A week spent in the outgoing version of the compact coupe from Kia
Bang for the buck
Ride bordering on harsh
Lack of steering feel
Interior trim materials
The compact Kia Forte Koup already had a lot going for it even before it hit dealer showrooms in July of 2009. For starters, it was not only the company's first two-door, it also offered up a healthy dose of style with as much rear seat room as the Honda Accord coupe. Secondly, and probably just as relevant, it replaced the dowdy and mediocre Kia Spectra.
Since that time the Koup, like most of the rest of the Kia lineup, has helped lift the company out of the bayous and backwaters that are the domain of throwaway vehicles up and into the mainstream by appealing to buyers - in particular younger ones - looking for a sporty, practical vehicle at an affordable price.
The 2013 Forte Koup shares its underpinnings with the Hyundai Elantra and is available in two trim levels.
The entry-level EX comes equipped with Kia's 2.0-liter Theta II DOHC inline-4 gasoline engine that produces 156 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 144 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm. The standard transmission is a six-speed manual while a six-speed automatic is available as an option.
The up-level SX receives an engine upgrade in the form of a 2.4-liter Theta DOHC inline-4 that generates 173 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 168 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. Transmission choices include either the standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic.
Standard safety features include stability and traction control, brake assist and EBD, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and six airbags.
All Koups come standard with a plethora of features included air conditioning, alloy wheels, rear spoiler, sport seats, power windows (with driver's one-touch auto down), door locks and cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, variable-intermittent windshield wipers as well as remote keyless entry. An audio system with CD, satellite radio, USB and audio input jacks is also standard as is Bluetooth wireless, a tilt and telescopic steering column, body-color outside mirrors with turn signal indicators and a trip computer.
SX models up the ante by replacing the base model's 16" alloys with 17-inchers along with a sport tuned suspension. Additional enhancements include front fog lights, LED taillights, gloss-black front fascia accents, sport cloth seat trim, steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, metal pedals, metallic instrument panel and door panel trim plus a supervision meter cluster with trip computer.
Our Racing Red Koup also came with two option packages.
The Leather Package consisted of leather seat trim, heated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
With the new generation Koup nearly in dealer hands, we're going to cut the 2013 model a little slack.
In this case that's because the interior fit and finish of this particular Koup was only average for the class. Even though the seams were tight and most of the surfaces were soft-touch, there were areas of the cabin that left much to be desired. In particular, the cheap plasticky appearance of the upper door and console trim on this model is now a couple of steps below Kia's current standards.
On the other hand, the controls were legible, operated smoothly and were within easy reach of the driver. Steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio system, cruise control, hands-free phone system and driver information center were also both easily understood and intuitive
The headlight and turn signal stalk to the left of the steering wheel also controls the fog lights, while the right stalk controls the front wiper functions.
The center stack is simple and straightforward. Five buttons to the left and five buttons to the right of the touch screen control the radio, media, phone and navigation functions. Above the screen is the CD slot flanked by knobs for power/volume and file/tune.
Below the screen is a display for the climate control. Finally, below that is a round temperature knob with an A/C button in the center flanked by three buttons to the left (fan speed, auto, off) and three buttons to the right (mode, recirculation, fresh).
For a small car, the driving position is very good despite the high beltline. The large glass area gives the cabin an airy feeling with plenty of head room for both front and rear seat occupants. The relatively slim C-pillars also make it easy to see out the rear three-quarters – not something we normally expect with coupes.
Another issue I had concerned the Forte's seats. Although done in perforated leather and nicely finished with contrasting red stitching and despite the fact that they could be adjusted for height, they were too firm, too flat, and also not that supportive.
On the exterior, you can immediately see the dividends Kia is enjoying in its hiring Peter Schreyer away from Audi. Compared to a number of other vehicles in this class – notably the outgoing Mazda Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla as well as current models from Nissan, Chevrolet and Dodge - the Koup's styling with its fluid lines, balanced proportions and athletic stance is a breath of fresh air.
Up front the wrap-around headlights flank the Koup’s "Tiger Nose" grille, while below the bumper there’s a fairly aggressive lower air intake bracketed by a pair of square fog light surrounds with each holding a rectangular fog lamp. Along the lower body sides, stylists have cleverly designed integrated lower side sill extensions, while the back features narrow, wrapped tail lamps, dual exhaust outlets and an aggressive lower rear diffuser.
On the road
We might blame it on the fact that the SX gets the Koup's firmer sport suspension, but the fact is that this model's ride, for the most part, is not so much firm, but harsh. Around town the ride is stiff and the suspension does little to isolate sharp impacts. Freeway driving is better, but even then most road imperfections are readily apparent. While wind, road and tire noise are pretty good for a vehicle in this class and acceleration is brisk, when you put your foot into the engine sounds coarse.
The flip side, however, is that the stiff suspension results in very little body lean making darting in and out of traffic and throwing it into curves especially entertaining, even given the fact that Kia substitutes a fairly simple semi-independent setup in the rear where the Hyundai Elantra offers a fully-independent setup.
The steering has a nicely weighted on-center feel although this is negated by a lack of off-center feel. Braking performance, on the other hand, was excellent, it was easy to modulate the brake pedal and it had a decent amount of feedback.
Fuel economy for a vehicle this size is only mid-pack at 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. Around town I averaged 22.5 miles per gallon in, I must admit, rather spirited driving.
New car pricing for the 2013 Forte Koup starts at $18,175 for a manually-equipped EX and can top out at $23,359 for a fully-optioned SX equipped with an automatic.
Our SX tester was close the top starting with a base price of $18,858.
Adding the $1,800 Technology Package, $1,000 Leather Package, $750.00 power sunroof, $395 rear spoiler, $80.00 cargo net and $29.00 iPod Cable brought the grand total of this particular Koup to a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $21,829.00 which included a $775.00 destination charge.
The Bottom Line
So what does this all mean?
Kia recently unveiled an all-new 2014 Koup at the New York Auto Show and was quick to point out that the new model will have a 2-inch longer wheelbase with a stiffer chassis.
A stiffer chassis allows engineers to dial in more suspension travel, while a longer wheelbase typically translates into a more compliant ride.
Even with a new model already in the pipeline the current version of the Forte Koup still offers buyers a lot style, performance and bang for their buck by packing a lot of features into a sporty-looking package.
So here, as I see it, is the bottom line: Like just about everything else in the lineup, car buyers chose a Kia because they had to. Especially as this pertains to the Koup, they now choose it because they want to.