By on May 6, 2019

2019 Kia Forte EX

2.0-liter I4, DOHC (147 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 132 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm)

Continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive

30 city / 40 highway / 34 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

7.47 city / 5.9 highway / 6.9 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

37.2 (observed mileage, MPG)

Base Price: $22,885 US / $29,839 CAD

As Tested: $26,220 / $30,039 CAD

Prices include $895 destination charge in the United States and $1,774 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

I’ll grant that I’ve established a pretty cool second job for myself with this gig writing about cars. What gearhead wouldn’t love to get paid to talk (well, write) about their favorite subject — and often, drive some of the coolest new cars around? It sure beats flipping burgers to put extra cash in the wallet.

The not-so-secret side of this? It’s generally not the coolest cars that generate the most clicks. Most readers tend to care about cars they’ll legitimately consider buying, rather than a $100k sportscar. Thus, reviews of basic commuter cars, while not nearly as fun to drive, are much more important.

My job was made easy for me with the 2019 Kia Forte. It doesn’t overwhelm with outlandish styling. It doesn’t get the juices flowing with incredible performance. It simply makes the daily commute effortless and economical. What else can you ask from a car?

2019 Kia Forte profile

Kia has done a remarkable job moving styling cues from its halo Stinger onto this compact Forte. While nobody will mistake the two, it’s led to a properly handsome entry-level sedan. I especially appreciate the ridges on the hood, creating the illusion of an old-school power bulge. (Old School Power Bulge would make a great cover band name, incidentally.) The LED detail to the taillamps is a nice touch. The rest of the rear is a bit busy, however, with the black triangular housing for the reversing lamps and turn signals looking a bit tacked-on.

2019 Kia Forte front

The interior is typical Kia – plain, simple, and well thought-out. Infotainment controls on the touchscreen are simple and intuitive, though I prefer to use the matching knobs and buttons on the steering wheel. Standard dual-zone climate control is unexpected in this class, but is quite welcome – as are the available heated and cooled front seats.

2019 Kia Forte rear

I especially appreciate the two-tier cubby ahead of the shifter, perfectly sized for a pair of cell phones. Too few carmakers acknowledge that the front passenger needs to set their phone down. The top tier of that cubby features Qi wireless charging – always welcome, as I can never remember to bring a USB cord.

2019 Kia Forte interior

If you do remember the cord, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard on all Forte trims, as is that eight-inch touchscreen. Further standard features include forward collision avoidance and warning systems, paired with lane keeping assistance. This EX Launch Edition tester came fitted with optional blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alerts.

2019 Kia Forte front seat

Rear seat room was plenty for our kids. While I certainly couldn’t fit “behind myself,” I’m larger than the average human. Don’t make a habit of transporting the entire varsity basketball team, and the Forte will be comfortable for all involved.

2019 Kia Forte rear seat

Driving the Forte is a pleasantly unremarkable experience. Other than some thumps when hitting Ohio potholes squarely, the ride is muted, with little of the usual wind or road noise seeping through to the cabin. Soft springs add a bit of lean when negotiating corners, but this means occupants have a controlled, gentle ride. This is neither a sports sedan nor a hot hatch, recall?

2019 Kia Forte center stack

I was surprised when I looked at the transmission line on the spec sheet. Indeed, while the Forte is fitted with a CVT, it exhibited none of the typical annoying traits of the genre. Nothing but smooth, quiet power delivery from the Forte. It’s not neck-snapping, by any means – off-the-line performance is a tad sluggish with 147 hp – but it’s more than adequate for most drivers. Efficiency is quite good. Were I commuting on the interstate more often, I can easily imagine approaching the 40 mpg figure quoted by the EPA.

2019 Kia Forte gaugesShould I choose to purchase my own Kia Forte, I’d likely forgo some of the fancier features and embrace my inner cheapskate with the entry-level FE trim. Sadly, the Ace of Base model only offers a trio of colors: white, black, and grey, though it offers an extra MPG when fitted with the CVT transmission over the more-h EX models. At $19,615 delivered, I’d be quite happy driving with a small monthly payment.

2019 Kia Forte dashboard

That’s what the Forte excels at – it’s a lot of car for a low payment.  It’s a cheap car that doesn’t look it. It’s comfortable, performs well, and is inexpensive to run. Embrace basic, because basic is all most drivers need.

2019 Kia Forte rear quarter

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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45 Comments on “2019 Kia Forte Review – Basic Done Best...”


