Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Review: 2010 Kia Forte continues string of hits from South Korea

It's not that there was much wrong with the Forte's predecessor. In fact, the last time we drove a Kia Spectra, we walked away wondering if anything more might be overkill. The Spectra was good but tended to blend in with a crowd, and Kia's not into playing the role of wallflower anymore. In contrast, the Forte boldly saunters into the middle of the dance floor, comfortable in the hot glow of the pin spot, with the confidence of Tony Manero after a trip to the tailor.

Clearly, the Kia Forte looks remarkably better than the econobox it replaces and attracts the right kind of attention to the brand. Everywhere it goes, the Forte is a surprising conversation piece, though many aren't sure exactly what it is. With Kia's value pricing, you also get a lot for your dollar. So does it have the hat trick of style, value and performance? When the key to this black Forte SX tester was pressed into the palm of our hand, we were ready to find out.

Despite what some believe after only seeing photos, the Forte doesn't bear much resemblance to the Honda Civic. A thick swage along the top of the flanks gives the windows a chamfered, machined look. The Forte's face is bolder than its supposed Civic doppelganger with deeper shoulders formed by the fenders, and the rest of the sheetmetal is carefully creased to look pleasant and stylish, even a bit upscale. Since it doesn't aim to break new styling ground, the Forte has withstood accusations of being derivative, but its clean, precision-milled looks are more unique than that kind of critique might suggest. The lines will age well, and the bodywork grabs and bends light tastefully.

Our SX tester's dapper Ebony Black was set off by just the right amount of brightwork. Lesser trim levels get 15-inch steel wheels, but the SX gets 17s with creative fluting around the lugs, and, thankfully, no chrome. The Forte sits just right on its wheels, and the SX package dresses up the exterior with foglamps in the lower front fascia. This is not a body that carries extra strakes or adornments – there's not even rub strips along the doors. And while the looks are the better for it, we'd take to parking in the far spots, especially with a dark finish that will prominently display blemishes.

Interior styling is clean and simple, but not without flair. Just like the outside, tasteful is the order of the day, and the Forte's cabin isn't overly swooped-up. Dash-strokers will find that the Forte has its share of hard plastics, some may even find the sheen objectionable. But despite any nattering about materials quality, the Forte is right in there with its class contemporaries. The Focus is chintzier, the Civic is plain weird, and the Forte's interior is on par with the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. The SX leather package fits perforated leather seats that look upscale and add an air of luxe inside, tacking on $1,000 to the $18,195 MSRP.

The seats could benefit from more support and adjustments, particularly with the lumbar. The seat bottom, too, was impossible to get positioned and tilted how we wanted. Although overall comfort and bolstering was good, without much adjustment, drivers might feel that the Forte was designed for some kind of mutant body type. Rear seat passengers don't have to duck and squeeze to enter and exit, with ample space for four full-sized humans, and the trunk is surprisingly large, too. If three people are comfortable with each other's company and personal grooming habits, they'll find the back seat pleasant enough for short jaunts around town, and if things get stuffy, the $600 power moonroof is worth the extra couple months of payments.

Functionally, the Forte's ergonomics are above complaint. Big, clear knobs operate the climate system, and the radio has genuine knobs for tuning and volume; two areas that can be troublesome for manufacturers to get right. Bluetooth is standard on the Forte, and the steering wheel carries controls for operating the telephone, as well as the audio system and cruise control. During its time with us, the Forte never annoyed us with hidden buttons or incongruous menus – it's a pleasantly simple car to operate – and the gauges follow the same pattern, providing clear, legible information for the driver.

Lesser Fortes get a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out an energetic 156 horsepower, but SX models get an uprated 2.4-liter engine. The bigger mill is borrowed from the Optima, much as Toyota Corollas can be had with a Camry powertrain. The 2.4's 173 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque will slake the thirst of the power hungry, but it's overkill here, and the extra 400cc of displacement brings with it an increased appetite for fuel. However, the bigger engine comes mated to an unflappable five-speed automatic that delivers smooth shifts and jumps for higher gears quickly, making the most of the engine's torquey nature. It can be a little reluctant to come out of high gear and extinguish the green "eco" light in the gauge cluster that indicates earth-friendly driving, but the manual gate is helpful – even satisfyingly responsive – when called upon.

The biggest annoyance with the powertrain is its overly-aggressive throttle tip in. A very gentle foot is required to avoid blasting away from stops like a teenager with a newly laminated license. Manual transmission Fortes are even worse, with the wonky throttle programming leading to the binary options of peel out or stall that take time to adjust to. The four-speed auto that's paired with the 2.0-liter engine has come under some fire, but either auto trans is acceptable. The five-speed's extra ratio, however, adds more refinement and relaxes the demeanor.

With the big four's beefy torque, the Forte is happy to loaf along, and variable valve timing provides a noticeable dollop of extra urge as RPMs rise. We put the Forte through commuter hell and it coughed up 28 MPG after plenty of traffic-sitting and on ramp pedal flattening, which lands in the middle of its 22 city/32 highway EPA numbers. While the fuel economy is acceptable, regular commuters could make an argument for the smaller engine, which can be had with a special fuel economy package and five-speed auto 'box to deliver 27/36 city/highway.

Enter the freeway aggressively for the first time and you'll be looking to do it again, just to make sure you're not crazy. There are signs of life from underneath. Where other vehicles in this class are merely drone pods, the Forte SX has a sport tuned suspension, and it delivers. The chassis is simple stuff with struts up front, a torsion beam rear axle, some swaybars and gas dampers – nothing fancy. Those specifications may fail to impress in modern times, but there's a long list of impressive performers sporting the same details. Nobody would accuse a first generation Volksagen GTI of being a sloppy-handling little knockwurst. When this type of chassis is sorted, it's very good, and the Forte SX is well fettled.

The steering could use a smidge more feedback and less aggressive boost; it's fast off-center. The Forte feels light on its feet, though, like a boxer that dances around his opponents. This is a spirited, fun car to drive, which bodes well for the upcoming Koup model and its more overt suggestion of sportiness. The downside is a busy ride on the taut side of comfortable. Some might find it objectionably stiff, and there are occasions where the Forte feels like it's ricocheting off expansion gaps instead of just smothering them with a more pliant suspension. But It's a tradeoff we'd make, because it's an entertaining steer that doesn't dive, squat and slobber all over the road.

The drivetrain is well polished, the uprated engine doesn't leave you wanting for acceleration, and the four-wheel disc brakes felt firm, easily modulated and effective. We would've liked a little less cabin noise at speed, but that's akin to dinging Kia because the Forte's interior doesn't have Zebrano wood trim. For its place in the vehicular hierarchy, it delivers an experience that's among the top contenders in its class.

Just like the Spectra we tried back in 2007, the Kia Forte leaves us impressed. It really only has to compete with the Honda Civic and Mazda3 in its peer group as it betters everything else in SX trim. The $20,000 price is certainly attractive, as is the list of features and one of the industry's best warranties. Redact the brand and model names from the window sticker, and this could have easily passed as an Acura or Infiniti not too long ago. While it's not likely to keep pace with any of those brands' current offerings, the Forte is a heck of a value. The fuel economy of the SX could be better and a stiffer body shell might be the key to supple-izing the suspension. Until that happens, the Sport-averse would be advised to try the normal suspension first. But overall, the Forte is a stylish, comfortable, frisky automotive companion for surprisingly short dollars – the automotive equivalent of two buck Chuck.

Friday, December 4, 2009


All-New 2010 Kia Compact Given Esteemed Honor by Online Consumer Automotive Resource

# Forte recognized above competition for offering new-edge styling, value and fuel efficiency
# Kia Forte sedan and Koup give consumers entire package and class-leading combination of standard safety features
IRVINE, Calif., December 3, 2009 - On the heels of being named "Car of the Month" for August by, the respected online automotive source has named the all-new 2010 Kia Forte "Car of the Year." Selected from the nine vehicles chosen as a "Car of the Month" throughout the year, Forte was honored for its attractive styling, value and an extensive list of class-leading features.

"Consumers as well as dealers have come to recognize the Kia Motors brand for attractively designed and priced vehicles with impressive fuel efficiency and a long list of standard safety features all backed by an industry-leading warranty, and the all-new Forte and Forte Koup are no exceptions," said Michael Sprague, vice president, marketing of Kia Motors America (KMA). "Forte is a very strong contender in the popular compact segment and it has definitely helped us continue to raise our brand awareness."

