In 2013, the all-new Ford Focus became an instant rock star in the compact class. Buyers were surprised by how far the model had come from its inauspicious beginnings. A similar transformation occurred for the Kia Forte when an all-new model hit dealerships for 2017.
Now more than ever before, the Forte out-delivers its predecessor in nearly every respect. But is the recent revamp enough to top the celebrated Focus?
What the Forte Gets Right
The Forte wears sharp, new style to keep it from getting lost in the compact shuffle: longer, lower and wider. All that growth translates to a roomier interior, especially in the back, and a trunk that rivals larger sedans. The seats are plusher and more supportive than ever before, and heat is now available for the rear. Kia has also engineered a quieter cabin.
The base powertrain is a 147-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder matched to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, a setup that yields 38 mpg on the highway. A 2-liter 173 horsepower version is also available as an option. The Forte5 hatchback houses a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that puts out 201 horsepower. All but the base Forte offer driver-selectable electric steering with three settings: comfort, normal and sport.
What's more, a new S trim level ups the sportiness of the Forte with a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels, LED positioning lights, a rear spoiler, and more.
Finally, the Forte rounds out its benefits with a price tag that bests the Focus and a warranty that is nearly unmatched in the industry.
The Focus Formula
A quick look around the Focus reveals that it's a cut above what buyers are used to in an economy car. Its exterior styling is dynamic and expressive, and the interior is full of high-quality materials. The dashboard layout, in particular, conveys a reassuring level of quality and refinement.
The Ford's 2-liter four-cylinder is good for 160 horsepower, yet it still delivers up to 40 mpg on the highway. Crisp handling and a well-balanced suspension contribute to an overall feeling of satisfaction in daily driving. A 1-liter EcoBoost engine pushes the bounds of fuel economy with up to 42 mpg.
Those looking for power that the Forte just cannot deliver can opt for a turbocharged ST model that cranks out 252 horsepower for eye-opening performance. Even more impressive is the 350-horsepower, all-wheel-drive RS model.
Finally, the lineup also includes an all-electric model for the eco-minded.
The Best of Both
The Forte has the space of a midsize and some of the amenities that midsize shoppers look for, so we could see it winning over shoppers who would normally buy a larger sedan. However, the Focus continues to deliver undeniable style and refinement in addition to a superb mix of efficiency and performance for this class.
Our Verdict: Ford Focus
The Forte's many excellent qualities bring it close to—but not quite even with—the Focus.