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2016 Kia Forte 5 Review: Just Short of a Hot Hatch

The 2016 Kia Forte 5 SX isn’t marketed as a performance model, but this compact 5-door handles well and it has enough power to make it a fun daily driver – falling just short of the “hot hatch” designation without even trying while preserving all of the comforts needed to be driven through the daily grind.

When most people talk about a “hot hatch” in the US, they are talking about vehicles like the Ford Focus ST or RS, the Ford Fiesta ST, the VW Golf R or the Hyundai Veloster Turbo – all of which are active in the world of motorsports. The “problem” with these high performance hatchbacks is that they are less efficient, they often have a harsher ride and they are generally far more expensive than the non-performance variants of the same models. The desire for a roomy hatchback that balances performance, efficiency and ride quality has led to another sub-segment of cars that are fun to drive, but they achieve that quality without compromising ride quality or efficiency – or without lifting the purchase price too high.

The 2016 Kia Forte 5 SX is one of those cars, with a spirited turbocharged engine that balances performance and efficiency, a sport tuned suspension, a standard manual transmission, a roomy cabin and a sporty, aggressive exterior design. This isn’t a hot hatch, but rather a great compact 5-door that is far more fun to drive than your average C Segment econobox.

Features and Prices
My test vehicle for this review was a 2016 Kia Forte 5 SX, which is the premium package in the 5-door compact’s lineup with a base price of $20,890. Options included the $2,300 SX Premium Package and the $1,900 Technology Package. The Premium Page adds the sunroof, cooled (driver’s side only) and heated leather front seats, heated outboard rear seats, a heated steering wheel and an auto dimming rear view mirror. The Technology Package adds HID headlights, dual zone automatic climate control, HD radio with navigation and a 4.2” color LCD information screen in the gauge cluster.

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My test car also had the $120 carpet floomats so when you add in the Premium Package, the Technology Package, the floormats and the destination charge, the price as tested came to $26,035. For that price, you get every option that you can order in the Forte 5 SX shy of the automatic transmission, including the turbocharged engine, the sport suspension system and the 18 inch aluminum wheels so this package is as much a luxury package as it is a sport package.

The Exterior
On the outside, the Kia Forte 5 SX has a fairly aggressive design with the familiar headlight and grille design that is shared across most of the brand’s vehicles, with LED trim in the HID headlight housings and a chiseled lower front fascia that plays the biggest role in the sporty face. Since the Forte 5 SX is marketed as more of a premium package than a sport package, the Korean automaker added a splash of chrome on the upper grille, around the fog lights and on the dual exhaust tips for just a touch of sparkle while the big, bright LED taillights add style and a more premium look out back.

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The exterior design of the Kia Forte 5 SX feels like a hot hatch with sharp lines on the front fascia and hood, a slight nose-down angle created by the long roofline and subtle rear spoiler, a diffuser style lower rear fascia around the dual exhaust tips and black-and-machined 18 inch wheels – and this naturally sporty form makes this Forte my favorite of the model’s lineup. As much as I like the Forte Koup and as much as I’m not one of the new car reviewers who fawns over every single hatchback, there is just something about the 5-door model that has grown to appeal to me more than the 2-door models. Also, the Forte 5 shares a great many of the exterior styling features with the 4-door sedan, but once again, the 5-door just appeals to me more.

The Interior
While the exterior of the 2016 Kia Forte 5 SX has a splash of luxury with great emphasis on sportiness, the inside of my loaded test vehicle is more appropriately compared to a luxury car. When the Premium Package and the Technology Package are added to the Forte 5 SX, there is really very little that you can ask for in even far more expensive vehicles.

You get a big, bright touchscreen infotainment system with satellite radio, HD radio, USB media input, a CD slot, navigation and hands-free phone compatibility. You get a dual zone automatic climate control system. You get the tilt/slide sunroof. You get elaborate steering wheel controls that offer access to the paired phone, the sound system, the navigation voice control, the cruise control system, the driver information center in the gauge cluster and the adjustable steering modes. You get a power, heated, cooled leather driver’s seat with contrasting stitching along with a matching front passenger’s seat and rear outboard seats that are heated but not cooled. A cooled passenger’s seat is one of the very few things that I would like to see, but again, we are talking about a car with all of the features above with a price of just over $26,000.

