2010 Kia Forte Review and Prices

Last Updated: Aug 5, 2011


  • Good power and a compliant ride
  • Thrifty on gas
  • A nice array of standard equipment at attractive base prices


  • Syrupy steering detracts from driving fun
  • Some sacrifice associated with the stripper LX model
  • Dashboard's baroque; no fix in sight

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2010 Kia Forte Buying Advice

The 2010 Kia Forte is the best car for you if you’re unafraid of the next new thing -- provided it’s affordable, attractive, and fuel-efficient.

The 2010 Kia Forte is a new compact-class sedan designed to compete with the 2010 Honda Civic, 2010 Toyota Corolla, and 2010 Mazda 3. It replaces the Spectra in the model lineup fielded by Kia, a division of the South Korean auto giant, Hyundai. Like virtually every other compact-car, the 2010 Forte has four-cylinder engines and front-wheel drive. Kia hopes Forte stands out by virtue of its styling and value-for-the-money pricing.

Should you buy the 2010 Kia Forte or wait for the 2011 Kia Forte? Kia may expand the Forte lineup for 2011 with a station-wagon body style to replace the Spectra5 wagon. Otherwise, the 2011 Kia Forte will have the same styling and specifications as the 2010 Forte and should return in base LX, midline EX, and sporty SX models. So if you’re smitten by the sedan, there’s no reason to wait for the 2011 Forte. 

2010 Kia Forte Changes back to top

Styling: Kia admits to a shock while developing the 2010 Forte. It conducted the usual consumer clinics, showing the Forte and its main rivals to subcompact-car shoppers. The cars’ identifying insignia was taped over, and comments were recorded. Then the tape was removed, revealing the makes and models. Kia says it was the first time prospective buyers maintained as high an opinion of one of its cars after they learned it was a Kia. The clinics evaluated styling, roominess, materials quality, and other factors. But judged on looks alone, it’s easy to see how the 2010 Kia Forte did well. It was shaped in Kia’s Southern California design studio by the same team that created the kooky, new-age 2010 Kia Soul wagon (picture those TV hamster bopping to the beat). The Forte, however, is a far more conventional vehicle, a sedan that meets the competition head-on for size and tries mightily to beat it on styling. Where the jelly-bean Elantra got lost in the crowd, the sleeker Forte entertains the eye with crisp lines, pleasing proportions, and an aggressively handsome nose. The tail seems filched from the more-expensive Audi A4 or Acura TSX. The Forte is one of the longer cars in its segment, with a 104.3-inch wheelbase. That’s the distance between the front and rear axles and a dimension critical to interior space. The only compact sedans with longer wheelbases are the Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra.                       

Mechanical: The 2010 Forte’s role is to deliver upscale looks, roominess, and lots of features at can’t-beat prices. To keep costs down, Kia didn’t overspend on cutting-edge mechanical components. In fact, beneath its skin, the Forte is entirely conventional and in some respects, even a little backwards. No skimping on the horsepower, however. The 2010 Kia Forte LX and volume EX models have a 156-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The base four cylinder in most rivals has around 140 horsepower. The 2010 Kia Forte SX has a 173-horsepower 2.4-liter version of that engine. A few competitors offer sporty versions with 200 horsepower or more, but they’re more expensive than the Forte SX. Manual transmission is standard on the Forte, a five speed on LX and EX, a six-speed on SX. While some in this class provide a five-speed automatic transmission with their base engine, the Forte LX and EX make do with a four-speed automatic. The SX’s automatic has five speeds and a manual-shift feature. And Forte does team the 2.0-liter engine with the five-speed automatic as part of the EX model’s optional Fuel Economy Package. The 2010 Kia Forte is among the few modern cars that does not have an independent rear suspension. Even the outgoing Kia Spectra had one. An independent rear suspension allows each rear wheel to react separately to bumps for the best possible comfort and control. The 2010 Kia Forte goes retrograde with a torsion-beam rear suspension. This less-expensive setup helps free up space for rear seating and cargo, but usually carries some sacrifice in ride and handling. Kia recoups some credibility by packing every Forte with a full array of standard safety features. These include four-wheel disc brakes with antilock technology for better control in emergency stops. Also standard is an antiskid system (also known as stability control) that applies individual brakes and modulates engine power to combat sideways skids. Because the weight of the engine is over the wheels that propel the car, front-wheel drive aids grip in snow. Forte fortifies this with standard traction control, which minimizes tire spin for easier movement away from stops on slippery surfaces.     