  • avatar
    formula m

    Typical Kia/Hyundai disposable car, not as durable as the competition no matter what part-time auto-journalists may write up as their contribution to websites. Almost worthless in 5yrs to the point people have to roll negative equity forward to cover the remaining balance. Thankfully its such a small payment in the first place people willing pay for these over the term of their next vehicle just to have it gone
    The interiors are cheap once you look past all the flashy displays. Real world fuel economy is disappointing and requires constant brake services here in Canada.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Amazing that we still have some people ‘trolling’ H/K products, despite statistical evidence to the contrary of what they post.

      Borrego, Soul, Rondo, Stinger, just some Kia vehicles that do not meet your ‘formula’.

      • 0 avatar
        formula m

        Are you drunk Arthur? total up sales from Borrego, Stinger, Rondo, etc… They haven’t even produced 100,000 of those vehicles and not even 20% of those will see 200,000kms or 120,000mi.
        They are junk, no matter how much that hurts your soul brother

        • 0 avatar

          We own a 2013 and 2016 Elantra and Elantra GT. They replaced a Honda and Acura respectively. Both cars still feel well made and sturdy. The repairs that we’ve done on the 2013 have been minor, with the 2016 requiring none so far.

          They are not as refined as our previous vehicles but are 95% of the way there for a lot less money.

          I would hardly call them junk.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            carguy622, I would NOT call them junk either.

            The 2011 Elantra we bought in May 2011 for one of our grand daughters as a HS grad gift took her through four years of college (150-mile roundtrip daily) after which it was sold and continued to do daily driver duties for another college student.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @formulam: Obviously you have no clue. Check out total worldwide production/sales for those vehicles. The Soul alone sells well over 100,000 annually in North America. Then please check re-sale and longevity statistics. Or you can just return to underneath your bridge.

          • 0 avatar
            formula m

            Check out the combined sales in the US for the 3 models you listed. Under 100,000 in sales

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I am not Hyundai fan at all but I feel a need to correct ignorance. In these three random examples I cite below, an MY10 Hyundai product was sold running with 169K, 172K, and 219K respectively. These products can apparently be made to go the distance. Now the cost of doing so vs a competitor or valuations vs competitors aside, the product is capable (well, the MY10 product in any event).

          MY10 Hyundai Santa Fe V6 AWD

          (Yikes on the two low mile’d examples… these are MY10s anmd they bid 7,6 and 6,8?)

          4/10/19 $3,200 169,434 1.8 6G/A Black Lease Southwest Denver
          4/23/19 $2,200 162,636 – – 6G/A Red Regular Southeast Statesville
          4/30/19 $4,700 144,302 3.8 6G/A Gray Regular Northeast New England
          4/29/19 $4,400 133,078 – – 6CY/A Blue Regular Southwest Dallas
          4/25/19 $4,900 116,816 – – 6G/A Blue Regular Northeast New York
          4/24/19 $4,600 113,672 2.4 6G/A Gray Lease Northeast Pittsburgh
          4/11/19 $4,200 106,813 – – 6G/A Silver Regular Northeast NY Metro Skyline
          4/10/19 $7,600 79,859 – – 6G/A Silver Regular Northeast Pittsburgh
          4/30/19 $6,800 74,674 – – 6G/A Blue Regular Northeast NY Metro Skyline

          MY10 Hyundai Sonata SE I4

          4/2/19 $2,500 172,592 2.2 4G/A Black Regular Northeast Baltimore-Washington
          11/15/18 $2,000 137,831 3.4 4G/A Blue Regular Northeast New York
          2/21/19 $3,100 119,389 – – 4G/A Silver Regular Southeast St Pete
          11/6/18 $4,800 98,439 4.1 4G/A Black Regular Northeast Baltimore-Washington
          8/1/18 $5,000 98,142 – – 4G/A Black Regular Southeast Lakeland
          1/22/19 $4,800 95,417 3.0 4G/A Gray Regular West Coast Riverside

          MY10 Hyundai Tucson GLS FWD

          4/18/19 $3,300 219,153 – – 4G/A Black Regular West Coast Phoenix
          4/30/19 $4,200 170,660 2.2 4G/A Black Regular Northeast New England
          4/30/19 $3,500 158,731 3.0 4G/A Red Regular Southeast Atlanta
          5/1/19 $4,400 147,152 2.6 4G/A Gray Lease Southeast Lakeland
          4/15/19 $4,300 130,608 – – 4CY/A Blue Regular Southwest Dallas
          4/16/19 $5,700 126,701 – – 4G/A Black Regular Midwest Ohio
          4/23/19 $5,000 116,981 2.6 4G/A Black Regular Northeast Keystone Pennsylvania
          4/23/19 $3,800 116,413 2.0 4G/A Silver Lease West Coast Portland
          4/11/19 $4,100 112,502 3.8 4G/A Black Lease Midwest Detroit
          4/17/19 $5,600 109,545 – – 4G/A Red Regular Northeast Pittsburgh
          4/9/19 $5,000 89,798 – – 4G/A Black Regular Midwest Ohio
          5/1/19 $6,100 81,617 2.6 4G/A Blue Regular Southeast Daytona Beach
          5/1/19 $4,700 69,702 1.9 4G/A Gold Lease Midwest Milwaukee

