Standard safety tech
Low rent base model
No hatchback version
2019 Kia Forte EX
Based on the same platform as the second-gen version, the 2019 Kia Forte sedan retains the same suspension, wheelbase and height, although it's both wider and shorter by nearly an inch. The hatchback version with its more powerful 1.6-liter turbo-four has been dropped from the lineup along with the entry-level LX sedan, which has been supplanted by two new trims – the fuel-efficient FE (the only trim offered with a manual transmission), and the new LXS model. Kia has also pitched last year's conventional six-speed automatic in favor of a CVT.
All-new on the outside, the third-generation Forte picks up a number of styling from the larger Stinger sports sedan – most notably that model's long-hood and short-deck – by pushing back the base of the windshield 5 inches and shortening the trunk lid when compared to the outgoing model. The overall look now is sleeker, more athletic, and less bulbous.
It begins up front with a narrower and more upright "Tiger Nose" grille that rests above a larger and more angular lower air intake. That lower grille is now flanked by a larger pair of faux brake cooling ducts, topped by slim LED fog lights on S and EX trims. The headlight enclosures, oversize projector fog lamp enclosures ringed by LED positioning lights.
Along the sides, there's a low character line between the front and rear wheel arches that kicks up at the trailing edge of the front door just enough to make things interesting, while the EX's standard 18-inch alloys fill the wheel wells nicely.
In back, the backup lamps have been moved to the lower bumper, the tail lights are more angular, while a narrow light strip connects them, giving the rear fascia a more upscale look.
Inside, the fit and finish is excellent with the dash dominated by a large 8-inch touchscreen. Just below it are buttons that control the major functions of the infotainment system that are bracketed by a pair of knobs – one for power and volume, the other for tuning and switching between files.
The soft-touch dash (on all but the FE) is tiered for a more open feeling, trimmed in brushed silver, and finished off with a pair of round, silver-trimmed outboard vents. The controls are large, legible and intuitive. Their operation is smooth and they're within easy reach of the driver. Steering wheel-mounted functions include controls for the audio system, cruise, hands-free phone, and driver information center.
3.2 inches longer and 0.8 inches wider than the outgoing model, a 6-foot passenger can now sit comfortably behind a 6-foot driver with a couple of inches of head and knee room to spare. The seats are all-day comfortable, the driving position is very good, and a large glass area contributes to the cabin's airy feeling. Finally, additional attention to vehicle NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) including thicker side glass and additional transmission noise insulation contribute to a cabin that's 5 decibels quieter than the outgoing model.
At the same time, road noise from rough pavement still enters the cabin, while such niceties as the soft-touch dash and door trim don't trickle down to the base FE, contributing to that model's low-rent look and feel.
Standard and optional fare
Even the base FE comes equipped with Kia's typical cornucopia of standard accoutrements that, in addition to the usual power features (windows, locks, mirrors) includes auto on/off projector headlights, keyless entry, variable intermittent wipers, 3.5-inch TFT meter cluster, console with armrest and storage box, folding rear seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with steering wheel mounted audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
Standard advanced safety features include forward collision warning, low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist.
Stepping up to the LXS adds a CVT automatic, 16-inch alloy wheels (supplanting the FE's 15-inch steelies), a chrome exhaust tip, and a 60/40 split to the rear folding seats.
Springing for the S model kicks it up with 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, LED daytime running lights, high-mounted stop light, and tail lights, rear center arm rest with cup holders, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and satellite radio along with Kia's UVO eServices (911 connect, hands-free voice and text, vehicle location services, and monthly driving habits).
A $1,200 Premium Package can be added to the S trim that offers a sunroof, LED headlights with auto-leveling and high beam assist, and LED interior lighting.
Models like our EX tester up the ante with a temporary spare tire (replacing the tire mobility kit), mirror-mounted LED turn signals, 10-way power driver's seat with power lumbar, keyless push-button start, leatherette seating – heated and cooled up front - in two colors (ours was red two-tone), illuminated glove box and visor vanity mirrors, sliding center arm rest, lane change assist, blind spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert.
EX buyers can opt for the Launch Edition package that adds graphite-finished alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, a Harmon/Kardon audio system, LED auto-leveling headlights and interior lighting, reverse parking sensors, a sunroof, trunk lid spoiler, 4.2-inch TFT display, UVO eServices with voice navigation, SiriusXM Traffic and HD radio, and wireless phone charging.
Under the hood
Along with the 1.6-liter turbo, Kia has also dropped the 173 horsepower 2.0-liter direct injection Theta inline-4 from the lineup, leaving only the 2.0-liter Theta unit with multi-port injection that produces 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 132 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm.
As previously noted, transmission choices include either a six-speed manual, standard on the FE, or a CVT automatic, optional on the FE and standard on all other trims.
On the road
Despite a CVT that's programmed to move among pre-selected ratios (which can be done manually as well in Sport mode), and a simple, clear shifter design, last year's trio of engines has been whittled down to the one with the least output. So while the Forte is hardly underpowered, its sporty looks write a check that the drivetrain can't cash. In addition the Forte's semi-independent rear suspension lacks the athletic reflexes and crispness of fully-independent setups found on the Honda Civic, Mazda Mazda3 and Ford Focus.
That's a shame, because everything from the ride to steering feedback has taken a step forward - although a bonus to the Forte's lack of alacrity is excellent fuel economy that ranges from an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon in the city, 37 on the highway, and 31 combined for a 6-speed manual FE, to an EPA-estimated 31 mpg city, 41 highway, and 35 combined when the FE is equipped with the CVT.
2019 Kia Forte prices
2019 Kia Forte pricing, including a $925 destination fee, starts at $18,515 for the base FE and rises to $26,125 for a Fire Orange EX Launch Edition (the only color offered with the package).
Snow White Pearl paint and a set of floor mats added $295 and $125, respectively, to our EX's base price of $21,990 that, along with an early-year destination fee of $895, brought its as-tested Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price to $23,305.
The Bottom Line
The 2019 Kia Forte SX hatchback has a lot going for it. The latest version takes a big step forward in the styling department, adds a slew of standard active safety features, and offers excellent EPA-estimated highway fuel economy that ranges from 37 to 41 miles per gallon.
We only wish that the entry-level model didn't look so low-rent inside, and that an engine with more horsepower and a hatchback body style were still offered.