The "Car of the Month" program aims to provide consumers with useful commentary, information and reviews on available new cars, trucks and SUVs, and showcases vehicles that offer impressive fuel economy, safety features and amenities. The editors at carefully review the vehicles previously chosen as a "Car of the Month" to select the most deserving "Car of the Year." To be eligible, vehicles must be new for the model year and have a combination of impressive styling, fuel efficiency, low price point and cost of ownership. For the complete review, go to

"Not many cars can boast a full package when it comes to design features, price, performance and fuel economy, but the Forte leaves a lasting impression with all that and more," said Michael Caudill, automotive expert for

Available in three trims, LX, EX and SX, pricing for the all-new Forte sedan starts at $13,695 for the LX trim, while the EX begins at $15,995 and the SX starts at $17,495. Pricing for the stylish Koup, available in EX and SX trims, starts at $16,595 (EX), while the SX trim begins at $17,695. In addition to competitive pricing, Forte comes well-stocked with a long list of standard amenities, starting with a standard AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system outfitted with SIRIUS Satellite Radio capabilities with three months complimentary service. Also standard on all models is an auxiliary audio input jack and USB port for connecting personal MP3 players as well as Bluetooth® connectivity with steering wheel-mounted controls, which enables hands-free operation for all compatible mobile phones.

In addition to emotion-evoking performance and great design, Forte and Forte Koup also showcase a class-leading combination of standard safety features with active front headrests, advanced two-stage airbags, front seat-mounted and side curtain airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with an antilock brake system (ABS), brake assist (BAS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESC), a traction control system (TCS) and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).

About Kia Motors America

Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 650 dealers throughout the United States. For 2008, KMA recorded its 14th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share and more recently achieved its best quarter of sales ever in 2009. Kia Motors subscribes to a philosophy of building high value, high quality, safe and dynamic vehicles. Kia Motors prides itself on producing vehicles that are exciting and enabling and evoke the Kia tagline "The Power to Surprise."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Kia Soul: A little Asian flair

It was clear that something different was happening when the video opened with a trio of hamsters bouncing to hip hop music as the scrawl stated "This is how we roll." What's up with the hip-hop hamsters?

To begin with, they were bouncing in a set of wheels dubbed the Kia Soul, the latest and, perhaps, liveliest edition to the box-shaped compact SUV class pioneered by the Toyota Scion and popularized by the Honda Fit and Nissan Cube.

But where those three Japanese vehicles are variations on a theme the Koreans - who have added blacks, Hispanics, and blond-haired California surfers to their design teams - have thrown away the base, box style book and come up with something different.

Stylistically, the Soul isn't so much a car that was drawn outside the box - they just opened up the box.

The front of the roof was raised, as if pried by a can opener, giving the impression of a cap arrogantly pushed back on the head.

The front has a thin, stretched grill and flat hood flanked by wrap-around head lights.

The overall impression is somewhere between a smirk and a smile as the Soul rolls by.

Under that flat hood is a 2.0-liter, four cylinders, fuel injected engine cranking out just 142 horsepower and 137 pound/feet of torque. But that is more than enough to provide a lot of power to such a lightweight vehicle.

The Soul, with its five-speed manual transmission, is surprisingly peppy for a compact box, and, if you feel like flirting with serious traffic tickets, can easily bounce into triple digits and traffic court.

Inside, the Soul offers a lot for an $18,000 car.

The decor is two toned and brash. The test car was charcoal and red, the bright red dash broken by the gray instrument clusters.

That red theme extends to the huge sub woofers on the doors, which bounce with bright red lights timed to the beat of the music pouring out of the car's eight large speakers.

There is a choice of noise-makers for the 300-watt sound system, which is strong enough to serve as the sound system for a block party. The Soul has a single, in-dash CD player, as well as iPod, MP3, and USB-port connections.

There also is AM/FM and Sirius satellite radio. The entertainment network is accessible via fingertip controls on the steering wheel, along with a Bluetooth system that is easy to set up and use.

All that is missing is a navigation system, though that would be unusual in this price category.

As a small SUV, the Soul has more room than one could ever get in a typical sub-compact car.

And the powered sunroof adds to the Soul's feel of ambiance.

When the rear seats are folded flat, the Soul can easily haul a washer or dryer, and its sport-tuned suspension will get the machine to its destination in one working piece. The seats are cloth and manually operated - which is to be expected in this price range - but they are easily adjusted, wide, thickly padded and would not cast a pall over a cross-country trip.

All things considered, the hip-hop hamsters are likely to make an impact rolling through the small SUV market.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kia is on a roll with 2010 Soul

An all-new Soul debuts for Kia for the 2010 model year. Call it a wagon, a mini-ute, a compact crossover or whatever you like, but its somewhat edgy styling, angled window line and wide stance give it a look that brings folks in for a closer look.

Soul's marketing campaign is also intriguing. Have you seen the television commercial (with the hamsters)? My kids love it. Kia also has a catchy tagline for the Soul, "A new way to roll."

I like it.

Clearly the boxy new Soul has the Scion xB in its sights, but the Soul features more rounded lines and a unique rear sloping roof line.

Soul's fun exterior styling, pleasant ride, outstanding warranty, long list of standard safety features and entry price of just $13,300 make it worth a serious look.

Soul comes in four trim levels: the base model Soul, Soul+, Soul! and Soul Sport. The base model features an economical 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine (making 122 horsepower) mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

All other trim levels feature a peppier 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 142 horsepower. The 2.0 can be teamed to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

Soul's power goes to the front wheels. I'd like to see an available all-wheel drive model. Soul is fairly fuel efficient with the base model being rated at 26/31 and the other trims rated at 24/30.

The 2.0-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission in my Soul+ tester was a nice combination. Power is adequate for this segment and the shifts are smooth. Noise level is low at boulevard speeds; however, road noise easily permeates the cabin while cruising on the highway. Overall, though, the ride is OK and the noise level is not bad enough to scare buyers off.

Soul's exterior styling will obviously bring traffic into Kia's showroom. Soul comes in eight colors including hues like Alien, Molten, Shadow, Java and Dune. Slip inside the new Soul and you'll be greeted by a surprisingly spacious interior.

I found plenty of leg and headroom up front. Room for rear seat passengers is good. And Soul is quite versatile.

To wit: My 20-year old son called me and said, "Dad, I need your help. I'm over at Wal-Mart. I bought a new refrigerator for my room and it's too big for my ['97 Nissan Maxima] trunk. Could you bring the minivan?"

"I'll be right over," I said. But he had no idea I'd be rolling up in the new 2010 Kia Soul that I was testing.

When I tooted the horn to catch his attention he looked surprised and said, "You've got to be kidding. There's no way the fridge will fit in that." Boy was he wrong. I folded the rear seatbacks down and my Soul tester's tall cargo area easily gobbled up the fridge.

I said, "Look, there's still plenty of room for more stuff. Do you need anything else while I'm here?"

After unloading the fridge, my son asked if I could take him for a ride in the Soul. He usually only asks for rides when I've got a sports car or an ultra-luxurious model. But he was quite enamored with the Soul.

He wanted to check out the lighted speakers. They're part of the upgraded audio package and you can turn them off if you find them distracting. He thought they were awesome.

The 315-watt audio system with lighted speakers and nifty Bluetooth connection might help you forget about things like the rest of the cabin being plain or the seats being a bit firm and uncomfortable.

I do like the large bilevel glove box, but it needs a light more than the speakers do.

When it comes to safety features, the Soul comes standard with antilock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control and full-length side-curtain airbags.

Take a close look; you might be Soul(d).

2010 KIA SOUL+

ENGINE: 142-horsepower 2.0-liter I-4

TRANSMISSION: four-speed automatic

DRIVETRAIN: front-wheel drive

FUEL ECONOMY: 24 city/30 highway

BASE PRICE: $15,900

AS TESTED: $17,890 (includes $695 for destination)


Chicago Sun-Times

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All-new 2009 Kia Borrego: strong engine, ample towing

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

This poor economy is poor timing to introduce an all-new, three-row, seven-passenger SUV to compete with the likes of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevy TrailBlazer and Ford Explorer. Kia, however, has to play the hand it's been dealt as it muscles into the big boy market with its 2009 Borrego.

As buyers run from trucks toward fuel-efficient cars, Borrego's light is shining under a bush. And it's a shame because the Borrego is a strong contender against the long established brands. The silver lining in all this is for the confident consumer who can leverage the overall disadvantaged auto industry to buy low.

For the first time ever, Kia is using a V-8 engine. The Borrego is featured with a V-6, as well as the optional 32-valve 4.6-liter V-8. This was the powerplant in my tester. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the V-8 generates 337 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. The engine's torque rating is exemplary. It produces 323 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,500 rpm.

In my V-8 tester, with a curb weight of 4,621 pounds, this powerful pulling force was felt immediately under throttle. The big and forceful Borrego is smooth running as it proceeds through its six automatic shift points. With all this force under the hood, the Borrego can bring up from its behind 7,500 pounds of trailer weight.

My 4x4 tester had a base price of $32,995. Its official 2009 EPA fuel economy ratings are 15 miles per gallon city and 20 mpg highway. The Borrego runs on regular gasoline and has a fuel tank capacity of about 21 gallons.

The 4x2 Borrego starts at $26,245 and is standard equipped with the 3.8-liter V-6. This engine is coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission and has a horsepower rating of 276 at 6,000 rpm and torque rating of 267 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm. The V-6 towing capacity is capped at 5,000 pounds. EPA estimates on this powerplant come in at 21 mpg highway on both the 4x2 and 4x4 versions.

