2019 Kia Forte Sedan: Vastly Improved But Unlikely to Best the Hatchback

2019 Kia Forte

Today at the North American International Auto Show, Kia Motors bestowed the all-new 2019 Forte upon the world. Granted, it’ll mainly be in the hands those entering the workforce for the first time, but those budget-minded youngsters will be please to learn that the third-generation Forte boasts improved fuel economy and features.

It’s not all touchscreens and gas savings, however. It doesn’t look like the new model has had to make many sacrifices, but Kia is launching the base Forte with a CVT instead of the six-speed automatic the current generation uses. That has us a little uneasy, though Kia  promises it won’t be an abysmal substitute and that the rest of the improvements should help deliver a vehicle that represents a net gain in refinement.

2019 Kia Forte Sedan

Excuse the phrasing, but it’s nice to see the rear end getting some attention. I recently walked through a rental lot littered with late-model compact sedans from Nissan, Toyota, Hyundai, Chevrolet, and Ford. Seeing them all lined up, asses exposed, made me realize just how little energy goes into styling the back half of this particular segment. While it’s not quite as magnificent as Kia’s earlier renderings  led me to believe, the restyled rump is a vast improvement over the current model year and will make the car significantly less boring to sit behind in traffic.

The front has also received some love. There are deeper creases in the hood, the headlights taper upward a bit, and Kia added a substantive black valance. We’re not swooning over the latter inclusion, it does give the car a bit more attitude and pairs well enough with the Stinger-inspired changes to the grille and upsized air curtains.

Has this transformed the Forte sedan into the sexiest car in the compact segment? From the back, maybe. But the frontal updates leave me feeling lukewarm overall. The transformation isn’t so dramatic to completely metamorphosize the vehicle. Instead, we’re left with a more interesting Forte with sporting pretensions.

2019 Kia Forte Sedan

How sporting remains to be seen. The 2019 Forte launches with the second-generation 2.0-liter Nu four-cylinder that’s in the current LX-trimmed models. Updated for fuel efficiency, Kia isn’t convinced it will break away from its current 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. The upside is that it anticipates a 3 mpg improvement (Kia wouldn’t break that down into highway and city miles). Much of that will be the end result of the new transmission — a CVT.

However, Kia assured us it made an effort to ensure this particular chain-belt CVT, which it dubs an “Intelligent Variable Transmission” (IVT), sucks far less than the competition. It claims they’ve eliminated the rubber band-like feel of a variable tranny and replaced it with something that could be confused with a multi-geared setup. We’ve heard this from other automakers in the past and witnessed slight successes and utter failures. That said, a CVT isn’t the end of the world in a economy minded car and the Forte will still come with a six-speed manual option for driving enthusiasts. We’re just hoping Kia is willing to dump in a peppier engine as an optional extra.

The current incarnation of the Forte5 SX has an available turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four with direct fuel injection. But that’s the hatchback, Korean sedans have have historically gotten the short end of the performance stick. This sedan’s future may be no different — at least Kia hasn’t indicated otherwise to us.

For the most part the best goodies are isolated to the interior, which has grown in size along with the rest of the car. Now 3.2 inches longer (182.7 inches in total), 0.07 inches wider, and a smidgen taller, Kia says passengers will more room on the inside. But the real selling-point is that it’s been made more comfy and filled with more things you’d want as standard. The most blatant is the 8-inch color touchscreen, which comes equipped with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. For 2019, the Forte can be had with blind-spot warnings, lane assist, forward collision-avoidance assist, and smart cruise control (which has adjustable following distances).

Kia is also claiming the vehicle is quieter and more robust than its predecessor. In conjunction with its higher-tech safety features, it thinks the added rigidity should improve handling as well as crash-worthiness. The 2018 Forte sedan was already chosen as Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Since the new Forte builds upon that framework (both structurally and electronically), the company is confident in a repeat victory.

It’s probably not quite so “Stinger-like” as Kia had wanted. But the company still managed to delivery a car that looks to be better than the one it’s replacing in almost every single way. Unfortunately, the 2019 Forte5 hatchback will probably make it look like garbage.

2019 Kia Forte

[Images: Kia Motors ; © 2018 Bozi Tatarevic/TTAC]