Kia's redone 2019 Forte wears a stylish new look — conspicuously influenced by Kia's new Stinger performance halo car — and gets a healthy jump in efficiency. It shows that a compact sedan can be more sensible and more fun.
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The Forte design mimics the Stinger's long hood, short rear deck and coupelike roofline, with the base of the windshield moved back 5 inches and overall length growing by 3 inches. A plus is that there's also a bit more room inside and added trunk space. A downside is that the roof design requires a bit more effort to get in and out to enjoy that space, particularly the rear doors.
The Stinger influence also shows up in the front design, with sculpting, large vents and a new "tiger nose" grille, though it comes off a little busier on the smaller car. Inside, the horizontal dash design and spoked air vents also evoke the Stinger, and along with more soft-touch materials and nicer trim, the overall effect gives is a more grown-up and upscale interior.
But under that sporty design is a mild-mannered powertrain designed to maximize mileage ratings: A revised version of the 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four is mated to a new Kia-designed continuously variable automatic transmission (which Kia prefers to call its IVT, with the "I" for Intelligent). Kia estimates a 3-mpg jump in the Forte's combined city/highway mileage rating to 35 mpg.
The transmission is a risk, particularly for a car designed to look like a sportier choice. And Kia did not avoid talking about common CVT complaints, choosing instead to emphasize the lengths to which it's gone to minimize them, including a chainlike drive instead of the belt drive more common in less expensive cars that can impart a "rubber-band" feel. The transmission's software also is designed to mimic conventional transmission gear steps under acceleration at 50 percent or more throttle. Lastly, the transmission has been wrapped in sound insulation to reduce the droning noise characteristic of CVTs. Whether this all works as planned will be revealed when we get to drive it.
The new Forte's tech isn't all hidden under the hood. A standard 8-inch touchscreen (with Kia's user-friendly UVO system on the top EX trim), standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration and up to three USB ports, as well as 12-volt power make it a worthy mobile device. Safety tech including automatic emergency braking is standard on the all but the base model.
Car sales are under pressure these days, but the new Forte enters the competition with the appealing formula of good room and competitive fuel economy without looking or feeling like a buzzkill.
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