The Borrego is a true truck and competes with not only Ford, Chevy and Jeep, but also the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner. Kia's body-on-frame sport utility vehicle has a double wishbone front suspension with shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. The coil-over springs rear multi-link suspension incorporates a damper and stabilizer bar. The Borrego is good for on-road towing and off-road adventures. This Kia SUV has a typical ground clearance of 8.5 inches. Drivers who will be doing off-roading should inquire with the dealer about skid plate protection.

The entry model Borrego has a high level of standard amenities, such as air conditioning, power windows, door locks and mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control and a six-speaker sound system with MP3.

The up-level tester came standard with dual-zone climate control, Sirius satellite, eight-way driver and four-way passenger power seats, sliding and reclining second row seats, a back-up warning system and active head restraints.

A high level of standard safety equipment is offered on the 2009 Borrego. It includes electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, and six airbags. The V-8 model has seven airbags with a driver's knee airbag.

Since it went on sale in July, Kia has sold only 1,233 Borrego units through September. But just like any portfolio, diversification is critical. Fortunately for Kia its small car sales are doing well in this economy with year-to-date sales on the Spectra alone at 58,915 through to the third quarter.

By Connie Keane
Motor Matters

Monday, October 12, 2009

'10 Kia Soul rated groovy and cool

It is a great confidence booster when a small, affordable car starts getting awards, especially when it's a new entry to the marketplace. The 2010 Kia Soul has been named by two prestigious automotive authorities for outstanding product characteristics.

This news is not only good for Kia -- which has needed desperately to hit a homerun in the U.S. marketplace -- but it's also good news for small-car buyers, who more than anything else want to feel confident in the small product they're buying.

Ward's AutoWorld named the Kia Soul to its "Interior of the Year" list as having the "Grooviest Interior." That alone speaks volumes. Small cars notoriously get overlooked in the finishings department in manufacturers' efforts to keep costs down. But Kia pays attention to the small-car interior of the Soul, the living space of the car.

Personalization is key to the Soul. There are more than 50 ways to personalize color and interior choices and lighting -- as well as the exterior parts, too, with body kits and roof racks.

One of the big standout interior elements on my Soul tester was the audio package, which included a ring of lights on the door-mounted speaker system. The light settings could be set to pulse to the beat of the music or just create a mood. The Soul's center console floats from the dashboard, giving the driver quick access to climate and sound controls.

Kelley Blue Book named the new Kia Soul to its "Coolest New Cars" under $18,000, citing all the techie gadgets that are offered such as Bluetooth connectivity and iPod integration, as well as its fuel economy and safety factors.

The front-wheel-drive Kia Soul starts well below $18,000, with an entry price of $13,300. This base model employs a 16-valve, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that will generate 122 horsepower and 115 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. It rides on 15-inch tires. The EPA rates the fuel economy at 31 miles per gallon highway and 26 mpg city.

All other versions -- the Soul+, Soul! and Soul Sport -- are equipped with the 2.0-liter inline-four with 142 horsepower and 137 lb.-ft. of torque coupled to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed manual transmission. Prices for these trims range from $14,950 to $17,900. The Soul+ is shod with 16-inch tires while the Soul! and Soul Sport get 18-inchers. Fuel mileage estimates on the 2.0-liter are 24/30 mpg for both transmission types.

The Soul zips around town breezily with its 34-foot curb-to-curb turning circle. In fact, Kia labels this five-door compact an "urban" vehicle. Others might call it a hatchback because of its easy lift access to a tidy cargo area, but I gotta agree with the automaker on this -- the Soul is a decent city car. It parks easily in tight spaces, maneuvers well and has a successful look going for it, just as many of its aspirational young buyers would want.

The compact Kia Soul comes with a good list of safety equipment. Models include full-length side curtain airbags, seat-mounted (front only) side-impact airbags, dual front airbags and active head restraints. Buyer confidence is further inspired by other important safety features, including Electronic Stability Control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes.

We all know the rational side of the small-car buyer chooses affordability, safety and fuel economy as primary reasons for the purchase. Kia understands the emotional side of buying a car, which involves design and passion. The Soul has it.

By Connie Keane

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Kia Motors Named One of the Five Most Connected Brands by Consumer Guide® Automotive

Well-Known Automotive Resource Site Honors Kia Brand for Impressive Standard Vehicle Connectivity Features

# Kia recognized for offering vehicles with standard technology that helps consumers stay connected

# User-friendly features including Bluetooth® and USB and auxiliary input jacks puts brand at the top of the pack

IRVINE, Calif., September 1 2009 – Kia Motors America (KMA) today announced it was named to the "Five Most Connected Auto Brands" list by Consumer Guide Automotive ( The automotive resource site compiled a list of automotive manufacturers at the forefront of vehicle technology, recognizing Kia Motors for being ahead of the curve by offering standard audio and mobile phone interface features on new vehicles.

"In today's high-tech world, mobile phones and portable music devices are quickly becoming the norm," said Michael Sprague, vice president, marketing of Kia Motors America (KMA). "We recognize the value of incorporating features such as Bluetooth and USB and auxiliary input jacks as standard equipment in our vehicles, thereby giving our drivers the freedom to stay connected safely and easily while on the road."

Brands included on the list were recognized for offering advanced yet user-friendly connectivity technology that enables today's consumer to easily connect with multiple devices while in their vehicle, including computers, mobile phones and MP3 players.

"Kia deserves this recognition for bringing MP3, digital music player and cell phone connectivity to the masses," said Ed Piotrowski of Consumer Guide Automotive. "Products such as the Forte and Soul demonstrate easy-to-use MP3 and cell phone integration that Kia has made available on nearly every iteration of these affordable cars."

Kia vehicles, including the Soul urban passenger vehicle, Forte compact sedan and Forte Koup two-door, offer an impressive array of standard technology features for tech-savvy drivers and passengers. With a standard AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system outfitted with SIRIUS Satellite Radio capabilities and three months complimentary service1 , standard USB and auxiliary input jacks in the center console with full iPod® and MP3 controllability via the audio head unit and steering wheel controls (achieved with an optional accessory iPod cable), and standard Bluetooth connectivity with steering wheel-mounted controls enabling hands-free operation for all compatible cell phones, both drivers and passengers are sure to stay well-connected and suitably entertained.

About Kia Motors America

Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 630 dealers throughout the United States. For 2008, KMA recorded its 14th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share. Kia Motors subscribes to a philosophy of building high value, high quality, safe and dynamic vehicles. Kia Motors prides itself on producing vehicles that are exciting and enabling and evoke the Kia tagline "The Power to Surprise."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kia Soul Named to's 'Most Exciting Cars of 2010' List

Kia's Affordable Halo Vehicle Honored by Prestigious Web Site

# Soul recognized for eye-catching style, spacious interior and low price point

# Kia's newest five-door offers consumers entire package with safety features, value, style and options

IRVINE, Calif., August 31, 2009 – Kia Motors America (KMA) today announced the all-new 2010 Kia Soul was named to the "Most Exciting Cars of 2010" list by, the online edition of TIME magazine. A recent addition to the expanding Kia lineup, Soul's head-turning style was modeled under the brand's current design evolution and offers consumers an attractive vehicle with myriad personalization options as well as numerous standard comfort and safety features. Also a recent recipient of a "Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and named to the "Top 10 Back-to-School Cars" by Kelley Blue Book's, Soul was recognized by for its roomy interior, large cargo volume, standard convenience features and impressive value

"Being recognized by is further proof that the Kia Motors brand hit a home run with the Soul and we are confident we are on the right track with vehicles including the Forte compact sedan, Forte Koup two-door and upcoming Sorento CUV,'" said Michael Sprague, vice president, marketing of Kia Motors America (KMA). "Consumers are looking for vehicles that offer an unbeatable combination of style, fuel efficiency, technology, convenience and safety features, and Soul offers the complete package in addition to the ability to personalize and emotionally connect with your vehicle."

With a starting price below $14,000, Soul is available in four trims, Soul, Soul+, Soul! (exclaim) and Soul sport. Kia Motors' newest five-door offers consumers an immense amount of style and value, equipped with such driver-friendly standard convenience features as an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system outfitted with SIRIUS Satellite Radio capabilities and three months complimentary service, and USB and auxiliary input jacks in the center console with full iPod® and MP3 controllability via the audio head unit and steering wheel controls (achieved with an optional accessory iPod cable). Soul also offers an optional Audio Upgrade Package that includes a center speaker, subwoofer, external amplifier and speaker lights that pulse to the beat of the music to truly enhance the personal lounge atmosphere.

About Kia Motors America

Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 630 dealers throughout the United States. For 2008, KMA recorded its 14th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share. Kia Motors subscribes to a philosophy of building high value, high quality, safe and dynamic vehicles. Kia Motors prides itself on producing vehicles that are exciting and enabling and evoke the Kia tagline "The Power to Surprise."

Monday, August 31, 2009

KIA Soul combines cool with fuel economy

The 2010 Kia Soul hatchback mainlines fun and funk into a bland brand heretofore defined by the logical appeal of low prices and long warranties.

