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First Drive: 2015 Kia Forte5 SX

2015 Kia Forte5 SX

Taking a crack at the Hot Hatch industry is an up-hill battle field when you have single 30 year old men trumping the urban streets in Golf GTI’s and Focus ST’s comparing turbo boost and exhaust blips. In 2011, Kia took a crack at the Hot Hatch with the addition of the Forte5 SX – as we learned then, just because you add bone crushing suspension and an overly tightened steering wheel, it doesn’t necessarily make it hot. Kia opted for another stab at the Hot Hatch market with the new Forte design. With a new style and a new engine does the Forte5 have what it takes to roll with hooligans on a Tuesday night at 2 o’clock in the morning?

Looking at the specs, the Forte5 has all the right ingredients a Hot Hatch requires. The top trim SX spec, as seen on our tester here, gets the more powerful engine with more horsepower, 201 from a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-banger. 195lb-ft of torque put to tarmac from the front wheels will get you from zero to 60 mph in just under 6.5 seconds and will stop just as quick. The thing is however, we can talk numbers all day long – in the end, a Hot Hatch comes down to feel.

There is no doubt the Forte5 carries an entertainment level – after all, we are in a turbo happy generation. Acceleration is decently quick off the line – turbo kicks in immediately for a smooth transition of power and surprisingly Kia did an excellent job managing torque steer. The six-speed automatic in our tester copes very well providing the right gear at the right time and the response times aren’t too shabby – it’s not quite at the same level as the Golf GTI DSGs transmission , but nonetheless the gearbox is a step up from the previous generation.

When it comes down to drivability, this is where a Hot Hatch is suppose to play its upper hand. While the Forte5 looks the part, in the end it’s just a comfortable city cruiser wishing it could run with the big boys on that urban playground. The steering lacks feel – you don’t get a sense of the road and you have no idea where your wheels are pointing. There are three options to adjust your steering levels: Sport, Comfort and Normal. Which in reality seems a little irrelevant – we more wished there was a Sport button that would optimized transmission mapping and throttle responsiveness over steering comfort. Unlike the previous generation where the suspension was utterly distasteful, this new generation is a lot smoother and handles the bumps with ease – which is great for the day to day living, but wouldn’t work so well if you were to put it on the track.

To say the least, Kia took notes when it came to what a Hot Hatch is supposed to look like. Our sampled top spec’d SX trim arrived quite handsomely in a Graphite Steel paint which showcases the new Forte’s design scheme quite well. We quite like the curvature of the body and the rigid edges on the side body panels. The blacked out mirrors and door handles are a nice touch but the faux carbon fiber grille cover and rear diffuser do look a bit cheesy. Luckily, we like everything else; the snazzy smoked 18” alloys, the dual chrome exhaust, the halo LED taillights and the front LED accent lights.

Kia went more in a conservative direction when it came to the interior design of the Forte’s cabin. The smooth curved flow and the faux carbon fiber trim is easy on the eye – and because it’s a small car, everything is within the drivers reach. The Forte’s final fit and finish feels of decent quality – there are soft touch materials on the dash and the door panels, even the knobs and buttons feel like they came out of a Lexus.

To spice things up, Kia did offer our Forte5 with the SX Premium Package ($2,300) and SX Technology Package ($1,900) which brings in a Power Sunroof, Sport Leather Seats, 10-Way Power Adjustable Driver Seat with Two-Way Memory Settings, Heated Front and Rear Seats, Ventilated Driver Seat, Navigation with Backup Camera, TFT Supervision Meter Cluster, and HID Headlights.

Adding those two packages does bring some life to the Forte5. The black leather seats are very comfortable with decent lateral support – rear seats offer a decent amount of leg room, thigh and back support. And of course Kia has one of the best Navigation’s and back-up cameras in the business, so we were never disappointed – if only they could fix the voice recognition software, so it doesn’t yell back for speaking on command.

Fuel economy from a Hot Hatch clearly changes depending on your driving style – Kia claims the Forte5 will do 21/29/24 (city/highway/combined mpg). Our driving styled was mixed with some cruel acceleration testing and urban city/highway driving which came close to matching Kia’s figures. We managed 20 mpg city, 31 mpg highway with a combined average of 25 mpg on Premium Grade fuel (not required) – this left us with a decent range of 320 miles.

Park the Forte5 next to a Golf GTI or a Focus ST and it will blend in nicely with the crowd. You can even play the numbers game of turbo PSI, horsepower, and torque vectoring all night long. But when it comes down to it, the Forte5 is just a squishy get-around-town poser that doesn’t quite have what it takes to keep up with the true Hot Hatches.

Price (As Tested):
2015 Kia Forte5 SX $21,890
Destination: $800
Featured Options:
Cargo Mat (5-Door) $95
Carpeted Floor Mats: $115
SX Technology Package: $1,900
SX Premium Package: $2,300
Grand Total: $27,100

8 Comments »

  1. VW reliability is questionable at best, and so is Ford’s to be honest, so while they may be “true” hot hatches, driven hard all the time by the 20 somethings who buy them, they eventually become maintenance nightmares, especially the VW!! For us NORMAL folks who want a nice, reliable, comfortable, decently quick small hatchback, the “poser” KIA Forte5 will do just fine , thank you!!!! And besides, give KIA a few more years, at the rate they are improving, the Forte5 may just prove to be and even ‘HOTTER prospect than the M3, VW Golf, or the >(gasp), Ford Focus ST! Imagine a not-too-distant future Forte5 with the Optima’s 2.0 Turbo under the hood, and given KIA’s decent reliability, and the steering and handling improvements that will surely come, things will get interesting!!

  2. No. It is not as good as a Golf GTI or a Focus ST. Keep in mind that THIS car is routinely discounted approximately $4,000, and the comparison cars are not. So this car is not really in the same price class. The question is would you rather have the Forte5 SX or a Honda Fit. I think you might prefer the Forte.

    • Well now, that’s not entirely true… First I must stop you at the whole Fit comparison, you’re talking a $6,000 price difference, a difference of 71 horsepower and the Fit is not claiming to be a hot hatch. A base model GTI/ST start around 25-grand so you can have your cake and eat it too. Granted no matter which way it’s looked, a base Forte5 SX starts at 21-grand (still $4,000 less than a base GTI/ST). But the buyer has to determine what they want – a super fun to drive hatch that goes like stink or a comfortable, well equipped go-around town cruiser that still has a decent amount of power under the hood.

      • All I’m saying is that for the vast majority of buyers, price matters. If you use a pricing service like Truecar for a zip in a large metro area like Los Angeles, there’s almost no difference in price between the higher trim Honda Fit and the Forte5 SX. On the other hand, the lowest line Vw Golf GTI comes in at around $7,000 more expensive!!! My only point is that in the real world, where people have budgets, this is a huge price difference. So maybe it would be worthwhile for a review to discuss the value proposition in more detail.

        • In terms of value, then yes, you would be correct and I would agree. I wasn’t trying to say the Forte was a bad car, because I do think its a good car. But in terms of hot hatchness (which I believe Kia was trying to target those consumers) it wasn’t quite there. As a hatchback in this market, it is worth its value, especially considering the technology built into it is quite good compared to Honda or even for that matter VW’s stupid infotainment system or the idiotic MyFord Touch.

  3. Thanks for your response. I grant you it’s hard to keep track of the differences between sticker prices and selling prices. Many nameplates offer little negotiating room, and it’s common for brands like Kia and Hyundai to offer many thousands off their cars. I think Kia’s and Hyundai’s reputation for low resale derives from that. Yes, as a % of MSRP, resale values are low, but no one paid anything close to MSRP on these!

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