Kia follows up its stylish, boxy Soul model with the all new 2010 Kia Forte, further evidence of Kia rebranding itself as a maker of practical, well-built, and economical cars. Whereas the Soul stands out for its unique body style, the Forte hides behind a relatively plain exterior. And that plainness extends to the driving character, as well. The Forte will get you where you want to go, but don't expect a lot of fun behind the wheel.
The 2010 Kia Forte comes in three trims: LX, EX, and SX. The SX comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, while the lower trims come with a 2-liter engine. All can be had with an automatic or manual transmission. We had the top trim model, a Kia Forte SX, with a five-speed automatic. With its 173 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque, the Forte SX rolls out quickly from a stop. Initially, it feels very zippy, even with the automatic transmission in normal drive mode, and proves effortless to drive around the city.
Tuned for fuel economy, that automatic transmission upshifts quickly, keeping the engine speed below 2,500rpm. As environmentalism is in vogue now, the Forte SX has a green Eco light on the instrument cluster that turns on when the car is being driven economically. Unlike other cars we've driven with this type of economy indicator, the one in the Forte SX is relatively easy to keep lit, as it seems to turn on whenever the engine is running below 2,500rpm. The only times it turned off during normal driving were during hill climbs or passing maneuvers.
Bluetooth and iPod
Next to the instrument cluster is the stereo head unit, which looks similar to the one found in the Kia Soul, with a business card-size monochrome screen topped by a single CD slot. Kia goes with the traditional two dials, plus a few buttons for audio source and presets. Unfortunately, there is no navigation option for the Kia Forte at any trim level--you will have to make do with a portable navigation device.
But what the Forte SX does offer is standard iPod integration and Bluetooth cell phone support. iPods and iPhones can be plugged in to a special cable at the bottom of the console. That cable plugs into a USB port and an auxiliary jack, so you can also use a USB thumb drive loaded with MP3s in this system. With an iPod plugged in, you get full library-browsing capabilities, and the options to select music by artist, album, or genre. When browsing a USB drive or MP3 CD, you merely get a file and folder listing. Satellite radio is also included in the Forte SX, and we found it easy to find stations with the clearly marked category button and tuning knob.
The audio system is pretty basic in the Forte SX, but has enough amplification to sound good. Along with A pillar tweeters, there are four door woofers. The sound quality isn't bad; we noted good stereo separation in our testing and crisp highs. But the amp is a bit too powerful for the speakers, as we heard plenty of rattle in tracks with a bass focus.