Leave your left brain at home, clap your hands and say yeah as the eye-catching Soul rolls into sight, lights in its speakers flashing in time to the tunes pouring out of your iPod.

The Soul is the latest player in the offbeat-cool class of small cars inspired by the Honda Element. Exactly the same length as a Honda Fit subcompact, the 161.6-inch-long Soul combines a low price with high fuel economy, arena-like interior room, spunky performance and unique looks in a winning package.

Prices for the 2010 Soul start at $13,300 for a base model with a 122-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission.

Kia offers four equipment levels: base, the cutesy-named + and ! and the less-cloying Sport. Stepping up to the + gets you a satisfying 142-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and manual transmission for $14,950, and the automatic version of the + will cost another $950. Top-of-the-line ! and Sport models get the 2.0-liter engine and go for $16,950 with the manual and $17,900 with the four-speed automatic transmission.

I tested a very well-equipped manual transmission Soul Sport that stickered at $17,650. All prices exclude destination charges.

While it's the same size as the sleek and aerodynamic Fit, the Soul's offbeat looks and roomy interior make it a more direct competitor for cars like the Chevrolet HHR retro wagon, the bigger and boxier Honda Element and the cool-to-be-square Nissan Cube and Scion xB.

The four-cylinder engine in the Sport provides plenty of zip for dicing in traffic. The Kia's long wheelbase and wide track provide a stable, road-gripping ride that encourages sporty driving. The Soul is considerably more entertaining to drive than the bigger xB or underpowered Cube.

Strong fuel economy

The transmission lineup is a bit archaic in a world of six-speed manuals and five-speed automatics, however. The Soul Sport I tested accelerated ably, but a sixth gear would be welcome to boost performance and fuel economy while reducing engine noise.

Despite the dated transmissions, the Soul has excellent EPA fuel economy ratings. The 2.0-liter engine returns 24 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, while the 1.6-liter achieved 26 city/31 highway.

An innovative exterior design complements those mechanical virtues with a cheeky long-nosed body that features an aft-sloping roof, big doors for easy passenger access and a large and convenient tailgate. From its high roof and big wraparound headlights to a long wheelbase that pushes the wheels to the corners, there's nothing quite like the Soul on the road.

Outward visibility is excellent, thanks to large sideview mirrors and expansive windows all around. And the Soul offers a cavernous 102.3 cubic feet of passenger space.

Lansing State Journal

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kia's Pitch: No Curves Ahead

The Kia Soul parked in my driveway earlier this morning didn't stay very long. In just a few hours it could be seen over at the local high school, where I left it after dropping off my daughter.

I headed off on foot to do some local errands. When I next saw it, the Soul was surrounded by teenagers.

"It's like it had honey smeared all over it," I told a friend after returning home with this latest entry in a thriving class of resolutely angular automobiles.

The Soul seems to score off the meter with the young-driver demographic, one of the most desirable groups for auto marketers. Win a young customer, the strategy goes, and there's a chance you will have a customer for life.

Much of the time the Soul was with us, my 16-year-old daughter, Shannon, was sitting inside, stress-testing the stereo. From inside the house I could hear its radio, even when it was parked across the street. With all the windows shut.

I had the radio cranked up as high as its 12 setting once, and I thought my ears were going to start bleeding. Shannon had it up to 35.

The Soul has a mood-lighting system inside that can be synched to the audio system. Among other tricks, the door-mounted speakers can be set to produce a pulsing red glow in cadence with your music, an effect that made me think of the furnace grates at a crematorium. Seeing the Soul come down the street at night with that glow emanating from inside, it looked as if Satan was on his way home with another load of sinners.

The Soul's appeal sneaked up on me. Kia unveiled a design study named Soul at the 2006 Detroit auto show; I made fun of it. Responding to a question about when the Soul might go into production, my answer was, "The 12th of never."

Now that it is here -- excuse me while I eat my words -- I have to say, it's kind of cool.

Sure, there are those odd television advertisements with rodents in treadmill cages. Officially, they are supposed to be hamsters; I thought they were rats. But they are hip, whatever species the little animatronic creatures represent, and they get down with some of the best music in car commercials since Mitsubishi's award-winning spots several years ago.

Did you know there is a series of the rodent commercials? Teenagers know. It's actually a single commercial visually (in either 30-second or one-minute versions), but there are several variations, each with the rodents grooving to a different music track.

You can find them all on YouTube, where the commercials had been viewed around 600,000 times the last time I checked. The full-length music videos (sans hamsters) of each song have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times more. Listen for yourself: "Do What You Do" by Marz, featuring Pack and Mumiez; "Fort Knox" by GoldFish; "Junkyard" by the Potbelleez; and "Colours" by Calvin Harris.

Yes, it seems to be working. Owners are blogging about the Soul. Web site hits are adding up. The car itself almost seems beside the point, but Souls are selling.

The Soul is little more than a box on wheels, but there is something oddly compelling these days about motorized boxes. The more boxlike they are, the more stylish they seem to be. The Scion xB -- which was outsold by the Soul in the United States last month -- Honda Element and Nissan Cube are all evidence of box lust among shoppers.

In its transition to production form, the Soul lost some of the visceral appeal seen in a series of concept vehicles that Kia has displayed at auto shows in recent years. I particularly liked the sinister look of the Burner, which I saw at the Geneva show in 2008, with its Goth color scheme of black in various finishes set off by details painted blood-red.

But the production Soul still has a soul.

"It's the color of root beer," my daughter observed of our metallic brown test car. Actually, that paint treatment is called Java. Other choices like Molten, Alien and Shadow resonate better than red, pea green and black, don't you think? Inside, there is only a sand-and-black combination, but it includes hound's-tooth accents on the headrests and seat fabric that can glow in the dark (along with the word Soul).

Two 4-cylinder engines are offered: a 122-horsepower 1.6-liter and a 2-liter with 142 horsepower. The smaller engine comes only with a 5-speed manual transmission; the larger can be ordered with an optional 4-speed automatic. I tested only the bigger engine and found it plenty peppy. Its E.P.A. fuel economy rating is 30 m.p.g. on the highway and 24 in town.

The 2,800-pound front-wheel-drive Soul is built on a modified version of the platform that Kia uses for its Rio subcompact. Driving dynamics were not intended to be a big selling point for the Soul, yet the handling is more than adequate.

Last week, the Soul received a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The Soul's 100.4-inch wheelbase helps with leg room for back seat passengers. Seating for five, with four doors and a large rear hatch, means the Soul easily packs a party. Even with the optional sunroof, there's plenty of headroom for 6-footers.

Prices starts at a friendly $13,995, and rise through the range with quirky model names differentiated by punctuation: the Soul + and the Soul ! lead up to the fanciest Soul, the Sport, which starts at $18,595. And then there are must-have options like an eardrum-melting stereo and crematorium disco lighting.

Jerry Garrett

Monday, August 24, 2009

2010 All-New Kia Soul Named to "Top 10 Back-to-School Cars" List by Kelley Blue Book's

Kia Urban Passenger Vehicle Honored by Prestigious Automotive Resource Site

# Soul recognized for style, value, fuel economy, warranty and reliability

# All-new Kia five door is an appealing option for students headed back to school

IRVINE, Calif., August 17, 2009 – Directly on the heels of earning a "Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the all-new 2010 Kia Soul urban passenger vehicle has been named to the 2009 "Top 10 Back-to-School Cars" list by Kelley Blue Book's Soul was recognized by the well-known automotive resource site for its fun and quirky styling, impressive interior space, extensive warranty, notable fuel economy and enjoyable creature comforts.

"Soul is the perfect back-to-school vehicle, providing style and options that will appeal to students, as well as safety features, fuel economy and reliability that will give any parent piece of mind,'" said Michael Sprague, vice president, marketing of Kia Motors America (KMA). "Soul, along with the all-new dynamically styled Forte compact sedan and the company's first-ever two-door, the Forte Koup, is a perfect representation of the exciting new direction of Kia Motors as the brand continues its most aggressive design-led product transformation to date."

The list, compiled by editors at, represents vehicles that offer reliability, safety features, affordability, practicality, good handling and attractive styling, effectively appealing to both parents and students. Also taken into consideration is value, with all new vehicles posting starting prices below $18,000, with Soul easily complying with a base starting MSRP of $13,3002.

Soul, which also has been included on's "Coolest New Cars Under $18,000" list, offers consumers "a new way to roll" with an extensive list of personalization options and unique exterior styling. Kia Motors' affordable halo car stands out in a sea of sameness with funky and fun features, including speaker lights, part of an available Audio Upgrade Package, that can pulse to the beat of the music or add mood lighting to the interior cabin, enhancing the overall personal lounge feeling. Standard features, including SIRIUS® Satellite Radio capabilities with three months complimentary service1 , USB and auxiliary input jacks in the center console with full iPod® and MP3 controllability via the audio head unit and steering wheel-mounted controls, and Bluetooth® phone connectivity with steering wheel-mounted controls, only add to the overall appeal of this spirited vehicle.