Features: The 2010 Kia Forte’s impressive roster of standard safety features also includes front active headrests that spring forward to minimize whiplash in a rear impact. It has torso-protecting side airbags mounted in the front seats, and head-protecting full-length side curtain airbags. Every Forte comes with a height-adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering column, rear defroster, and two 12-volt power outlets in the center console. A power moonroof, leather upholstery, and heated front seats are among the options. Forte LX and EX come with 15-inch tires and plastic wheel covers; 16-inch tires on alloy wheels are an EX option. The SX has 17-inch tires on alloy wheels. Kia steals a march by fitting each Forte with a comprehensive audio/communications system. It consists of a single-CD head unit, Sirius satellite radio with three months complimentary service, and steering wheel-mounted controls. Standard Bluetooth connectivity enables hands-free operation for compatible cell phones. And every Forte comes with both an auxiliary audio input jack and a USB port for connecting iPods and other MP3 players. The EX and SX mount tweeters in the front door pillars for six total speakers compared to the LX’s four. On the debit side, the 2010 Kia Forte is not available with a factory navigation system. Many rivals offer one – some even include voice recognition – but Kia trusts marketing surveys that show consumers who express an interest in a factory nav system cool off when they find out how much they cost, typically $1,200 or more. Kia thinks Forte buyers will rely on portable nav systems or cell phones with mapping applications.

2010 Kia Forte Test Drive back to top

From behind the wheel:  The surprise here is the 2.0-liter engine with the four-speed automatic transmission. It’s the powertrain that’ll be in the vast majority of 2010 Kia Fortes and it’s a gutsy combination, with fine pull from low speeds and impressive passing response. Credit this engine’s torque, which is more tangible than horsepower as a measure of accelerative muscle. The 2.0-liter Forte’s 154 pound-feet of torque tops that of any rival engine of comparable displacement. And while the four-speed automatic may appear archaic on paper, it chooses gears wisely and decisively.

With two overdrive gear ratios to the four speed’s one, the five-speed automatic helps both engines feel more relaxed at cruising speeds. Teamed with the 2.0-liter, it’s an important feature of the EX Fuel Economy Package and means Forte is one of the few cars whose high-mileage special offers automatic transmission. The SX’s 2.4-liter four is a notably smoother-running engine than the 2.0, which is gruff and vibratory during even moderate acceleration. But the 2.4 doesn’t make for a compellingly quicker Forte. And with its long throws and sometimes-notchy engagement, the SX’s six-speed manual doesn’t egg you on to rifle through the gears.

Hustle any Forte along a twisting road and it responds with good grip and decent balance. The SX’s fatter tires give it a little more stick in quick changes of direction. But Forte is ultimately let down as a sporty car by syrupy steering that that’s artificially heavy when you turn the wheel, feels slow and uninvolved in corners, and never seems locked in on center. Too bad, because Kia hides the torsion-beam rear suspension’s shortcomings quite well. Only a trace of rear-end skitter in bumpy turns betrays its presence. 

Dashboard and controls:  While Forte’s armada of audio do-dads is a carrot to the youngsters in the audience, its dashboard design isn’t likely to alienate the married 40-somethings Kia expects will make up a significant portion of this car’s buyer base. It’ll be a good thing if their taste runs to the baroque: Forte’s dashboard is molded into a festival of folds, cutlines, coves, and overlapping panels. It’s a little fatiguing to the mature eye. 

In any event, the main gauges are in a triple-barrel pod directly ahead of the driver, just where you’d expect. Power window, lock, and mirror switches on the armrest couldn’t be more conventionally situated. The steering wheel has a meaty rim that invites you to take hold, and the cruise, audio, and Bluetooth buttons and rockers arrayed on its three spokes work with satisfying precision.  