          • 0 avatar
            formula m

            I was a Hyundai Service Manager in 2011-2013. 35 differentials on back order from Korea for Santa Fe alone in one month.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The likes of CR, JD Power, AutoBild and Auto Express say different.

      Speaking of AutoBild, the Germans are known to be more demanding of their vehicles and yet, it is the Koreans that are the best seller from an Asian manufacturer in Germany.

      And aside from Mazda, Kia generally has the nicest interiors among the mainstream brands (Hyundai is trying to catch up in that regard w/ its newest models).

      And actually, people of limited means (those who purchase the subcompact and compact segments) actually care a lot about reliability/longevity – which is why Toyota does so well w/ those type of buyers (aside from the non-Mazda Yaris, which is pretty much sub-par).

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      Fake news. Beyond the original Excel from 30 years ago, the dozen or so people I know with an H/K product have been quite satisfied. A close friend bought a 10 year old Elantra for his college kid and in the past year it’s done it’s job perfectly well.

      You need to update your prejudices….

      Chris, great job per usual. And I really love the ‘commoner’ approach to car reviews. I used to be a voracious reader of the (former) buff magazines and sites, but about 10 years ago it just stopped making sense since there were only so many exclamation points I could digest. Maybe someday I’ll be interested and able to pop $100k+ on a vehicle but frankly it’s no longer a priority. Meanwhile I help dozens of people a year with their car shopping and deals, so these types of reviews are much more relevant to my interests.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      Statistically speaking, it is impossible to have a 100k warranty that doesn’t bankrupt a company and the car magically turns into junk and won’t last 120k.

      Based on my test drive at Hertz used car sales between Sonata / Camry, and Forte / Corolla, these Koreans are mechanically durable with worse interior qualities (think late 90s early 2000s American rental specials), and they are priced accordingly (i.e. 3k cheaper than Toyota used, at the same mileage and year).

    • 0 avatar
      ABC-2000

      In my experience, I have reason to think these cars are not that good, first is the rental experience, never had a Kia or Hyundai, with some miles on it, that did not feel cheap and boring.
      Endless Hyundai recalled for fire and engine problems.
      Read the Car and Driver Stinger report from today.
      At the NY auto show, I sat down in a 2020 Sonata, it looks so good in pictures but extremely cheap from up close, everything is hard cheap plastic.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      Hard to argue anecdotal information, but everyone I know who has had a H/K has generally had a good experience. One friend had 2 Fortes, another just swapped a Forte for a Rio, and brother has Sonata his wife loves. Some of these people have had more expensive cars, but didn’t see the need anymore. The Forte certainly looks good, better than the Jetta. I like the looks of most Kias, but the one thing that bugs me is they only offer all-black interiors. I really don’t my next car to be black inside.

    • 0 avatar
      S197GT

      the only concern i would have with a modern hyundai/kia is not the quality of the vehicle when it was new but the quality of the previous owner (if purchased used of course).

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      “Sure, Hyundai/Kia cars sell in the millions and are proving highly reliable. But just wait until they’re 75 years old… you’ll see.”

      – Every H/K troll in 2019

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      This was posted on Jalopnik today. Hmmm it’s almost like people are reluctant to give the Koran Manufacturers $50k when they haven’t mastered the $20-$25k segment.
      “Good things come to those who wait and while about this time last year, Kia dealers were putting markups on the Stinger, the situation is very different now. If you do a quick search on the major listing sites you can find Stingers advertised with discounts at $10,000 off the MSRP and beyond.”

      • 0 avatar
        EAF

        H/K’s are my favorite imports to wrench on. Their layouts just make sense to me – in terms of ease of access. For example, I can R&R an engine or transmission on a Sonata in one-fifth the time it takes to complete the same job on a Camry/Accord.

        This is IMPORTANT when Theta 2 engines require frequent replacements!!!