Available in four trims, Soul, Soul+, Soul! (exclaim) and Soul sport, pricing for the versatile five door begins at $13,3002 for the base trim, while Soul+ starts at $14,950. Moving up to the Soul! offers a price beginning at $16,950 and the Soul sport, designed for those with active lifestyles, starts at $16,950 and tops out at $18,600.

For more information about the 2009 Top 10 Back-to-School Cars from Kelley Blue Book's, visit

Kelley Blue Book is a registered trademark of Kelley Blue Book Co., Inc.

About Kia Motors America

Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 630 dealers throughout the United States. For 2008, KMA recorded its 14th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share. Kia Motors subscribes to a philosophy of building high value, high quality, safe and dynamic vehicles. Kia Motors prides itself on producing vehicles that are exciting and enabling and evoke the Kia tagline "The Power to Surprise."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kia Forte Named 'Car of the Month' by

All-new 2010 Kia Compact Sedan Lauded by Online Automotive Resource

# Forte recognized for offering sophisticated styling, value and numerous class-leading features

# All-new compact sedan tops segment by offering consumers the entire package

IRVINE, Calif., August 18, 2009 - The most recent addition to the Kia Motors America (KMA) ever-expanding line-up, the recently launched all-new 2010 Forte compact sedan has been named "Car of the Month" for August by Acclaimed for attractive styling, value and an extensive list of class-leading features, Forte is the latest installment to be launched under the brand’s design-led transformation.

"Forte boasts a number of very appealing qualities, including comfort, dynamic styling, fuel economy and overall great value for the compact segment" said Michael Sprague, vice president, marketing of Kia Motors America (KMA). "We are pleased to be able to offer consumers the complete new car package at a low price point with the confidence of a 10/100 warranty."

The "Car of the Month" program aims to provide consumers with useful commentary, information and reviews on available cars, trucks and SUVs, and features vehicles that offer impressive fuel economy, safety features and amenities.

"With a stylish and comfortable cabin, excellent fuel economy, great safety features and a 'Best in Class' engine, the Kia Forte is everything you need in a car," said a spokesperson for "Add in the low price point and a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, and the Forte provides an exceptional value."

Available in three trims, LX, EX and SX, pricing for the all-new Forte compact sedan starts at $13,695 for the LX trim, while the Forte EX begins at $15,795. Moving up to the SX trim, pricing begins at $17,195. In addition to competitive pricing, Forte comes well-stocked with a long list of standard amenities, starting with a standard four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system outfitted with SIRIUS Satellite Radio capabilities with three months complimentary service. Also standard on all models is an auxiliary audio input jack and USB port for connecting personal MP3 players as well as Bluetooth® connectivity with steering wheel-mounted controls, which enables hands-free operation for all compatible cell phones.

Along with appealing standard convenience elements, Forte showcases numerous class-leading features, including class-leading passenger volume of 96.8 cubic feet, class-leading horsepower of 156 with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a class-leading combination of standard safety features with active front headrests, advanced two-stage airbags, front seat-mounted and side curtain airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with an antilock brake system (ABS), brake assist (BAS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), electronic stability control (ESC), a traction control system (TCS) and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).

About Kia Motors America

Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 630 dealers throughout the United States. For 2008, KMA recorded its 14th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share. Kia Motors subscribes to a philosophy of building high value, high quality, safe and dynamic vehicles. Kia Motors prides itself on producing vehicles that are exciting and enabling and evoke the Kia tagline "The Power to Surprise."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kia Motors Supports Car Allowance Rebate System With 12 Eligible Models

Full Array of Kia Vehicles Qualify For NHTSA New Buyer Incentive Program

IRVINE, Calif., July 24, 2009 -- In support of the recently signed Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) by the U.S. government, Kia Motors America (KMA) today announced that consumers in need of a new vehicle will be able to choose from a total of 12 eligible Kia models (85 percent of full lineup) that qualify for up to a $4,500 rebate. Under this new buyer incentive program consumers can purchase a new, more fuel efficient Kia vehicle when they trade-in a less fuel efficient car or truck of any eligible make or model.

"Consumers have the opportunity to not only purchase a new car with a significant rebate, but also reap the benefits of modernized safety features, advanced technology as well as increased fuel economy," said Tom Loveless, vice president of sales, KMA. "There has been no other time in recent history when such an extensive national buyer incentive program has been implemented, and Kia Motors is pleased to provide consumers with a comprehensive selection of vehicles that are praised for their style, quality, value, fuel efficiency and long list of standard safety features."

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) guidelines indicate that consumers may earn $4,500 with the purchase of a new car with an increase of 10-plus miles per gallon (mpg) or may earn $3,500 with an increase of four-plus mpg when they trade in a car or SUV with less than 18 mpg combined. For SUVs, five-plus mpg may earn $4,500 and two-plus mpg may earn $3,500. New passenger cars purchased under the program must get a minimum combined fuel economy of 22 mpg while new light-duty trucks or SUVs must get at least 18 mpg combined fuel economy to qualify.

In accordance with the NHTSA, retailers that are enrolled in the program will process transactions using program guidelines and apply appropriate credits at the time of purchase. The following details the official government criteria for trade-in rebates:

* Trade-in vehicles have been manufactured less than 25 years before the date of trade-in

* Trade-in vehicles must have a federal combined city/highway fuel economy of 18 mpg or less

* Eligible vehicles must be in driveable condition and have been continuously insured and registered to the same owner for at least one year

* Vouchers are not necessary; dealers will apply a credit at the time of the purchase

Additional information is currently being developed by the National Highway Transportation Authority and will be available on its Web site as it becomes available. For more information visit, the official and only Web site for the program.

About Kia Motors America

Kia Motors America (KMA) is the marketing and distribution arm of Kia Motors Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. KMA offers a complete line of vehicles through more than 630 dealers throughout the United States. For 2008, KMA recorded its 14th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share. Kia Motors subscribes to a philosophy of building high value, high quality, safe and dynamic vehicles. Kia Motors prides itself on producing vehicles that are exciting and enabling and evoke the Kia tagline "The Power to Surprise."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kia's Soul makes it hip to be square

What was first introduced as a concept vehicle in January 2006 at the Detroit International Auto Show, has become a production reality for the 2010 model year. The Soul is a compact five-passenger, five-door (four doors with a rear hatch) that is poised to compete with the Scion xB and Nissan's Cube.

The Soul will come in four variations: the base Soul starts at $13,300; the Soul Plus at $14,950, The Soul Sport has a window tag of $16,950; and the Soul Exclaim starts at $17,900. A fully-loaded, top-of-the-line Soul still manages to come in under the $19,000 mark.

There are two inline four-cylinder engines available - a 1.6-liter that puts out 122 horsepower along with 115 pound-feet of torque or a 2-liter that delivers 142 horses at 6,000 rpm, while generating 137 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm.

Both engines incorporate Continuously Variable Valve Timing and both mate to a five-speed manual gearbox as standard. Souls with the 2-liter engine may also be coupled to an available four-speed automatic transmission. All Soul models are front-wheel driven. The Soul is based on a version of the subcompact Kia Rio platform with bolder cues than the somewhat conservative Kia Rondo.

The Soul sports a reverse wedge greenhouse with blacked-out "A" and "B" pillars, giving the roof a floating effect. Wheel-well arches are highly pronounced in the form of fenders. Front air inlets housed below the grille take on the look and form served up by Audi, drawing its influence from former Audi designer Ian Schreyer. The interior features a floating center stack, driver-oriented gauges and a comfortable cabin ambience. There's also a dual-level glovebox and an under-floor cargo tray.

Soul offers 11 exterior colors and three interior two-tone combinations, along with more than 50 ways to personalize one's vehicle, characterizing it to suit individual tastes and requirements.

My test Soul came in Exclaim trim with the 2-liter engine and four-speed automatic, finished outside in Dune, a creamy off-white color. The interior was Sand and black. The base price was set at $17,900, with the final sticker totaling $18,995. I also was able to test the Soul Sport model with the five-speed manual gearbox. It was finished outside in Titanium metallic with a red-an-black interior, and base priced at $16,950. Adding the power sunroof and destination charge increased the sticker to $18,345.

Standard equipment and features include: ABS, ESC, remote keyless entry, power sunroof, 60/40 split folding rear seats and lots more than one would normally expect in the Soul's price range.


The 2010 Kia Soul Exclaim is a practical transportation option that is fun to drive within stylish packaging. Acceleration is not blistering but is adequate to get the job done with a little spirit thrown in. The steering isn't sports-car crisp, but seems agile enough to provide a few giggles in the twisties. The ride quality is comfortably compliant, but the boxy form offers a substantial target for 45 to 50 mph cross winds when crossing a bridge such as San Francisco's Golden Gate. The automatic transmission shifts nicely though I prefer the five-speed manual gearbox that I tested in the Sport version.

There are lots of thoughtful storage nooks and crannies, along with cool, quirky features such as the audio speakers that flash mood lighting to match the bass notes. Rear seat passengers will find sufficient space behind even tall front seat occupants.