At the center of the dash is panel that stacks the audio and climate controls within easy reach. The USB port is buried in a dark bin below this stack, but the system displays your iPod’s contents on a small dashboard screen and allows you to control the device from the steering wheel or radio faceplate. Too bad the screen’s red lighting isn’t the best for legibility. We understand the logic that negates a navigation system, but how much more could it have cost Kia to fit Forte with an outside temperate readout? Nicely grained matte finishes and padding on most things you touch equates to a low-cost car in which precious little feels cut-rate.

Room, comfort, and utility:  The 2010 Forte’s wheelbase is longer than that of the Spectra by 2.5 inches – a lot in automotive terms. But how Kia failed to imbue its new car with correspondingly more interior room than the outgoing model is a mystery. An additional half-inch of front leg room is the only gain over the Spectra. Thankfully, the tape measure doesn’t always tell the tale.

The 2010 Kia Forte is a relatively spacious little sedan. It provides easy 6-footer head and leg room in front on wide, comfortably supportive buckets. The telescoping steering column gives SX drivers the advantage for positioning and is an area where the EX and LX trail top competitors. Rear passengers get plenty of knee room as long as the front seats aren’t rolled much more than three-quarters of the way back. Three-abreast seating is the usual small-car squeeze, as is head clearance for those over, say, 5-11. Forte’s back-seat riders, however, get terrific space for their feet and toes and a nicely contoured bench with a genuinely useful center armrest; that isn’t always the case in this class.

A torsion beam rear suspension may not be the gold standard for handling prowess, but it sure doesn’t cost this Kia any ride comfort. In fact, every Forte model is impressively compliant over bumps, with a firm composure that’s more European than Asian or American. Ride control is one of Forte’s finest features. It might make up for high levels of road noise on anything but smooth pavement and for engine growl and wind rush that could be better-isolated, as well. 

At 14.7 cubic feet, Forte’s trunk is voluminous for the class. And it’s easy to access via a large, wide opening with a low lip. A sizable glovebox, double-level center console, and various bins swallow their share of smaller items.

2010 Kia Forte Prices back to top

The 2010 Kia Forte LX is priced at $14,390 with the five-speed manual transmission, $15,390 with the four-speed automatic (all prices listed in this report include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Kia’s is $695). The Forte LX is a bit of a stripper. Kia shaves its base price by eliminating air conditioning, a 60/40 split folding rear seatback, rear center armrest with cupholders, and adjustable rear headrests. These features are standard on other Forte models, and to get them on the LX, you must order the $1,500 Convenience Package option.    

To get power power windows and locks; remote keyless entry, and cruise control, you’ll have to step up to the 2010 Kia Forte EX, where those items are standard. The EX starts at $16,490 with manual transmission, $17,490 with automatic. It offers an optional Premium Package ($800) that includes a power moonroof and 16-inch alloy wheels. An optional Leather Package ($1,000) includes leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats, and metal-look cabin trim.

The 2010 Kia Forte EX Fuel Economy Package is an attractive value at just $600. Not only will it help you save money at the pump (see the “2010 Kia Forte Fuel Economy” section below), but it includes the five-speed automatic transmission. It puts less gas-draining drag on the engine by using a special alternator and electric instead of hydraulic power steering assist. Its 15-inch tires incorporate silica in their tread compound to reduce rolling resistance.

The 2010 Kia Forte SX is priced at $17,890 with the six-speed manual transmission, $18,890 with the five-speed automatic. The SX adds the 2.4-liter engine, sport-tuned suspension, and 17-inch alloys. Inside, the 2010 Forte SX has a unique black interior and sport cloth fabric with red stitching. It gets the leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift, knob, and metal-finish pedals and trim. And it’s the only Forte with a steering column that telescopes as well as tilts. The SX Leather Package option costs $1,000. The moonroof is a stand-alone $600 option.

2010 Kia Forte Fuel Economy back to top

The 2010 Kia Forte is among the thriftier compact cars, especially given its pleasing performance. The 2010 Kia Forte LX and EX are rated 25/34 mpg (city/highway) with either the five-speed manual transmission or four-speed automatic.