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    The Forte is a very decent economy car. But $26K for an EX? Avoid that trim level at all costs. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I’m an H/K fan and I can’t imagine that is anywhere near the actual transaction price when Hyundai Sonatas are going for $19K and change.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I don’t have any problem with Kia in general, but this seems like a tough sell against the Corolla SE.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I put 90k miles on a 2011 Forte LX (base). I would buy another Forte again in a heartbeat.

    • 0 avatar
      PSX 5k Ultra Platinum Triple Black

      I sold Hyundai as well as Dodge at a Dodge/Hyundai dealership in the Midwest. I had a customer who bought a Hyundai Accent from us, and the next year he bought another new Accent, after he had put 100,000 miles on his car in 1 year. He drove from Columbia, Missouri to Atchison, Kansas every day for work. It seems crazy to me to make a round trip drive of 350 miles every day, but he did. The car was trouble free the whole 100,000 miles; which is why he purchased another. He traded the car due to his bad habit of throwing his trash from all the fast food he ate on his commute in the back seat of his car.

      I had several Hyundai customers who bought the exact same Hyundai they were currently driving. They had either totaled their existing Hyundai, or just wanted to get the newest model year of their car with the latest features.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Kia has done a remarkable job moving styling cues from its halo Stinger onto this compact Forte.”

    That’s a stretch, and out of order. The Forte predates the Stinger by many years, and Kia’s styling cues have been evolving in their current form since 2006.

    The Stinger is actually the latest incarnation of it, and not one that I particularly like. The Forte looks much better, IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      +1, SCE to AUX. Not to pick on the author, but he was drifting into a lazy auto journo cliche there, and a factually incorrect one at that. This Forte is an evolution of earlier non-Stinger models, and in a good way.

      Schreyer, IMO, really hit on something with his “Tiger Nose” Kia designs. Generally speaking, they’re simple and attractive, and the grille treatment works on a variety of front ends without looking forced (important, as marketing hucksters usually insist on inter-model familial resemblance, even if it makes a given model look worse).

  • avatar
    jeoff

    That rear end! It looks like someone is giving that poor car a wedgie!

  • avatar
    James2

    Since Kia didn’t make any significant mechanical changes I would go for last year’s Forte. It looks more cohesive to these eyes.

    • 0 avatar
      otaku

      I agree that the 2017-18 version appears sleeker, but I think the upgrades to 2019 chassis are similar to what was done to help improve NVH of the 2017 Hyundai Elantra, such as the use of more structural adhesives, higher strength steel, extra insulation, and slightly altered geometry of the rear suspension. From what I’ve seen in other reviews, these changes seem to help the 2019 Forte ride with better composure and improve its overall steering feel.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Am I mistaken, or are they just now returning power to the model? I swear the 2011 I had with the then current 2.0 liter (pre-GDI as I recall) had more power. Also, the mileage on that was easily surpassed.

  • avatar

    I like the separate reverse lamp and turn signal treatment. Kia and Land Rover are really the only ones ever to do this, perhaps with a one-off on the Infiniti EX.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    If you’re embracing basic, maybe embrace it a little tighter and buy a Rio instead? I am told by TTAC commenters that the Rio is a deathtrap, but the IIHS doesn’t seem to agree.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I don’t think the Rio is long for the world in the US market. For 2019 Kia heavily slashed trim-levels & options and overall they are very thin on dealer lots.

      I haven’t driven any of them so I can’t comment on which is best, but the ATP among the Soul, Rio, and Forte seems pretty close.

  • avatar
    bd2

    The non-GT Fortes are basically geared for those interested in a daily commuter.

    For those interested in something a bit more fun, the Forte GT gets an IRS and the 1.6T mill w/ either the DCT or MT.

    In terms of power, the GT is akin to the Elantra GT-Line, but the suspension tuning is a little more aggressive (but to the full-bore N-level).

    Speaking of the N, seems like Hyundai is working on AWD versions of the i30N and Veloster-N.

  • avatar
    otaku

    Following up on the whole “embrace basic” theme, I would like to see an entry level version of this car with an option to delete both the dual zone climate control and the touchscreen. I’ve never owned a vehicle with either of those and would gladly do without if it would lower the base price a bit more. Also, I wish Kia would include the old-fashioned, torque converter six-speed auto (still used on the Elantra) as an option for those of us who are still a bit dubious regarding the CVT’s long-term durability.

  • avatar
    JMII

    “The interior is typical Kia – plain, simple, and well thought-out. Infotainment controls on the touchscreen are simple and intuitive, though I prefer to use the matching knobs and buttons on the steering wheel.”

    To me Kia (and sister Hyundai) excel in this area. Similar to Honda back in the 80s/90s. I rent monthly due travel and have gotten to the point where I actively seek out H/K products because I know I can get the radio working as desired very quickly. All the buttons work as expected and are located appropriately.