Add the squarely good looks to the 10-year/100,000 mile limited power train warranty and five-year/60,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance program, and the Soul provides a hip, value-packed compact ride.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

All-new 2010 Kia Forte meets high standards of performance, design at a low price

"It's the economy, stupid" was the unspoken theme of the 1992 presidential campaign. Then Gov. Bill Clinton got it and won. The first president Bush was retired to Texas because he didn't get it.

Well, in the automotive world, "it's the design, stupid." The cars and SUVs that are thriving in the U.S., for the most part, have great designs. GM for the past five years have mostly been designed by committee. Hello, bankruptcy. Chrysler has had one winning design in that same time frame, the Chrysler 300 (not counting a couple of retro designs).

On the other hand, we have distinctive designs and good sales from companies like Audi, Mazda, Ford, Hyundai and now, believe it or not, Kia. The Korean carmaker has heard the word and ditched its bland drawings. I present as proof the 2010 Kia Forte sedan.

Kia gathered media from all over the country (including me for some reason) in Seattle to introduce the sedan. I've been around large packs of automotive journalists before and after a couple of drinks you usually hear some muttering about a car's faults. It just wasn't happening with the Forte.

Executives touted the Forte's fun-to-drive factor. That may be pushing things just a bit. In the compact market, probably 90 percent of the cars are bought for practical reasons like fuel economy or cost. The Forte does well on both counts but practically nobody is going to buy this car because it's fun to drive. A real estate agent in a down market may trade in his Porsche Boxster for a Forte, but it's not because it's fun to drive.

However, the Forte will never make you regret the decision to buy one. During the test drive in Seattle, I spent time behind the wheel of the LX trim model with the 2.0-liter, 156 horsepower engine with 144 lb. ft. of torque and the SX trim model with the 2.4-liter, 174 horsepower engine that puts out 168 lb. ft. of torque. The 2.0-liter with two adults on board (one husky, one not) did emit some minor complaints under hard acceleration. The 2.4-liter handled everything thrown at it with nary a peep.

Let's not kid ourselves. Handling was not spirited by any means, but the Forte in the SX trim had nothing to be ashamed of on some moderately twisting roads. Every now and then my co-pilot and I would throw the Forte hard around a corner and while not maintaining a flat horizon, it didn't tip on two wheels either.

Kia made the claim that the Forte's noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) qualities have been improved. It's almost impossible for a writer to verify that claim without sophisticated testing equipment and comparable models. However, it did seem to be a quieter car, especially as I remember other Kias that I have driven.

There is one point worth quibbling about. The Forte's trunk is larger than its predecessor, the Spectra, but it still has an opening that is small for its size. By the way, funniest question heard at the press conference: "Why didn't Kia continue with the Spectra name?" The questioner said a lot of money had been invested in it, after all. Kudos to the Kia executive who admitted there was no brand loyalty to the Spectra name and very few people would miss it. Next time I hear a query like that I'm going to call it the Studebaker question.

What's going to make the Forte a huge winner, though, is its standard safety equipment, even on the most inexpensive models. It comes with anti-lock braking, electronic brake force distribution, stability control, traction control, active front headrests and six airbags. Stability control alone is worth the price of admission, especially because this is a car that is likely going to be driven by less experienced drivers.

When it comes to fuel economy, the 2.0-liter engine offers a competitive 25/34 mpg (city/highway) when mated to either the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions, while the 2.4-liter engine turns out 22/32 mpg when paired with the six-speed manual and 23/31 with the five-speed automatic. The optional Fuel Economy Package, available on the EX model with the 2.0-liter powerplant, includes the five-speed automatic transmission, Motor Drive Power Steering (MPDS), "smart" alternator, silica tires and aero enhancements. These improvements result in 27/36 mpg and a class-leading combined fuel economy of 30 mpg.

Available in three trims, LX, EX and SX, pricing for the all-new compact sedan will start at $13,695 for the LX trim, while the Forte EX begins at $15,795. Moving up to the SX trim, pricing begins at $17,195. While these are affordable prices, the highest praise I can give the Forte is it doesn't feel cheap at all. The interior materials are of a good quality for the price point. It's a good looking car by my subjective standards. Plus, as mentioned above, you'll never regret buying the Forte when weighed against its competitors like the Toyota Corolla or the Honda Civic.

For more information, go to the Kia website.

Keith Griffin

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

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Total transformation: the 2010 Kia Forte

When automakers get ready to bring out a new car, they'll frequently get all the competing models from other brands together and bring in some more-or-less randomly selected members of the public to compare them. They don't tell the people who's paying for the exercise, and they don't show the brand names on the cars - at least not at first.

They have the subjects look over each of the cars, its price, and its specifications. Then they ask the subjects to rank the cars in order of preference - which would you most like to have in your driveway? It's a blind test, so the automaker gets a good sense of whether their car is desirable compared to the competition.

Then they unveil the brand badges on the cars and ask the subjects to rank them again. That tells the automaker how their brand reputation affects people's perception of their product.

Well, Kia just released their new compact sedan, and they went through this exercise. When the cars were anonymous, the new Kia Forte scored highest compared to the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, and a few others. But when they revealed the brand name, something totally new happened - people still liked the Kia best.

That's huge for any automaker struggling to overcome its roots as a bargain-basement brand, and Kia has certainly done the necessary work over the past few years to take honest pride in the achievement.

This is the process that Japanese manufacturers went through starting in the 1980s. They entered the U.S. market in the late 60s and 70s as bargain brands - no frills, no luxury, just an inexpensive grocery-getter. But every automaker moves upscale over time, and the Japanese brands had to work to overcome their initial image. As the Korean brands entered the market in the 80s, they came in as bargain brands just like their Japanese predecessors, and now face the same challenge to reposition themselves as something more than that.

So, enter the Kia Forte. This new compact sedan from Kia is the designated replacement for the outgoing Spectra model. I attended the press preview for the Forte this week in Seattle, and I have to say I'm impressed. This is the third Kia in the past year to make the kind of splash that says "throw away your old prejudices about Kia. This is a whole new thing."

First, last fall Kia brought out their mid-size Borrego SUV. Apart from unfortunate economic timing which is not their fault, I believe Kia did a great job with this SUV. Then the new funky-cool Soul came out a couple months ago, and it's doing the job for Kia with the young urban hipster market. Now comes the bread-and-butter car for any import brand - the compact sedan. This is where they take their swing at the Japanese giants and compete head to head against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda3. And after a full day and a couple hundred miles in the Forte, I'm confident in suggesting that if you're planning on a new small car this year, you simply must test-drive the Kia.

I'll lead with my own bias - the Kia gets great fuel economy. 27/36 in the 2.0-liter and 5-speed automatic "fuel economy" model. You get a little less than that, but still great mileage (22/32) in the hot rod version with the 2.4-liter engine and 6-speed manual. Most of the Forte options split the difference at 25/34.

You get that great fuel economy from your choice of a 2.0-liter DOHC engine making 156 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque, or a 2.4-liter DOHC that makes 173 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. To tell the truth, you won't regret buying the car with the smaller engine - it goes just fine.

You also get your choice of 5 or 6-speed manual gearboxes, or a 5-speed automatic transmission. Drop those into your choice of three trim levels, and you've got a nice product range.

Inside, the Forte is every bit as nice as the segment-leading cars. It drives and feels solid, and has the handling we've all come to expect from these sporty economical compact cars. Both the 2.0 and 2.4-liter versions pack plenty of punch.

But Kia still has a hill to climb if they want to take on Honda and Toyota, and so they've tossed a few magic arrows into their quiver. The Kia Forte has a 10 year, 100,000-mile warranty, and an attractive price point. The Forte LX starts at $13,695, the EX rolls in at $15,795, and even the luxury hot-rod edition SX comes in at $17,195.

For that money, Kia gives you all the safety gear modern cars can hold. One thing that blows my mind is when an automaker pitches a low price, then charges you extra for such basics as anti-lock brakes. But Kia gives you ABS, electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability control, traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system all included in the base price. Good work!

On top of the nice drivetrain and suspension and the safety gear, you can get all the stuff you want in a modern car - hands-free phone support, nice stereo, air conditioning, MP3 and iPod support, cruise control - all of it is available in one package or another.

Kia's people are excited about the Forte, and it shows. "Total product transformation" and "built for the passionate pragmatist" are the terms they're using. The bottom line on the new Forte is just this: If you think you're the kind of person who wouldn't consider a Kia, it's time to think again and take a fresh look.

Jeffrey Zurschmeide

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First Drive: 2010 Kia Forte a compelling new compact sedan option

If there's one thing we can say about Kia, it's that it keeps making progress. In the 15 years the brand has been selling cars in the United States, South Korea's second largest auto manufacturer has increased its market share every single year. The future looks bright as well, with new vehicles like the Soul receiving rave reviews and a new billion dollar production facility set to open this year. Hoping to build on that success, Kia has launched its new 2010 Forte, replacing the Spectra that failed to stand out among cars like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. With a new name, a new face, upgraded powertrains and aspirations to exceed consumer expectations about the brand, can the Forte help Kia finally make its mark in the compact sedan segment? Read on to find out.

