As one of Kia’s best-selling models the Forte compact sedan and hatchback play a key role for the Korean brand. It’s situated in the highly competitive segment that includes the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, but that’s OK because this all-new 2019 model has evolved into a much more sophisticated car delivering a decidedly upscale experience.

This is one of the most impressive new cars I’ve driven in some time. It’s tastefully styled, brimming with features and a joy to drive.  Just about everything about it belies its low sticker price.  It plays with the compacts but it’s actually a midsize and its new powertrain delivers vastly improved efficiency.  Engine output is the same as before, but with an over 20% increase in mpgs and a larger gas tank, the Forte’s driving range has added over 100 miles, to 476 in total.  Rated at 30mpg city/40mpg highway, the Forte is neck-and-neck with the all-new Corolla as the segment’s mileage leader.

But this isn’t a story about a car that’s put fuel efficiency above all else. This range-topping EX trim, priced from just under $23,000, is a car you’ll be proud to own and enjoy driving.

Kia says; let the Civic have its overtly youthful appearance. The Forte’s design aims more for the premium sedan look and that flavor carries over inside where the amount of class above features on this EX Launch Edition is insane.

The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder incorporates the hybrid-friendly Atkinson cycle to reduce gas use but its 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque feel mightier than they sound and that’s with a new continuously variable transmission. Kia prefers to call it an IVT – the I for intelligent – and when it’s this good they have the right.  Developed in-house, acceleration feels more linear, sporty driving is more enjoyable and unwanted noise is kept to a minimum.  And having Normal, Smart and Sport drive modes to personalize the experience is even better and something not expected of a car in this segment.  The body is stiffer and it shows, using the reworked suspension geometry to provide a confident, sportier drive without the benefit of a fully independent rear end.  Even the steering has a nuanced feel that changes with drive mode so when you’re ready to kick things up a notch the Forte gladly entertains some spirited driving. The cabin is quiet, the faux leather heated and cooled seats are soft, and the electronics would make most luxury carmakers jealous.

You can buy cars with 6 figure price tags that don’t have the roster of amenities that this Forte does. So if you’re someone who appreciates a high content level in your new car, this is the most your $26,000 can get you.

$26,415 including destination to be exact for this Forte EX Launch Edition and look what you get; a killer stereo system with digital music restoration technology, a super easy to use touchscreen navi with tons of features incuding full smartphone integration, a high-end instrument cluster, sunroof, LED ambient lighting, a wireless phone charger with a convenient shelf, collision mitigation, smart cruise control, LED headlight with high beam assist, and a rear spoiler. It’s pretty amazing. If only it had LED fog lights, too.

The Forte’s overall length has increased by over 3” allowing for more legroom and additional space in the trunk – which is the largest in the segment – while the car’s increased height, affords more headroom. And all will appreciate the improved visibility.

The trunk even includes Kia’s non-kicking hands-free feature and the rear seats also splitfold for even more hauling capability.

I really can’t get over how much car you’re getting here for the money. And this CVT which is often the bane of any powertrain is incredibly non CVT like. Kia has solved the riddle to produce a polished, fuel efficient drive with mature manners. The suspension isn’t as sophisticated as the class leading Civic’s but it’s not too far off, producing a ride that’s free of harshness. And the engine is completely appropriate, with refinement and enough acceleration to keep you satisfied.

With a 10-year/100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty I’m not sure how much more you could want or reasonably expect at this price. The Koup and 5-door models are dead but the 2020 model year debuts a Forte GT turbo that should be a real blast.

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