Road Test: 2017 Kia Forte EX

“Power to Surprise” is Kia’s tagline and it’s clear they mean it after our experience with a Forte for a week. The value proposition has always been strong for Kia, but lately they’ve also been topping J.D. Powers quality rankings, surpassing the competition, and looking great doing it too.

Forte brings a significant amount of safety tech and powertrain improvements for 2017. Trim levels include LX, S, and EX.

Ride and Handling
Forte rides comfortably, with good pothole and bump absorption. Highway rides are smooth and relaxing, similar to the luxurious K900, while feeling secure with good steering feedback. The amount of steering effort is just right and matches the suspension and demeanor of the Forte.

Stylish 17″ alloys are standard and wrapped in “eco” tires that have lower rolling resistance over standard tires. Handling on twisty roads was refined and enjoyable.

Four corners of disc brakes feel strong and linear. They’re a bit grabby during initial depression but provide a reassuring feeling.

Powertrain and Fuel Economy
The 2.0L powertrain is mated to a 6-speed automatic, putting 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque to the pavement through the front wheels.

Around town driving is smooth and peppy. Acceleration and passing on the highway is equally as strong; this is the perfect engine for the Forte’s weight and size. The transmission shifts smoothly.

During our typical drive week of local and highway mixed driving, fuel economy averages in at 33.8 mpg, surpassing the EPA ratings of 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, and 28 mpg combined.

Forte is quiet, with little road noise and minimal engine noise, even while accelerating. The well-sized engine doesn’t strain and therefore doesn’t cause a ruckus. Wind noise is not perceptible.

HID low-beam headlights with Dynamic Bending Light (illuminating into curves using steering input) project a bright and far path of light. The halogen high-beams work equally as well. LED marker lights and illumination in the taillights looks modern and clean. Automatic high beams are not available.

Approach lighting illuminates puddle lights under the mirrors and in the front door handle area whenever the Smart Key is detected nearby.

We’d like to see a line of code added for the headlights to come on when the wipers are turned on.

Interior Fit and Finish
Materials all around are of quality, look and feel well-assembled.

The driver’s seat is 10-way power, with power lumbar and 2-position memory; unheard of in this class. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with multiple levels of heating and ventilation for both occupants; again, unheard of for this price point and greatly appreciated during cold and hot weather.

The center console and door elbow rests could use a bit more padding.

Passengers in the rear seat will find good legroom and a comfortable seat. Headroom is plentiful for a 6-foot passenger.

The Smart Power Trunk automatically opens, hands-free, when standing behind it for a few seconds. Cargo room measures in at 14.9 cubic feet with a large, wide opening and 60/40-split seatbacks with releases in the trunk.

A number of storage areas and a well-sized glove box provide good day-to-day functionality.

Visibility is excellent all around thanks to thin pillars and small front corner glass areas for seeing around corners. The standard backup camera helps make parking easy.

Sun visors block all sun glare when positioned over the side windows.

Gauges and Controls
Crisp, well-lit gauges and controls provide all information at a quick glance. The 4.2″ display in the instrument cluster shows a digital readout of the speedometer, driving info, navigation, audio and vehicle settings.

Knobs and buttons feel very high quality and are well-labeled, but we’d like to see more symbols used on buttons below the infotainment system. Everything is well-organized and easy to operate while the Forte is moving.

Kia’s UVO infotainment system is one of the best we’ve experienced, especially with Apple CarPlay. We performed our own update to the system using a Macbook and the SD card that contains the navigation map data; it took all of 30 minutes from start to finish. It was as simple as downloading the latest software to the computer, transferring that software update to the SD card, then selecting “update” under the Forte’s system settings. Some other graphics and menus were updated as well.

CarPlay worked smoothly once we plugged our phone in, providing us with Apple Maps, Siri, voice dictation of messages, and Spotify playlists.

The microphone mounted just behind the sun visor on the driver side is excellent because it allows for better voice recognition when using the built-in nav, Siri, CarPlay, or Android Auto. Bluetooth call quality is also enhanced because the other end of the call hears less ambient noise.

Voice entry of navigation commands as well as radio commands is excellent when the system is put into “expert” mode, reducing the number of voice prompts and repetitive phrases. It simply gives a beep and on-screen options for the driver to dictate.

USB, AUX, HD and XM radio, and Bluetooth streaming inputs provide endless entertainment.

Here’s where the Forte surpasses any other vehicle we’ve tested, even ones priced at six figures. The Platinum Plus package brings autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, and rear-cross traffic alert to Forte. Superb, but we’d like to see all of these become standard on all trim levels.

Based on our experience, one of those systems, lane keep assist, received a significant amount of attention by the calibration team at Kia.

Firstly, lane keep assist has various levels of assistance. The most active keeps the car in its lane and shows a green steering wheel when active. It works quite well with a slight tendency to position the Forte more to the center-right than the exact center of a lane. It works consistently on flat and slight road grade changes but anything more significant and it loses confidence in what’s ahead and the green steering wheel disappears from the instrument cluster display. It has to have a certain level of certainty in order to enable full lane keep assist functionality.

This is quite impressive and a step up from any other system we’ve tested; we can easily see Kia offering a driver assistance system like Tesla’s Autopilot in the near future.

We recommend Kia engineers add an audible tone to confirm whether the system is active and when it disengages, similar to Subaru’s confirmation tone when it “latches” and “unlatches” onto a vehicle ahead with the adaptive cruise engaged.  This is all for the excitement of soon-to-be hands-free driving, which is not what the system is intended for, but it does make commuting much more comfortable.

We were surprised adaptive cruise control was missing from the options list.

Crash Test Results
The 2017 Forte earns Good ratings in all IIHS crash tests that were completed, with front crash prevention rated as superior. NHTSA rated the Forte with five stars overall.

Summary Scorecard (1-10)
Ride and Handling 10
Braking 9
Powertrain and Fuel Economy 10
Noise 9
Headlights 9
Interior Fit and Finish 9
Seating 10
Visibility 10
Gauges and Controls 10
Infotainment 10
Crash-Avoidance 10
Total Score 96
Make: Kia
Model: Forte
Trim Level: EX
Engine: 2.0L I4
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic
Options: Platinum Plus, Snow White Pearl paint
Base Price: $21,300
As-Tested Price: $26,980

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