    Thumbs up on the tunes in the photo too.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    I forget. Isn’t it the Hyundais that catch fire and the Kias that don’t? I think so. Different detail design because it’s two separate outfits that share platforms and engines but not everything. Kia seem to be unable to design electric door locks that last for the past decade or more – those “modules” drop like flies around these parts. If you have a 2.4l engine it will last until it doesn’t, runs its bearings and seizes – supposedly bad crank machining leaving “debris” from 2011 till now is the excuse H/K has used. In reality they haven’t a clue what causes the issue or they would have fixed it from 2014 when failures began in earnest. My friend is on his fourth recall on his 2011. But then Honda can’t work out why their 1.5t dilutes the oil with gas and runs so cold the heater’s useless in winter, and claims all sorts of utter drivel about the issue, including the idiocy that a software patch will work to fix a direct injector placement and spray pattern. I believe no manufacturer when I hear obviously silly excuses, designed only to save a manufacturer cash to fix an issue properly.

    I’d buy H/K over Nissan, and tiptoe around most of the other manufacturer’s offerings trying to avoid problem area cars. It’s just that nothing H/K or Nissan makes appeals to me. This Forte once had the the 2 litre claiming 173 hp which was a wild stab in the dark by the PR folk after a champagne dinner. Now it is dialed back to 148 and isn’t very smoothly tuned.

    The average buyer who couldn’t care less about driving can buy an H/K vehicle and be happy for years. But those who care about the finer points beyond infotainment and gadgets will probably look elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar
      otaku

      For what it’s worth, the 2 litre engine with 173hp that you referred to was a direct injected version of Kia’s four cylinder. The one currently being used on the Forte (and the base model Hyundai Elantra) is a port-injected 2.0L which is rated at 148hp (supposedly it also employs an Atkinson-style cycle via its valve timing setup that helps to improve fuel efficiency, but reduces power and torque slightly).

      • 0 avatar
        conundrum

        Thanks for that correction. I had forgotten it was direct injection, but do remember about the revision being fully Atkinson when reduced to 148bhp. C/D claimed or thought, at least, that the surging power band was a result of poor tuning. It felt to me like a early smog era carburetor setup, clogged. Presumably it’s better now after a few years fettling.

        When other pure Atkinsons like the Accord hybrid engine can only croak out 120 hp from 2 liters, and the Prius engine makes 98, somehow H/K claimed 148. It didn’t feel like it. And as for the old 173 hp rating, even the new Toyota 2.0l Dynamic Force engine in the Corolla only makes 168. I just don’t believe H/K’s ratings, that’s all.

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Very sharp looking car. Not a fan of having turn signals in bumpers, and not a big fan of CVTs but definitely better looking than its Hyundai cousin.
    As for H&K longevity..I’ve never owned one but know plenty people who did. My coworker has 320,000 miles on his 2006 Elantra. On his car, radiators were the weakest link. A new one every 150,000 miles or so. This car has never been garaged and only washed occasionally. Never been waxed. Yes, the Florida sun has killed the paint and the inside is a bit rough. Some of the plastics are not on par with Honda and Toyota of that time but otherwise, no issues. Still on original AC.

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    Given how often the bumpers of urban driven vehicles are scraped and dented from parking lot accidents and the like, there’s going to be a lot of 5-10 year old Kia Fortes tooling around with busted and missing turn signals/back up lights.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I’m 50/50 on H/K products. A colleague at work has a 2008 Sante-Fe that he had to be junked because the entire front frame rotted out. This was after he just spent 2K on replacing the transmission last year, most front end components and the famous harmonic balancer on the engine the year before. It currently had 120K miles.
    I worked with a copier firm that used a 2005 Sante-Fe with the 2.7 that got used daily and very well serviced. In 2008 that same owner ed me for assistance with some special large capacity printers and we got talking about his Sante Fe. it needed it’s engine replaced with around 130K on the clock because it developed a knock and was using a lot of oil.
    Another friend’s grandma bought a 2013 Sonata SE brand new and the 2.4 engine locked up while they were driving requiring a new engine at only 90K miles. Thankfully the warranty was still in effect to cover that. And this isn’t the first person I have spoke to needing a 2.4 engine replaced.

    Then I have other friends with newer 2014-2016 H/K vehicles that have had better luck with more minor issues in a 100K mileage period. Their interiors certainly seem nice on the surface and their other engines like the 1.6, 2.0 and 3.3 V6 engines seem to be reliable so far.


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