2019 Kia Forte: Handsome compact provides nice bang for the buck [First Look]

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2019 Kia Forte (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

I’ve always thought the Kia Forte was a pretty decent car. It looks nice, and you get a lot for your money.

Kia ups the ante for 2019 by infusing Forte with Stinger-inspired styling and some new standard safety technology.

All the while, the base price only goes up by about $900.

During the press preview the executives spent a lot of time showing off the design similarities between the sporty new Stinger and the compact Forte. You see the resemblance in the fastback-like styling, short decklid and swept-back headlights.

In my book, however, the best improvements are in the interior.

Thankfully, the faux carbon fiber accents are gone, and the weird fish-gill-like dashboard has been smoothed out.

Our test vehicles were all EX trims, and though we had the up-level leatherette seating surfaces with heated and vented front seats (which are only available on the EX), the center stack will remain pretty static across all trims with an 8-inch display screen and dual-zone automatic climate controls.

Some other nice features that come standard at the base level: Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth phone pairing, automatic emergency braking, driver attention warning and lane keep assist.

All for less than $20K.

What I like about Kia in general and the Forte specifically is there are a lot of up-level features available as you move through the trims – and it doesn’t add a ton of moolah to the bottom line.

Some of those features include a premium Harmon Kardon 320-watt sound system, wireless phone charging, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and heated/ventilated front seats.

The 2019 Forte is equipped with a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine. While it gets some updates for the sake of efficiency, it still has the same power ratings as the previous generation: 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque.

Forte has four trims, and only the base FE offers a six-speed manual transmission. Kia’s Intelligent Variable Transmission is also offered on the FE and then spans the rest of the trims.

The IVT is an in-house developed, continuously variable transmission offering a “step-shift-like feel” that emulates the gear changes of a traditional automatic.

Because we were driving EXs, we only had the opportunity to drive the IVT version of the Forte, and I have to say the engine-transmission combo was just ok.

Yes, the IVT is a better version of the CVT. But it’s still a CVT, and I’m not a fan of CVTs.

The engine power was also decidedly lackluster. The initial acceleration from a stop is nice, so it does quite well in city driving. However, we had a couple hard accelerations to merge with fast-paced traffic, and, frankly, I almost didn’t make it.

The Forte will have four trims, but adds a special “EX Launch Edition” for 2019 only. The trim breakdown is as follows:

FE ($18,585): This trim comes standard with the 6-speed manual transmission, but the IVT is available for $900. Standard amenities include 15-inch wheels, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, automatic emergency braking (even on the manual), cloth seating surfaces, dual-zone automatic climate control, 8-inch touch screen display, two USB ports and lane keep assist.

LX ($19,985): At this trim, the IVT is standard and added amenities include 16-inch alloy wheels, 60/40 split folding rear seats and a drive mode selector.

S ($21,085): At this trim, added amenities include 17-inch alloy wheels, satellite radio, a 6-speaker audio system and a rear center arm rest with cup holders.

EX ($22,885): This trim really starts to add the up-level features and includes a windshield wiper de-icer, heated outside mirrors, an extra USB charging port, leatherette seating surfaces, heated/ventilated front seats, push-button start, passive entry, hands-free smart trunk, lane change assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

EX Launch ($26,095): This 2019-only trim will add LED headlights, 17-inch graphite finished alloy wheels, rear spoiler, an exclusive Fire Orange exterior paint, power sunroof, wireless charging for smartphones, navigation, Harmon/Kardon premium audio system, adaptive cruise control and forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection.

For those of you who are looking for an updated hatchback, Kia hasn’t announced any news on this front. However, they mysteriously said there’s more Forte news coming soon.

The 2019 Kia Forte is on sale now.

The Bottom Line:

The styling updates on the 2019 Kia Forte are top notch. Plus the ride and handling are both incredibly solid for a car that costs less than $20K. This compact car doesn’t feel – or drive – like a cheap, entry-level(ish) car.

The one point of contention I have is engine power. Perhaps it’s because the engine was paired with the CVT, but the vehicle we drove didn’t have enough power for my more aggressive driving habits. I’d love to see how the Forte does with the manual transmission, and wish it were available in more than just the base FE trim.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Kia covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.