The new Kia Forte is still so new that it’s impossible to say how well it will fare.

“The first one that came in was sold the same day,” said Daher. “But it’s too early to tell. It’s so new that we can’t say we have people crossing over from other models yet.”

Stay tuned.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a longtime auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2014 Kia Forte Sedan Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive compact sedan Price range: $16,700 to $20,200 (plus options) Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 7 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles roadside assistance Base engine: 1.8-liter I4 Power: 148 horsepower at 6,500 rpm; 131 lb.-ft. torque at 4,700 rpm Base transmission: 6-speed manual Fuel economy: 25 mpg city; 37 mpg highway Wheelbase: 106 inches Length: 180 inches Width: 70 inches Height: 56 inches Weight: 2,736 pounds Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons Turning circle: 34.8 feet