In 2013, the all-new Ford Focus 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 occurred for the Kia Forte when an all-new model hit dealerships in 2014. 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 Works for the Forte
The Forte wears sharp styling 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, along with a midsize trunk. 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. As an added bonus, a hatchback and coupe are now available alongside the more traditional sedan.
The 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. A 2-liter 173 horsepower version is also available as an option. The coupe houses 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 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. 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 many excellent qualities bring it close to -- but not quite even with -- the Focus.