We have to admit we've never been overly excited about Kia or its cars. The brand's emphasis has always been on affordability, a bogey that generally doesn't speak to the enthusiast's adrenal glands. However, when the Forte sedan was launched at the Chicago Auto Show earlier this year, we took notice. The striking design is much more appealing than the comparatively staid Spectra, and the available 2.4-liter inline-four comes with an impressive 173 horsepower.

Available in three variants, the Forte ranges from the base LX (starting at $13,695), which features a 2.0-liter DOHC inline-4 putting out 156 horsepower, to the top-of-the-line SX ($17,195) that benefits from the aforementioned 2.4-liter engine. The mid-range EX ($15,795, shown above) comes standard with the Convenience Package (air-conditioning, folding rear seat, rear center arm rest and adjustable headrests), with the option of Premium (power sunroof and 16-inch wheels and tires) and Leather Packages. Kia has ensured that even the base model comes with standard items like four-wheel disc brakes incorporating anti-lock, stability and traction control systems, as well as full-length side curtain airbags. With the exception of air conditioning on the LX model, buyers won't have to worry about having to pay extra for the essentials.

What first attracted us to the Forte, and what ought to initially help draw potential buyers into the showroom, is its striking design. Our hats are off to the team at Kia's recently-formed California design studios who penned the sedan, and we are happy to hear that much of model's styling DNA will be passed on to future products. The bold stance owes much to the width of the body -- at 69.9 inches, the Forte is wider than the offerings from Honda, Toyota, or Mazda -- as well as to the slanted belt line and swept back headlights. With the optional 17-inch wheels on the SX model, we would even dare to say the Forte!

The interior can often be sore subject for cars built on a budget, but the Forte doesn't disappoint. While there are some hard plastics on the dash and door, most of the materials used are fairly nice to the touch and look attractive. Interior space is abundant at 96.8 cubic feet, and the trunk is simply cavernous for a compact sedan. Kia has made it a priority to provide as many interior features as possible -- even in the base LX model -- and every Forte gets a six-way adjustable driver's seat, tilt steering column, Bluetooth connectivity with steering wheel controls, Sirius satellite radio (with a three month subscription), and USB and auxiliary input jacks. In our time with the Forte, we didn't find much to complain about inside, but the optional leather seats that are available in the EX and SX models we sampled proved to be somewhat stiff and lacking in support. If it were our money, we would stick with the cloth buckets.

On paper, the Forte is a class-leader in the powertrain department. With 156 horsepower and 144 lb-ft of torque on tap in the 2.0-liter engine, the Forte offers more standard horsepower than any of its competitors. It's also easy on the wallet, with an EPA rating of 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. We drove the EX model with the optional four-speed automatic (a five-speed manual comes standard), and came away pleasantly satisfied with the acceleration and smoothness of the combination. Interestingly, a so-called Fuel Economy Package ($600) is also available on the EX model that upgrades the car to a five-speed automatic transmission, Motor Drive Power Steering, a "smart" alternator, silica tires, and aero enhancements. Rated at 27/36 mpg, Kia says this package makes the Forte the most fuel efficient car in its class that's not a hybrid or diesel.

While the base engine was up to snuff, we came away disappointed with the 2.4-liter inline-4 found in the SX model. With 173 horsepower and 168 lb-ft torque, the Forte SX looked like it would be able to outpace a Mazda3. Unfortunately, those numbers didn't translate to the real world. The 2.4-liter powerplant was sluggish to respond to throttle input, and it wheezed and gasped at anything above 3,500 rpm. Surprisingly, the six-speed manual transmission didn't earn our affection either. Shifting feel was vague at best, and we had problems with smoothly modulating the clutch due to a relatively low engagement point combined with a hesitant throttle. An aftermarket shift kit could go a long way toward alleviating our reservations here. The good news is that the Forte SX still manages to get fantastic fuel economy even with the extra engine displacement. Cars equipped with the six-speed manual are rated at 22/32 mpg, and those with five-speed automatics get 23/31.

While we wouldn't go as far as describing the Forte's handling as sporty, we found it to be more than capable of providing a smooth and comfortable ride. Kia utilizes an independent suspension up front and a stabilizer bar and torsion beam with struts and coil springs at the rear that both do their job, but nothing really more than that. The hydraulic-assisted rack and pinion steering provides a decent amount of feedback, but those looking for some more fun in the twisties might find the Mazda3 or Honda Civic a better fit.

When it comes down to it, the Forte ought to do for Kia what the brand has been doing the last 15 years: make progress. With great looks, plenty of standard features, better (but not great) powertrains, and excellent fuel mileage, the Forte is a much more compelling option in the compact sedan segment than Kia has ever had. Add to that its excellent pricing and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and we have no doubt that the 2010 Kia Forte will find its fair share of customers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kia Forte is compact in style

Kia Motors is on a roll. It's going faster than a hamster in a running wheel. And that's not a bad thing.

Earlier this year, the South Korean carmaker introduced the Kia Soul -- an urban compact van that has grabbed the imagination of younger buyers. It's sharp, stylish and affordable.

Now it's rolling out something for these young buyers' parents: The 2010 Kia Forte.

Smartly outfitted and well-priced, the Forte may create a conundrum for typical compact consumers. The Forte LX starts at a mere $13,695, not including shipping. The mid-range model, the Forte EX, stays under the $16,000 and a nicely loaded SX model starts at $17,195. Crazy Eddie should do the commercials for Kia because these prices are "Innnnn-Saannnnee!"

Seriously, they're super low. Just look at what you get standard on the middle trim model EX for $15,795:

First, the technical side: There's the 156-horsepower 2-liter engine with multiport fuel injection mated to a five-speed manual transmission that will get you 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. Then there's the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering, anti-lock brakes, traction control and tire pressure monitoring. All of this will give you a well-mannered car that feels a little underpowered and struggles on big hills but is otherwise a good ride. Personally, I prefer the manual transmission over the automatic, especially when driving small four-bangers, but most of America disagrees and will opt for the auto.

Driving the Forte around Seattle, I found it comfortable and agreeable on all types of roads. On the highway, it was quiet and handled the road well. On back twisty roads through Washington's steep mountains, it felt sure-footed and balanced. A well-tuned suspension provides taut handling on the top-of-the-line SX model, and the EX and LX still have responsive handling. Few commuter compacts have the word fun associated with them, but the Forte was fun. It's no Mazda 3 when it comes to performance, but it never was designed for that kind of driving. This is the car that can carry you through the daily grind, the working man's commuter.

Now I mentioned it feeling underpowered. This seemed to happen for two reasons. First, the automatic transmission is tuned to make the Forte as fuel frugal as possible. This may be good for your pocketbook, but it can sap the car's torque quicker than kimchi through a goose. Additionally, one of the vehicles I tested included Kia's optional fuel economy package. This will make the 2-liter engine stingier and includes a few other features such as motor drive power steering, silica tires and additional aerodynamic improvements. The end result is a combined 30 mpg or 27 mpg city and 36 mpg on the highway.

Remarkably quiet
Some other notables for the Forte include a remarkably quiet ride for a compact and a lot of gizmos inside.

The same EX will come with air conditioning (something many smaller cars offer as options), satellite radio, USB and auxiliary jack to connect your personal music device, Bluetooth connectivity and steering wheel controls (this is even standard on the LX), cruise control, dual 12 volt outlets and a host of other creature comfort features. Take on Kia's 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty and you've got quite a package.

This has to be one of the most loaded small cars on the planet.

Maybe Kia is trying a little too hard to impress customers. There's good reason for this: The Kia Spectra, the car that the Forte will replace. While I typically think it's better to keep the name of a vehicle and just make it better, I can see why the Spectra name was shelved next to so many left-over Spectra parts. It wasn't a good car.

So the Forte becomes the newest and most welcome member to the Kia family.

Like many popular compacts, the Forte tries to look stylish in a way that doesn't offend. It's well-defined but lacks any risk-taking in its overall look. The front end is simple and the sides have the most pronounced lines. There's more definition on the Forte than the Toyota Corolla or Nissan Sentra, but don't expect any of them to enter America's Next Top Model.

Spacious and functional
Where the Forte breaks loose from the pack is inside the cabin, which is well-executed, functional and spacious. The steering wheel controls for the phone and stereo work flawlessly and it's very easy to get accustomed to all of these features. The front row is spacious with 40 inches of head room and 43.3 inches of legroom. The second row offers 37.8 inches of head room and 35 inches of legroom. It can easily carry five adults, though I wonder how the engine might respond to a 50 percent weight increase.

The trunk provides 14.7 cubic feet of space, which is enough room to put more than four golf bags back there. On one stop, I climbed into the trunk and estimated that I could fit at least two more of me -- I'm 6 feet tall -- back there.

