Surely I'm the only guy in America who is conspicuously not impressed by the shape of the 2015 Mazda 3 5-door hatchback. For me, the look of the 2004 version, developed under the direction of designer Morey Callum, is still the measure of 5-door hatchbacks.
This is why the 2015 Kia Forte 5 SX looks so terrific to me. As uninspired as the sedan version of the Forte might be, the hatchback perfectly balances dynamism with practicality, which is the essence of the magic that a 5-door must have before anyone will understand the unique appeal of the package. It's largely unchanged from 2014 except for electronics, so it still looks great: A simple boxy shape, though not square-rigged. A simple, visual force vector that rises from front to back, and no weird grille. Some sculpted character to the surfaces, yet no tortured surface excitement.
The interior of the 2015 Kia Forte 5 SX also looks great, although the leather upholstery of the $2300 SX Premium Package (sunroof, et al) surely plays a role in my impression of quality. The $1900 navigation system (plus HID headlights, et al) also surely plays a role here. The rear seats go down and you can carry stuff and all that. Yet what I like best is the driving position, which combines a relatively low cowl with a squared-up driving position, and you get kind of expansive field of view that you want on the narrow canyon roads out here around Los Angeles.
Sadly, the 2015 Kia SX Forte 5 doesn't drive as well as a Mazda 3, and in this I am not surprised. The turbocharged, direct-injected 1.6-liter inline-4 is rated at 201 hp, but you really need the standard, six-speed manual transmission to get the engine busy enough to impress you. When it's hooked up with this particular car's six-speed automatic transmission, the whole business sounds like a sound-effects loop for Storm Chasers. As far as the chassis calibration goes, this is no Mazdaspeed 3, particularly the clumsy electric-assist steering. All you really have on your side are the 225/40R-18 88V Nexen CP-671 tires, and unfortunately there's a lot of ride harshness in the bargain. Kia's development skills have improved dramatically recently, but the Forte 5 first came to market a bit before all the really good stuff happened.
Sure looks great, though.
2015 Kia Forte 5 SX Specifications
Price as tested$27,100
Engine1.6L turbo DOHC I-4
Power201 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque195 lb-ft @ 1750-4500 rpm
Length x width x height171.3 x 70.1 x 57.1 in
Curb Weight3122 lbs
Cargo Capacity23.2 cu ft behind 3rd seat
Fuel economy27/46/33 mpg city/highway/combined
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