Monday, July 20, 2009

Kia Forte near top of compact class

Finally a car advertising slogan with more than a grain of truth to it.

I'm talking about Kia's "The Power to Surprise."

A test drive in the new 2010 Kia Forte four-door sedan -- a smart looking, quick driving compact with a wealth of value and features -- suggests the Korean company may be on to something.

I was so impressed with the performance of this car that I can think of only one compact that even comes close to it: the Mazda3.

Sure, the Honda Civic is considered the class leader, and for good reason. But it's more expensive and not as attractive as the Forte.

The Toyota Corolla? High quality, yes, but too mild-mannered and predictable, with styling that's pleasant, but nothing to write home about.

Don't take my word for it. There was a marketing study in which a Forte, Corolla, Mazda3 and Civic were shown to consumers with all identifying features concealed. The consumers ranked Forte first -- even after the brands were revealed.

"That's the first time that's ever happened to us. Usually people would say, 'Oh, it's a Kia. Not interested.' So it's the first time our numbers held up after the revealing of all the brands in the clinic," said Michael Sprague, the company's vice president of marketing.

Why does the Kia stand out from the pack? Usually, when I drive a compact, I get annoyed with steering that is overassisted, meaning a driver has to adjust the steering wheel to correct course often or the car feels as if it's going all over the place.

Not with Forte. It has just about the most perfectly balanced steering I've experienced in a compact sedan -- and for a compact, there was plenty of legroom in the front and back.

And the Forte's styling is terrific. There's a hint of a spoiler on the rear deck helping to create a nice side profile in which the lines seem to come together at the front for an arrow-like profile.

The acceleration was so strong I thought I had the optional engine under the hood. My EX, which starts at $15,795, was equipped with a 156-horsepower four-cylinder, backed by a four-speed automatic transmission.

Standard equipment on the EX included air conditioning; cruise control; power windows and door locks and mirrors. The SX, which starts at $17,195, features a 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four cylinder, with a sport tuned suspension, fog lights, telescoping steering wheel, leather steering wheel and metal trim. There also is the entry level Forte LX, which starts at $13,695 and comes with the same engine as the EX with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, disc brakes, Bluetooth and steering-wheel mounted controls.

Like all Kias, the Forte comes with a 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.

I have heard some complaints about the manual transmission, although I did not experience them myself.

By Don Hammonds
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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