Lots of compact cars have the excitement of a washing machine. They need to work every time the driver turns the key. They need to provide good gas mileage and stay on the road year after year. Some drivers don't have a passion for their ride; they simply need it to get on with more interesting parts of their lives. The Kia Forte could change some of their minds.

This compact is more than just a piece of transportation. It will take you from point A to B in comfort and style. When you arrive, you'll even have a little money left over to spend on something fun.

Scott Burgess
Detroit News

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kia's Sedan Delivers Serious Quality and Value

To understand the future of the automobile industry, you must understand the success of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail organization.

It is an achievement based on common sense. Wal-Mart consistently offers excellent quality at prices lower than those charged by the competition.

It is an attractive business model that draws consumers from all walks of life, especially in tough economic times. It matters not that Wal-Mart is a nonunion company with a blue-collar persona. Nor does it matter that you are a professional, or a worker holding a union card. If you want the best for less, you shop there.

So here's the deal: The car company that best follows the Wal-Mart example is the one that will own the future of the automobile industry.

Don't be surprised if that company comes from South Korea.

Take a look at this week's subject car, the 2010 Kia Forte family sedan, sold at base prices of $13,695 to $18,195. Those prices cover compact, front-wheel-drive automobiles built as well as anything from Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Nissan or Toyota. South Korean automobile manufacturer Hyundai owns Kia. So Hyundai is included.

The kicker is that the Forte is priced lower -- in many cases much lower -- than the competition.

To say the least, I and my evaluation crew -- my wife, Mary Anne, and my Washington Post assistant for vehicle evaluations, Ria Manglapus -- were shocked. In our minds, we had equated "cheap" with, well, cheap. But after putting nearly 500 miles on the Forte EX, which sits in the middle of the Forte line, we changed our stereotypical understanding of "cheap" to a more appropriate "inexpensive." In this instance, that meant remarkable value.

Fit and finish on our Forte EX was excellent. Interior ergonomics -- ease of sight and ease of use of gauges and controls -- were better than those found in many rival cars. That's "better" as in "better" as opposed to "better for the money."

Some examples: Audio, heat and ventilation controls are clearly positioned and labeled, a welcome relief from cars in which the positioning and use of those controls have been turned into a dark science.

Also there's this: In a driving emergency, such as a sudden stoppage of traffic, the caution signal button, indicated by a small red triangle within a larger red triangle, becomes the most important button on the instrument panel. You want to quickly push that button to alert motorists behind you that you are slowing down or stopping because of trouble ahead.

Too many car companies seem to go out of their way to conceal the caution signal button. Their stylists render the button practically invisible and less useful by shrinking its size and blending it within overall instrument panel.

Kia has taken the opposite approach in its Forte line. The caution signal button is the largest single control; and it sits at the top of the instrument panel. It is hard to miss and easy to reach and use. Thus Kia gives the caution signal button the supreme importance it has always deserved.

We disagreed on the feel of the Forte EX's ride. Ria thought it was too hard, making it a tad uncomfortable for a family sedan. Mary Anne and I demurred. We thought the Forte EX's stiffer-than-usual-ride for a compact sedan (probably because of its optional low-rolling resistance tires) contributed to the car's better-than-usual handling for a compact family sedan.

We all marveled over the car's zippy acceleration, delivered via the Forte EX's 2-liter, 156-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine. But we were more impressed with its fuel economy: 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 miles per gallon on the highway running on regular unleaded gasoline.

The Forte's standard safety features, including four-wheel disc brakes and full-length head-curtain airbags, match those found in substantially more expensive cars. The same is true of the Forte's optionally available amenities, such as iPod, BlueTooth phone and MP3 player connectivity.

By Warren Brown
Washington Post

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

2010 Kia Forte - First Drive Review

Kia winds up and delivers a fine little sedan.

If the world of compact cars were a baseball lineup, the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic would be the meat of the order, the third and fourth batsmen. They boast home-run sales numbers, long lists of features, and nearly peerless reliability. In short, they are the compact superstars. How does the all-new 2010 Kia Forte stack up? Will it join them at the top of the order or will it be relegated to hitting ninth like its predecessor, the Spectra?

It doesn't hurt that Kia has endowed the Forte with style, power, and technology, items all conspicuous by their absence in the afterthought-ish Spectra. Designed in the company's California studio, the Forte is now the best-looking car in its class, especially standing out when viewed in person. The styling doesn't make you want to tear your clothes off or anything, but subtle details like the upswept side-window line (which also is good for front-side visibility) and the tasteful new corporate grille help the Forte stand out against competition that looks either weird (Civic, Sentra) or coma-inducing (Focus, Corolla).

A Good Assortment of Powertrain Options, Standard Equipment

There are two four-cylinder engines available in the Forte. LX and EX models are powered by a 156-hp, 2.0-liter, while the top-spec SX uses a 2.4-liter that makes 173 hp. Four transmissions are on offer, depending on trim and option package. Standard across the board are five- (LX and EX) or six-speed manuals (SX). The LX and EX automatic has four forward ratios, unless you opt for the EX Fuel-Economy package, which nets the same five-speed automatic offered on the SX. Kia says the 2.0-liter will be good for 0­–60 jaunts in the eights and that the 2.4-liter will be in the sevens, but that it will leave the final measurements up to us. We'll let you know how accurate Kia's broad-stroke estimates are just as soon as we get a chance to strap test gear to the Forte.

The 2.0-liter motor returns 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway with the five-speed auto in the Fuel-Economy package and 25/34 when paired with either of the other two transmissions. The larger 2.4-liter four achieves 22/32 with the six-speed manual and 23/31 with the five-speed auto. These numbers basically fall in line with those of the Corolla and Civic, although the Forte achieves its fuel-economy figures while using more powerful engines. For example, the 22/30-mpg Corolla XRS uses a 2.4-liter four like the Kia, but it has only two more hp than the base Kia engine. Workaday (nonhybrid, non-Si) Civics use a 140-hp, 1.8-liter four.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Kia if it didn't offer value. A Forte LX starts at just $14,390, whereas the base Civic and Corolla both ring it at just over 16 grand. Besides $1700 or $1800 in their pockets, those that opt for the Kia will find Bluetooth phone connectivity with steering-wheel controls, Sirius satellite radio, USB and auxiliary input jacks, four-wheel disc brakes, and stability control among the standard features. These items are extra-cost options or require jumping to a higher trim on most competitors, if they're available at all. For example, stability control is standard only on the top-spec Corolla, and the Civic requires you to get navigation to order satellite radio.

The Forte EX begins at $16,490, and the SX at $17,890. Kia sees the EX as the volume model, and its standard features list includes power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; steering-wheel audio controls; two tweeters for the stereo; more stylish exterior mirrors; and the world's largest fuel gauge. The SX gets larger front brakes, 17-inch wheels, fog lamps, and adds telescoping to the standard tilting steering wheel. The roughly $600 EX Fuel-Economy package adds electric steering (all others use hydraulic assist), a "smart" alternator, low-rolling-resistance tires, the five-speed auto, and aero enhancements. Other optional packages for the various models include things like bigger wheels, a moonroof, and leather seat trim.

Equipment is Nice, but How Does it Drive?

Numbers and equipment-wise, the Kia is very strong, but for enthusiastic driving it's . . . not. Our first experience was in an SX equipped with the six-speed manual. Beyond the larger engine and the equipment mentioned above, the SX adds firmer springs, bigger front brakes, retuned shocks, and a larger front anti-roll bar. It felt somewhat tighter than an EX we drove later, but the sum of all that equipment wasn't something we'd really call sporty. Turn-in was fairly aggressive, which was nice, but the tires and suspension seemed to give up by mid-corner, where the car would just begin to plow like it was the start of planting season. The numb steering required too much correction to maintain a line in corners and to stay in a lane on the freeway. The six-speed manual wasn't particularly fun, either, with a vague clutch and notchy shifter.

Believe it or not, we actually were more satisfied with an EX with a four-speed automatic. This segment isn't about barn-burning; it's about inexpensive, comfortable, roomy, inoffensive, and—increasingly—stylish cars, and those are precisely the Forte's strengths. With the smaller engine and automatic gearbox, the Forte didn't invite aggressive driving, but that's all the better to enjoy the spacious and well-appointed interior and airy greenhouse. The ride is relatively supple, and the car welcomes simply sliding it into drive and cruising.

The sedan is the only body style for now, but Kia will soon introduce the poorly spelled Forte Koup two-door. The company also hinted that a five-door Forte hatchback could happen, which we would welcome for the increased utility, but we have to say that the sedan's 14.7 cubic-foot trunk is plenty big. It's roomier, in fact, than that of the BMW 750Li.

The Forte won't be displacing the Honda and Toyota sluggers from the heart of the batting lineup, but we'd be happy to have it hit second, the place for solid and trustworthy—if not spectacular—players. (The Mazda 3, we think, would hit leadoff, where speedy agility and consistency are most prized.) This new Forte is a worthy contender and offers tremendous value; it should help Kia snag market share in this crucial segment. It's too bad the Forte isn't more fun to drive; a car that's a solid triple could have been a home run.

Car and Driver