With a new model on the horizon, the cleanly-styled 2018 Kia Forte soldiers on with an attractive interior, excellent fuel economy, and a number of standard or available active safety features. But it trails competitors with its mediocre performance, poor rear seat head room, and smallish, low seats.

Best Value

The LX manual Forte starts things off at $17,695, while the top SX manual hatchback checks in at $27,585 with options and finished in an extra-cost paint shade. Three engines are offered: LX and S sedans receive a 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter, Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine tuned for fuel efficiency, LX hatchbacks and EX sedans and hatchbacks are equipped with a stronger 164-hp, 2.0-liter direct injection four-cylinder engine, while SX hatchbacks come standard with a 201-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant.

A rearview camera is standard on all but the base LX trim, where it's an option. Blind-spot monitoring, lane change assist, and rear cross-traffic alert are optional on the EX and SX. Those systems plus automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, and lane departure warning are optional on S and EX models.

Even the base LX sedan comes with the usual power features plus air conditioning, keyless entry, heated outside mirrors, Bluetooth, and satellite radio. We like the looks and versatility of the hatchback and, with an eye toward value, stick with the LX but kick things up with the Popular Plus Package. Here's how it would look:

  • Model: 2018 Kia Forte Hatchback LX
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 164 hp / 151 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: 25 City / 34 Hwy
  • Options: Popular Plus Package ($2,000, 7.0-inch touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, keyless push-button start, a rearview camera, cruise control, LED mirror turn signals, automatic headlights, fog lights, LED taillights, 16-inch alloy wheels, a 3.5-inch LCD meter display, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, illuminated visor vanity mirrors, dual map lights, overhead sunglasses holder).
  • Base Price:$19,195 (including the $895 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$21,195

Performance

Kia Forte

Offering decent performance for an economy sedan, the Forte's engine – willing to rev without undue noise or vibration – is mated to an automatic transmission tuned for softer shifts and maximizing fuel economy. Handling is predictable and steering weight is selectable, with Sport mode the best for accurate highway tracking.

But chassis tuning falls short of class leaders like the Mazda3 and Ford Focus with a choppy ride and slow steering that offers little connection to the road. Opting for the turbocharged four-cylinder does little to help things, as the Forte lacks the suspension tuning that'd make the most of its power.

Style

Both the sedan and hatchback present a clean look, while a mild update last year gave both a more shapely face. The well-proportioned bodies house an interior with plenty of space up front, class-above materials, sturdy, intuitive controls, and improved noise isolation. Points are earned for a plethora of storage cubbies, along with a better-than-average 14.9 cubic feet of trunk space in the sedan and 23.2 cubic feet of cargo room in the hatchback.

At the same time, the Forte's design isn't as striking as it once was, while the sporty roof line cuts into rear – and in some cases front – headroom. Occupants up front will find the seat cushions to be short and low with thin bolsters, while two tall adults in back (three is a stretch) may observe their knees above the equally thin seat cushions.

The Best and Worst Things

The Forte's clean design, attractive interior, and safety feature set continue to appeal, but uninspired chassis tuning, poor seats, and a cramped back seat keep it from scoring better.

Right For? Wrong For?

Kia Forte

An attractive design, class-above interior, and excellent fuel economy at an affordable price point should prove to be inviting to value-conscious buyers.

Humdrum performance coupled to an equally uninspired chassis will find enthusiasts bolting to competitor's showrooms.

The Bottom Line

Despite a clean design, enticing interior, and excellent fuel economy, the 2018 Kia Forte keeps from being a top contender in its class due to unremarkable performance, mediocre seats, and tight rear quarters.