Kia, which has as its slogan "The power to surprise," seems to surprise us now only when it goes a couple of months without introducing a new or refreshed model.
The slogan was probably meant to tell people that they would be surprised at the quality, good looks and reliability of the Korean company's vehicles.
But we're not surprised by that anymore.
The stuff this company has been putting out over the past few years has been really strong. So now we've come to expect that.
Our expectations were met once again with the 2010 Kia Forte.
The Forte, a small-sedan, used to go by the name Spectra.
That car was pretty good, but it was easily overlooked in a field crowded with worthy Asian competitors.
The Forte, though, is very attractive and with Kia's stepped up marketing efforts, it will probably be much harder to ignore.
Like the fashionable 2010 Soul, the 2010 Kia Forte merits a new trip to the Kia dealership and perhaps a new look at Kia, which is quickly shedding its reputation for dowdy vehicles. The Forte has many of the elements of much more expensive cars, yet it’s still one of the least expensive small sedans.
Thank Kia's new design studio in California for creating such clean, assertive, and attractive look for the 2010 Forte.
With smooth, clean sheetmetal and an uncluttered look in front and in back, the new Forte doesn’t go over the top and it’s likely to age well; even more to the point, they got the trim proportions right.
The svelte Forte doesn’t have any awkward angles, and a nice wide stance from the front and back somehow matches the flowing, elegant roofline.
Inside, the look is simple, with a smoother, more organic version of the teardrop center stack used in the Forte; the look is no-nonsense yet surprisingly upscale.
Forte shoppers have a choice of two different engines—a 156-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder in LX and EX models or a 173-hp, 2.4-liter four in the sportier SX. 2010 Kia Forte LX and EX models have a standard five-speed manual and optional four-speed automatic, while SX models get a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
The 2010 Kia Forte delivers a lot more driving satisfaction (and sophistication) than most value-minded buyers will expect.
Both engines deliver more than adequate acceleration, and they function just fine with the automatics as they both are happiest in the mid-rev ranges. Kia expects acceleration to 60 mph to be in the low eight-second range for the SX.
The standard hydraulic power steering responds well, outward visibility is good, and the ride is firm but absorbent—a nice compromise for daily driving. There’s not a lot of nosedive in hard braking, and the four-wheel discs stop the Forte confidently.
Automatic Fortes include a manumatic shift mode that actually locks in a gear; unlike other systems it won’t force a downshift if you floor it.
The EX Fuel Economy Package keeps the 2.0-liter engine but upgrades to a five-speed automatic, and includes electric power steering, low-rolling-resistance silica tires, and some minor aerodynamic enhancements. The package ups fuel economy ratings to 27 mpg city, 36 highway.
Without the fuel economy package, our tester is rated at 25 and 34.
The rather tall roof and wider body works wonders for passenger space in the Forte. Front seats aren’t generously proportioned, but there’s adequate headroom even with the sunroof for this 6’-6” driver, with lots of legroom, and the back seat has plenty of space for two adults, three in a pinch—though there legroom is limited. The trunk is huge. Overall,Kia has done a great job damping the noise and vibration that usually accompanies the cheapest small cars, and even over the coarsest road surfaces the cabin boom wasn’t excessive. Seat materials are unremarkable, and while there’s definitely some hard plastic around the cabin we couldn’t find any ragged edges.
All safety features are standard across the entire 2010 Kia Forte line; that includes dual seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front active headrests, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and electronic stability control.
All 2010 Kia Forte models get Bluetooth, Sirius Satellite Radio, and an auxiliary input jack for the audio system, plus steering wheel controls and voice activation. The EX model adds air conditioning, power accessories, and the SX adds fog lamps plus upgraded upholstery and trim. The SX model is the “image leader” of the lineup; in addition to those details and the stronger engine, it gets a sport-tuned suspension, larger brakes, and showy 17-inch alloy wheels.
Other options on the 2010 Kia Forte are limited to a power sunroof, leather seat packages (heated in front), and a Convenience Package that adds A/C and other upgrades to the LX.
Our EX tester had a sticker price of $19,290, with optional leather seats and sunroof.
The Forte is a strong contender in every way -- with its good looks and nice driving characteristics -- and it won't leave a big gap in your wallet.