2018 Kia Forte5
While most compact hatchbacks differ little from their sedan counterparts, Kia has taken a different approach with the redesigned Forte5. Unique sheet metal, premium positioning and an available 201-horsepower turbocharged engine set the hatch apart from the Forte sedan, and its capacious body style of course makes it the more practical of the two.
In place of the sedan's conventional grille arrangement, the Forte5 features a narrow iteration of Kia's "Tiger Nose" corporate grille above an oversized lower air intake that represents the dominant element of front end. A swooping character line adds drama to the flanks and provides a visual counterpoint to the sloping greenhouse, while around back the hatchback configuration allows for a roomy cargo area with 23.2 cubic feet of stowage space.
The cabin features an asymmetrical dashboard design highlighted by "ripple effect" detailing that Kia says is intended to evoke wavelets radiating from a pebble dropped into a pond. Quirky details aside, material quality is more than respectable and the control layout is largely intuitive. There's class-leading legroom up front, and the outboard rear seats are roomy enough to hold average-sized adults.
As one would expect of a Kia, there's a generous amount of standard equipment, including power everything, Bluetooth connectivity, a rear view camera, alloy wheels and more. However, the Forte5 also offers upscale options like a ventilated driver's seat, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats - items not usually seen at this price point.
The Forte5 comes standard with Kia's new-generation UVO infotainment system, which provides Bluetooth-based smartphone integration, streaming audio and voice command functionality for everything from placing calls to changing radio stations. It also includes vehicle diagnostics info and maintenance reminders, and lets users send Point of Interest info from Google Maps searches on their smartphone to the Forte's nav system, which itself offers access to Google Maps and Google Places.
Powertrains and handling
The Forte5 is available in EX trim with a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder, or as the SX with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder. The sedan's less potent but more economical 1.8-liter mill isn't available.
The EX's 2.0-liter produces 173-horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 154 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm, and transmits power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.
Those in a hurry can opt for SX and its 1.6-liter turbo, which makes 201 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of twist between 1,750-4,500 rpm. Cementing the engine's status as the driver's choice is its available six-speed manual gearbox (a self-shifting six-speed can also be had).
The SX also adds larger front brakes, a more aggressive front fascia and sporty interior trim.
Fuel economy is rated at 24/34 city/highway mpg for 2.0-liter models, while the 1.6-liter is good for 21/29 mpg.
The hatchback shares its suspension layout - MacPherson struts up front, a torsion-beam at the rear and coil springs all around - with the sedan, but firmer tuning gives it a more responsive feel. A "Flex Steer" system allows the driver to vary steering effort between three different settings at the touch of a steering wheel-mounted button.
Trim level breakdown
The Forte5 is positioned as a slightly more upmarket offering than the sedan. As such, it does without the four-door's value-leader LX trim level and offers a model-exclusive SX configuration.
The entry-level EX comes standard with the 2.0-liter motor in addition to A/C, full power accessories, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/Sirius XM stereo with AUX and USB inputs, LED running lights, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a trip computer, an outside temperature display, power-adjustable heated mirrors, fog lights, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a tilt and telescoping steering column and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The optional EX UVO Package includes UVO eServices Telematics and a rear-view camera.
The SX adds the turbo engine along with a unique front fascia with larger bumper and grille openings, black gloss grille inserts, larger front brakes, alloy sport pedals, dual chrome exhaust tips, LED tail lights, carbon fiber-style front and rear seat accents, carbon fiber-look exterior trim and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Both trim levels can be optioned with a navigation system with HD radio, a sunroof, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats and a ventilated driver's seat, heated rear outboard seats, leather upholstery, a proximity key with pushbutton start, dual-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and optional HID headlights.
All Forte5 models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to stability and traction control systems and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Not sure that the Forte5 is the car for you? Luckily, there are plenty of other high-quality compact hatchbacks on the market, including the engaging and economical Mazda Mazda3 Hatchback, the foul-weather-friendly, AWD-equipped Subaru Impreza Hatchback and the well-rounded Ford Focus Hatchback.