DETROIT — It was one of those they’ve-got-to-be-kidding moments when I saw the price of the 2019 Kia Forte EX that I was test-driving. My test car had a 2.0-liter 147 horsepower four-cylinder engine that made 132 pound-feet of torque. It was mated to what Kia has branded an Intelligent Variable Transmission, or IVT.
Kia surveyed the continuously variable transmission universe learning all that it could before developing its own version of the gas-saving technology. Engineers built their IVT with adaptive style shift logic with a chain belt instead of push belt. This resulted in smooth linear acceleration, a more enjoyable and sporty driving experience and a step-shift-like feel mimicked a conventional automatic transmission at wide-open throttle or when more acceleration was needed.
They reduced the noise that comes with a CVT by wrapping the transmission case in a sound-insulating cover to help quiet the typical “drone” associated with this technology. In doing so, NVH levels in the Forte were reduced by 5dB from the outgoing model.
Here’s what all that really meant. This transmission was so quiet and felt much like a gear-shifting automatic that I put the pedal to the metal to find out whether it was really a variable transmission. It was, and along with fairly spunky acceleration, I could detect a couple of simulated gear shifts.
The real point of the IVT’s development, I think, was an EPA rating of 30 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and 34 mpg combined. The Kia Forte EX just didn’t drive like it had a sluggish CVT or was underpowered. I won’t say it was fun to drive, it needs more power for that, but the Forte was more than adequate at motoring through everyday chores.
The Forte cornered well, it had enough oomph to keep out of trouble and acceleration was pretty good. It was quiet, especially the transmission, it was comfortable and the steering wheel had a good feel to it. I was impressed with the suspension; it was firm without being harsh. The car never rode rough; it even had a two-toned leatherette interior.
Kia said while the third-generation Forte retains its sporty and youthful image, it has graduated to a more sophisticated appearance thanks to a number of sleek and dynamic styling cues inspired by the Stinger fastback sports sedan.
Like the Stinger, the Forte’s long hood and short deck gave it an overall fastback-like shape. The cowl point was moved back five inches, creating a more athletic stance that made the Forte appear well-planted on the road.
Creases in the hood contributed to the Forte’s muscular appearance while the combination of a newly designed signature tiger-nose grille and aggressive black lower valance enhanced its individual character. My test car had standard projection headlights, fog lights, LED taillights, LED daytime running lights, heated sideview mirrors and LED turn signals.
In the back, the rear bumper got the same treatment with separate reverse and turn signal indicators located beneath the taillights. A sleek horizontal trim piece connected the taillights.
The stylish styling also flowed to an expanded interior. I was somewhat surprised at the space in the back seat. There was plenty of legroom and I had a bunch of headroom. I think three people could sit abreast in the rear and be relatively comfortable though close.
Overall length has increased by 3.2 inches to 182.7 inches and that allowed for more rear legroom and additional cargo in the trunk. With 15.3 cu.-ft., cargo room is among the largest in the segment and generous enough to accommodate gear for a road trip. That headroom I experienced came from increasing the overall height to 56.5 inches, while the overall width grew to 70.9 inches.
The dashboard was wide and dominated by a floating infotainment touchscreen. This was a minimalist design. There was a line of audio control buttons beneath the screen. The climate control vents were beneath that and then the climate controls. This may read like it was a stack but it wasn’t. There was lots of vertical space between each row of controls.
There was a small bin beneath that which held the USB and auxiliary jacks. They were illuminated thus easy to find at night. I thought that was a nice people touch. And there was a pair of 12V sockets there, as well. Again, drawing inspiration from the Stinger, a horizontal theme created a sense of openness and avoided clutter with clean lines and minimal buttons.
Aeronautically inspired spoked circular vents adorned the dash and increased soft-touch points created a visually appealing cabin. Drivers and passengers alike will appreciate getting in and out easily.
I was struck by how wide the rear doors were making access easy. That’s not always the case in a compact sedan. There were stronger and more lightweight seat frames that provided a more comfortable seating position with increased lumbar support and denser seat foam for more pleasurable long-distance drives. The back seats had a solid feel in terms of construction.
The 2019 Kia Forte EX had a lot of equipment I’d expect to find in a much more expensive vehicle. It had three drive modes: sport, normal and smart. There were Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a power adjustable driver’s seat and push-button start and keyless entry. Of course, there was satellite radio, a rearview camera (it’s the law now) and Bluetooth.
It had driver attention warning, forward collision warning, forward collision avoidance assist, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert warning and UVO connect services.
For $23,305 as tested, I thought the 2019 Kia Forte was an outstanding buy.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.