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Weidel on Wheels: Kia sedan can be everyone's Forte

Decent power, good price, looks and room highlight this compact
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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Does it say anything about Kia that its latest success story came from the creative thinking of a former Audi designer? The message comes in loud and clear: Kia is for real, luring talent away from the heralded German manufacturer. Kia continues to climb the ladder of respectability with the 2010 Forte, a compact sedan that should be putting a scare into the likes of the Honda Civic and other more notable competitors. There’s a lot of bang for the buck with most of these vehicles produced by the South Korean automaker, and the Forte is just one more example. The price is right, starting at $13,695 for the base model with manual transmission. And for less than $5,000 more, the upgraded Kia Forte SX that was test driven here is still a bargain considering all the inherent value. The Forte is priced lower — in many cases much lower — than the competition. And don’t overlook Kia’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The front-wheel drive Forte is new this year, replacing the Spectra, a somewhat forgettable compact sedan. In its place resides the Forte, which has enough strong qualities that both Toyota and Honda might see this model as competition sometime soon. For now, the Forte has to convince car shoppers that it can match the class heavyweights. It certainly passes the looks test and is probably one of the more attractive models in the compact sedan class. Honda might be flattered that the Forte draws design comparisons with the Civic. While the Forte base model resides in the “ordinary” category with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine with 156 horsepower, the Forte SX rises up significantly. The SX features some definite pep with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that distributes 174 horsepower. The SX model has a more powerful engine and features a sport-tuned suspension, which sets it apart from the other Forte trims. With an estimated 23 to 31 miles per gallon, the Forte hits the desired gas mileage parameters of many drivers. That includes the senior sector that shops for low price and high mileage, and a younger demographic that wants those same qualities and also values looks, size and amenities. Despite the many positives, there are areas of improvement the Forte needs to address. The handling of the base models (LX, EX) borders on numb and is especially noticeable taking corners at higher speeds. Again, the SX is the way to go for a higher quality ride. The interior room is good for this segment -- even back-seat passengers will find the Forte comfortable. Trunk room is very good and the rear seat has a narrow release lever that will allow skis to overlap from the trunk. __________ 2010 Kia Forte SX Price: $18,195 Mileage estimate: 23 mpg city; 31 mpg highway Power: 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with 174 horsepower Standard features include: Anti-lock disc brakes, brake assist; stability control; six-way-adjustable driver seat; tilt steering; Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker CD/MP3 audio system with USB, auxiliary audio jacks; center console; sport-tuned suspension; foglights; leather-wrapped steering wheel