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In addition to the gadgetry and the heater leather seats, the 2016 Kia Forte 5 SX offers an impressive amount of room for the driver and front passenger in every direction while the driver’s seat and the steering wheel will adjust to accommodate very short drivers as well as very tall people. In the back seat, the leg room might be a little tight for an adult of average when the front seats are all of the way back, but with some adjustment of the front seats – this 5-door can serve as a comfortable carpooling vehicle provided that it isn’t a group of NBA players. More importantly, there is plenty of space in the rear seat for a couple of kids, so younger parents with small kids should find this Kia to be great for getting the family through their day to day activities, especially when you consider the spacious rear cargo area. In addition to having plenty of space for a couple of large hockey bags, there is a sub-floor area with a cargo divider to keep smaller items in place when in transit. Don’t want your 2 liter Coke bottles or a six pack of beer to slide around on the way home from the store? Flip up the cargo area floor and a collection of small cubbies will hold these atypical grocery items safely in place.

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The compact car segment has come a long way in the past decade with many vehicles adding standard equipment which was once reserved for far more expensive vehicles and the Kia Forte 5 SX is one of the cars that has benefitted the most from this shift. With the exception of cooled passenger and rear seats, there is really nothing to ask for from the Forte 5 SX with the Premium and Technology packages, creating a very high end feel from this low-buck hatchback.

The Drive
The Kia Forte 5 in SX form has a different drivetrain than the other trimlines, featuring the 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower and 195lb-ft of torque. This engine works with a standard 6-speed manual transmission to send enough power to the front wheels to make this little 5-door a ton of fun to drive. The clutch has quite a bit of play to it, making it less sporty, but more user friendly, so this would be a great car for a driver working on getting accustomed to the manual transmission. Also, while the clutch doesn’t have a particularly sporty feel, the action of the shifter makes banging from gear to gear in a hurry very easy; bolstering the sporty feel while rowing through the gears.

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When you launch the Forte 5 SX from a stop, there is very little hesitation before the boost hits and you are well on your way. As you pop from gear to gear, the mid-range power of the Forte 5’s turbo engine keeps you accelerating at am impressive rate for a car that isn’t marketed as a performance vehicle. With careful shifting, the Forte 5 powerband allows you to blast along a twisty country road with quickness and agility, so while this isn’t going to be a car that dominates the drag racing scene – it is a car that will provide all sorts of find on a curvy country road.

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More importantly, the Koa Forte 5 SX offers a great balance of cornering capabilities and ride quality. The standard sport suspension of the SX package isn’t quite as aggressive as some true performance hatchbacks so spirited driving will reveal its limit more quickly than in the pricier hot hatches like the Focus ST, but at the same time, the Forte 5 offers a smoother ride than the more capable performance models. Because of that balance of ride quality and handling, I would consider the Forte 5 the better choice for someone who is more focused on a daily driver that is fun to drive than a performance car that can be used as a daily driver.

One aspect that adds to the sporty feel of the Forte 5 SX is the steering mode system, which features Sport, Comfort and Normal modes. The Sport mode is my favorite, with the most connected feel and the least amount of power assist providing the best feel of the road while the Comfort mode swings the other way – providing more assist for less driver effort.

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Finally, in addition to being fun to drive, the Forte 5 SX offers solid fuel economy figures of 21mpg around town, 29mpg on the highway and 24mpg combined per the EPA ratings. In my tests, I was easily able to average better than 30 miles per gallon on the highway without any special driving techniques and over the course of 8 days, I averaged 26.2mpg. Based on my tests, I believe that a driver with a lighter foot or a lower highway speed limit than Metro Detroit would have no issue comfortably exceeding the EPA numbers.

The Final Word
The Forte 5 SX doesn’t pack the power of the true hot hatches mentioned at the top of this piece, but for the new car shopper who wants better MPGs and a lower purchase price from a roomy hatchback that is fun to drive – the compact Kia Forte 5 SX is a winner. It has a sporty exterior design with a touch of chrome, a heavily loaded interior with a premium feel and a drivetrain that balances fun to drive factor with comfort and fuel economy. Best of all, you get all of this for just over $26,000 – making the Forte 5 a great option for anyone looking for a lot of car for not a lot of money.

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