Kia has something to offer in almost every auto segment under the sun. Need a budget friendly car? Get a Picanto. Want a sporty crossover? Drive a Sportage. But there's one segment the automaker has been missing out on, the C-segment.
Back in 2011, Kia Philippines 'quietly' offered the first generation Forte as their stake in the compact car scene. It had the makings of a good four-door or two-door with a blend of sportiness in both interior design and driving prowess. It wasn't a stellar performer however when it came to sales due to its steep price (at the time).
Four years later, the Forte returned to the country and gets a major overhaul in every aspect. Now on its second-generation, Kia is looking to take a slice of the market with a premium take on the well-populated C-segment.
First thing's first, the exterior design. I'll be honest; it looks unlike any Kia I've ever seen. Peter Schreyer (Kia's Design Officer) did quite a number for the new Forte. It may be a sedan, but its profile incorporates 'Koup'-like styling with the broad shoulder lines and extended rear glass window, which is a nice touch in my opinion.
The sweeping headlights with projector halogens, distinct 'tiger-noise' grill, and large foglights also give it a sophisticated appearance. It has decent 16-inch alloy wheels but personally, they don't do justice to the overall look of the Forte Sedan.
The rear is a far cry from its predecessor with its European-inspired finish. The wraparound LED taillights are eye-catching to say the least. The trunk-lid appears small but once it's opened, it offers deep cargo space.
Open the doors, and hues of black and gray are immediately seen. Even though it's priced just below a million Pesos, soft-touch plastic trim was predominantly used throughout the cabin. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather that is smooth to the touch and comes with multi-function controls for the entertainment system. Browsing through the multi-information display was quite laborious however as I found the steering wheel controls confusing to use.
I particularly like the gear shifter which also gets the same smooth trim and features a leather shift boot. The center console appears overwhelming but still has an ergonomic configuration nonetheless. I do find the dual climate control system placed too low for my liking.
Despite being an entry-level model, the Forte Sedan comes fully loaded with key features. Dual-zone climate control with rear vents? Check. Touchscreen infotainment with AM/FM, CD, USB, Aux and Bluetooth? Check. Reverse camera with front and rear parking sensors? Check. It even comes with cruise control, automatic headlights, a cooling glovebox and remote trunk opener for good measure.
Motivation comes in the form of a 1.6-liter DOHC Gamma inline-four. It comes with the brand's Dual Continuously Variable Valve Timing (D-CVVT), allowing the engine to produce 130 PS at 6,300 rpm along with 157 Nm of torque at 4,850 rpm. Power is then sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic gearbox with manumatic function.
Off the line, the engine generated enough torque at low revs, though I did find it loses steam at the mid-range. This is more apparent when you have additional passengers riding along with you, which could necessitate a heavier right foot. In spite of that, the 1.6-liter motor delivered smooth power while cruising at highway speeds.
On normal mode, the automatic transmission seamlessly changed cogs, complementing the already smooth-running inline-four. The manumatic function (aka Sport Mode), on the other hand, livened up things. It's particularly great for spirited driving as it held the revs longer and allowed faster gear changes.
As for ride quality, it is perhaps one of the most comfortable sedans I ever got to drive. Even when faced with rough patches of road, it still delivered a lofty ride. Handling-wise, the Forte Sedan was a point and shoot car and kept itself stable while cruising through the bends.
It even has Kia's proprietary 'Flex Steer' system which has three modes of steering resistance. On days where you just want to drive without much effort, there's Comfort. Sport fully stiffens up the system which makes for a more direct steering feel. Normal, on the other hand, acts as the go-between of the two modes.
With an average speed of 90 km/h, it was able to return 15.8 km/l of fuel in the highway — not bad considering peak torque is achieved at nearly 5,000 rpm. City driving, on the other hand, yielded about 9km/l. As for heavy traffic conditions, it was able to average nearly 7.3 km/l of fuel. Despite having a smaller engine than the Forte Koup (powered by a 2.0-liter motor), both engines appear to have similar fuel intake.
After being absent in the segment for quite a while, Kia has done their homework and returned with a car that offers Euro-like aesthetics and features. They also managed to lessen the price while still packing it with enough amenities to give the staunch players something to look out for.
Priced at PhP 965,000, the entry-level Forte Sedan is decently priced compared to contenders like the Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sylphy and its model twin, the Hyundai Elantra.
But even with its level of specification, Kia Philippines has delved into unfamiliar territory given the fact that they are not known locally in the C-segment. Here's to hoping that the 2015 Forte can change that notion.