Last year, we saw an all-new Ford Focus that became an instant rockstar in the compact class. Buyers were surprised by how far the model had come from its inauspicious beginnings. A similar transformation is happening with the Kia Forte as an all-new model hits dealerships. The 2014 Forte out-delivers its predecessor in nearly every respect, but is the revamp enough to top the celebrated Focus?
What's New About the Forte
Forte wears sharp new styling to keep it from getting lost in the compact shuffle. The look is dramatically different -- longer, lower and wider. All that growth translates to a roomier interior, especially in the back, and a midsize trunk. The seats are plusher and more supportive than before, and heat is now available for the rear. Kia has engineered out most of the wind noise apparent in the outgoing model. The sedan will be joined by a hatchback and coupe later in the year.
The new base powertrain is a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder matched to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, a setup that yields 37 mpg on the highway. Last year's 2-liter, now with 173 horsepower, continues as an option. When the coupe arrives, it will be available with a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter. All but the base Forte offer driver-selectable electric steering with three settings: comfort, normal and sport.
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 sharp and expressive, and the interior surrounds you with 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. The turbocharged ST model provides a massive boost to 252 horsepower for eye-opening performance. The lineup also includes an all-electric model for the eco-minded.
The Best of Both
The Forte comes so close to midsize in appointments and space that we could see it winning over shoppers who thought they needed a larger (and more expensive) sedan. 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 thorough redesign has brought it close to -- but not even with -- the Focus.