Styling and features. All-new this year, the 2019 Kia Forte borrows a number of styling cues from the brand's Stinger performance sedan with a longer hood and shortened trunk lid. Kia doesn't skimp on the details, either, with standard projector auto on/off headlights and either 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels on all but the base FE.
Inside, it's more of the same goodness, with nicely-textured soft-touch surfaces and a dashboard dominated by an 8-inch touchscreen offering standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also included are such niceties as Bluetooth connectivity, a 3.5-inch TFT display, variable intermittent wipers, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Our tester, a range-topping EX, was finished in optional Snow White Pearl ($295) that offers a no-cost Color Package interior option with stunning red and black leatherette seating and a black headliner.
Decent cargo space. The Forte offers 96 cubic feet of passenger volume and 15 cubic feet of cargo space – average for the class but eclipsing the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, and Toyota Corolla sedans. However, without a hatchback model it lacks the versatility and total cargo capacity of those variants from Ford and Chevy as well as Hyundai (Elantra GT) and Mazda (Mazda3).
Mediocre horsepower. The Forte's performance, unfortunately, doesn't match its looks. For 2019, Kia has dropped the more powerful 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, leaving the naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 147 hp that offers only mediocre performance.
A better CVT. While the base model comes with a six-speed manual transmission, optional on that trim and standard on all others is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that's programmed to "shift" between pre-selected ratios, simulating the sound and feel of a traditional automatic. Furthermore, moving the shifter to the left, which engages sport mode, allows the driver to shift between the simulated gears.
Excellent fuel economy. The upside to the four-cylinder's middling performance numbers is, not surprisingly, very good fuel economy. It ranges from an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon city, 37 mpg highway, and 31 combined for the manually-equipped base model to 31 mpg city, 41 highway, and 35 combined for the CVT-equipped FE trim. Our EX tester came with an EPA-estimated 30/40/34 mpg (city/highway/combined), while we managed a vehicle-measured 28.1 miles per gallon in city driving.
Final thoughts. The 2019 Kia Forte offers much of the right stuff compact sedan buyers look for including sport sedan looks, excellent fuel economy, and above-average safety and infotainment tech.
On the flip side, the Forte is hardly quick, the base model comes with low-rent hubcaps and a non-split folding rear bench seat, and it lacks a hatchback's versatility.
Checking out the competition, the Mazda3 offers a more premium look inside and out, while nearly all rivals offer more exciting engine choices.