The 2010 Kia Forte with the optional Fuel Economy Package is rated at 27/36; it comes only with the five-speed manual transmission.

The 2010 Kia Forte SX is rated at 22/32 with the six-speed manual transmission, 23/31 with the five-speed automatic. All models use regular-octane gas.

2010 Kia Forte Safety and Reliability back to top

Government crash-test ratings award a maximum of five stars for occupant protection in frontal and side collisions. The 2010 Kia Forte had not been tested at the time of this report, but Kia said it expects the car to get high marks. Crash-test ratings for Kias are general good; the outgoing Spectra earned five stars for driver and passenger protection in frontal-impact testing and four stars in side-impact testing.

The Kia brand earns average marks for initial quality and for longer-term dependability in ratings compiled by J.D. Power and Associates, the leading automotive consumer survey firm. Powertrain quality is the only area in which the Kia brand rates below average. In J.D. Power surveys of problems experienced by original owners of three-year-old vehicles, Kia dependability ranks below average.

The 2010 Kia Forte is too new to be included in the most-recent J.D. Power quality and dependability surveys. The Kia Spectra, however was rated average in both overall initial quality and in dependability after three years of ownership.

2010 Kia Forte Release Date back to top

The 2010 Kia Forte goes on sale in late June 2009.

What's next for the 2010 Kia Forte back to top

The Spectra5 wagon was a nice adjunct to Kia’s compact-car lineup and a wagon body style would be a logical addition to the Forte roster. It could come as early as model-year 2011. A Forte spin-off is already in the wings as an attractive two-door coupe called – don’t blame us -- the Koup. Featuring basically the same running gear as the Forte sedan, the 2010 Kia Forte Koup release date is summer 2009.

As for mechanical advances to the Forte, Kia employs small diesel engines in similarly sized cars it sells overseas. It could adapt one for the Forte given the right U.S. market conditions, which would involve $4 gas prices, an economic recovery, and compatible federal exhaust emissions standards. Kia also has working gas-electric hybrid powertrains, but introduction of a Forte Hybrid would be subject to much the same criteria governing the diesel engine.

Though it would take some time to trickle down to the Forte, a Kia innovation reportedly just around the corner is an eight-speed automatic transmission. The company says that for its needs, an automatic with eight set gear ratios makes more sense than a continuously variable transmission, which transfers power via a belt-and-pulley system. Both are considered helpful to fuel economy. Kia’s eight-speed would likely debut in one of its larger and more-expensive cars, such as the entry-luxury Amanti or the midsize Optima sedans, both of which are due full redesigns for model-year 2011.

2010 Kia Forte Competition back to top

2010 Honda Civic: This is apparently the final model year for the 2006-vintage Civic design generation. But these slinky sedans and coupes are still at the top of their game. Nimble handling, impressive room, efficient engines, and great reliability and resale values are among their many assets. Base prices for 2010 Civic sedans range from $16,100 for the 140-horsepower mainstream models (26/34 manual, 24/36 automatic) to $22,400 for the sporty 197-horsepower Si (21/29). There’s also a well-sorted Civic Hybrid sedan that starts around $24,300 and is rated at 40/45. The all-new 2011 Honda Civic promises more of the same.

2010 Toyota Corolla: This is Civic’s main rival for compact-class sales leadership. The Corolla does not, however, challenge Civic, Forte, or most other compacts for driving enjoyment. It is a benchmark for comfort, reliability, and resale value – no small achievement. This Toyota was all-new for model-year 2009 and won’t change significantly before model-year 2014. Corolla comes only as a sedan with 132- and 158-horsepower four-cylinder gas engines. Base prices range from about $16,100-$21,000. Fuel economy ratings range from 22/29 to 27/35.

2010 Hyundai Elantra: Look no further than Kia’s parent company for formidable Forte competition in terms of value for the money. The Elantra sedan is more conservatively styled than the Forte, and has less power. But it’s spot-on for size, build quality, and comfort. The new Elantra Touring wagon beats both the Elantra sedan and the Kia Forte for roominess and driving excitement. Base prices for the Elantra sedan range from $15,000-$17,800, fuel economy ratings hover around 24/33. Elantra won’t change significantly before model-year 2013.