We spent a week in the all-new 2019 Kia Forte and found that it has raised the bar for expectations in the small car segment. With a great drive dynamic, a good look, and some solid technologies available, the Forte is the new compact to beat ... yet it still has some weaknesses for others to exploit.

The 2019 Forte is all-new, having been totally redone as a fresh generation for the car. The Forte is best known for its value and excellent warranty. For the new model year, Kia keeps those points, plus the same well-proven engine, and adds some upscale interior and exterior design. Many of the improvements to the new Forte are small, but they add up to better ergonomics and daily use.

Under the hood is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's powered the car for several years. This engine sees a couple of small tweaks to improve economy, but still outputs 147 horsepower (110 kW). The optional 201-hp (150 kW) engine offered last year in the Forte SX is not available now, but will likely return with the promised Forte GT coming in the 2020 model year.

Attached to the engine is a six-speed manual transmission, which swaps to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) as an automatic option. Beyond the base model, the CVT becomes standard equipment. What might surprise some is that we like the CVT in this Forte. It's responsive and not afraid to boost up the RPM when the throttle is pressed. That's something many vehicles with a CVT will not do. This adds to the sporty nature of the Forte's drive quality, which is further bolstered by its somewhat stiff suspension.

We wouldn't call the 2019 Kia Forte a sports sedan, however, as it's not quite as tuned as something deserving that name. The Forte is a good daily drive with lots of driver engagement, but it's not a windy-road, fast-acceleration, track-on-the-weekends kind of car. It's still an entry-level value mobile at heart, and it shouldn't be mistaken for more than that. Compared to other econo-mobiles, though, the Forte is much more interesting to drive and a lot more comfortable.

With those points in mind, we also note that the Kia's fuel economy – another important metric for this segment – is good on paper and in the real world. The manual transmission-equipped Forte is EPA-rated at 27 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway (8.7/6.3 l/100km). Our CVT-equipped Forte had an EPA rating of 31 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway (7.6/5.7 l/100km). In our week with the car in mixed driving with varied passenger loads and at high altitude, we averaged 34 mpg overall. That's very impressive for a standard compact car.

Engaged drivers will find the drive modes in the car to be useful. The Forte has three: Normal, Sport, and Smart. Each changes throttle and transmission responses a bit to match the expectations of that mode. Normal is a good all-round mode for those who aren't interested in working that engagement and just want to drive without thinking about it. For the rest of us, Sport mode makes around-town driving more fun, with faster blips off the throttle and more dynamic steering. Smart mode is great for longer trips at highway speeds when comfort is the goal and fuel economy is important. We tended to switch between Sport and Smart regularly under those conditions.

The Kia Forte's new look is very good. It's a splash of contemporary on top of a very upscale design palette. Many of the design elements for the Forte clearly come from the Kia Stinger, especially in body shaping and the choice of panel lines. This sporty exterior is then dampened somewhat with the removal of some of the Stinger's more signature details, making the Forte a little more contemporary with its competition.

Inside, the 2019 Kia Forte is a new benchmark for comfort and design. The interior of the Forte is not premium-level, but it's very upscale for an entry-level offering. Materials choices are value-based but not cheap, and announce quality. Switchgear in the Forte is balanced and often dual-tone, with chrome highlights and the like as accents. This adds a lot of bling to what is otherwise boring black-on-black-on-black boredom. Seating up front is comfortable and well-done with plenty of adjustment for most users.

Weak points are in the rear seating, which is cramped, even for the compact segment, especially in knee and legroom. Outside of the split-fold for more trunk access, there is no adjustment in the rear seat either. Getting three across is possible, but not advised – even if the three are kids. This is a very small car, after all.

Cargo space is good in the Kia Forte. There are some with larger trunks and some with smaller. The Forte is about average. The trunk's lip is tall, though, making putting bulky items in a little more of a workout, and the rear seat backs don't fold totally flat, leaving an incline to battle as well.

Our overall assessment of the all-new 2019 Kia Forte is that it's very, very good for the class. The Forte is setting new benchmarks, especially in interior design, for the compact entry-level market. It's not so much groundbreaking as it is evolutionary, as expectations in the entry markets have risen over time. There are some downsides to the Forte, including the cramped back seat and somewhat harsh, sporty ride quality. Drivers who want engagement behind the wheel will trade that latter point, but A to B drivers may not.

The 2019 Kia Forte has a base price point beginning at US$17,790 with three more trim levels changing that price and the equipment offered from there.

Product Page: 2019 Kia Forte

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