EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR KEN ROSS: I spent four days with the Kia, which I actually ended up using for school work. As part of my ongoing study on the defensive use of firearms, I took a vehicle-safety class from Safety Solutions Academy in Toledo, Ohio. Gun-specific safety topics aside, it was extremely instructive to just learn how to secure a vehicle and its passengers. The bonus: It was all done very comfortably in the Kia Forte 5. At 6-foot-2, I was a little concerned going in that I would have trouble repeatedly getting in and out of such a small car, but it wasn’t a problem at all; my long frame fits easily into the driver seat, and the door opening provides excellent ingress and egress. The passenger seat has just as much room and is extremely comfortable.
As for driving, the six-speed manual transmission is responsive, and the engine is surprisingly peppy. While no race car, it accelerates well both off the line and in highway passing. The exterior design is stylish, too, while inside, the utility is unmatched for the size. Once you let the backseats down and open the hatch, there is more than enough room to fit a pop-up tent, folding table, four bags, three tarps, a folding chair and a large cooler.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Before you scream “$26,000?! For a Korean hatchback?! Are you out of your mind?!” let’s look at what you get here.
To start, this is more or less a range-topping Kia Forte5. With SX trim, you get the sporty powertrain, I guess -- peppy, but nothing mind-blowing. The presence of a six-speed manual on such a loaded Kia probably marks this as one of the rarest vehicles in America. Fuel economy seems so-so for a 1.6-liter, with 29 mpg combined predicted. I suspect we returned substantially less than that based on the real-time economy readout.
If you’re looking for a true driver’s hatch, you’d be better served with the Ford Focus ST or the Volkswagen Golf GTI. But you weren’t looking at the Kia Forte5 because you wanted a driver’s hatch, were you?
Didn’t think so. What this car offers is value -- yes, even at $26,000. It’s an unremarkable if inoffensive-looking car the outside, though the SX-standard five-spoke 18-in alloy wheels are a nice touch.
Where it shines is inside: The interior is really, really nice, and not just for a Kia -- it actually makes the Audi A3 look a little shabby, to say nothing of its Japanese competitors. What it lacks in luxurious materials it makes up in premium, solid feel and unfussy, fresh design. It doesn’t seem like it’ll come off as dated in a design cycle or two.
And the features! They go a long way toward justifying the price. This thing’s got basically everything you could ever want in an economy car, including a heated and ventilated driver’s seat (the front passenger has to make do with a seat that’s merely heated). Plus, the UVO infotainment system is right up there with the Fiat-Chrysler offering for clean, easy-to-use and intuitive design. I just drove a car costing $10,000 more that didn’t come with a backup camera; it’s standard on this trim level.
As pleasant as this package is, though, it’s not quite the one I’d recommend to a non-enthusiast friend; to maximize value, I’d probably go with the Forte5 SX you see here sans the $2,300 premium package. That way, if they absolutely needed to upgrade to the automatic transmission (a $1,000 option), they’d still be looking at a $24,735 sticker. Not so bad after all, don’t you think?
Options: SX Premium Package including power tilt/slide sunroof, leather seat trim, power adjustable driver’s seat, driver’s seat memory, ventilated driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated outdoor rear seats, heated steering wheel and auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink ($2,300), SX Technology package including Xenon HID headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, navigation system with Sirius Traffic, HD radio and supervision meter cluster with 4.2-inch color LCD ($1,900), carpeted floor mats ($120)
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