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A Review of the 2014 Kia Forte EX Sedan: A Glowing Example of Kia's Steady Evolution

There was a point early in Kia’s existence in the US market where their lineup of small cars focused on nothing but low cost and solid fuel economy but the 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan is a prime of example of how much the industry has changed – and how well Kia has changed right along with the competition.

There was a point in time where it would have been unheard of for an inexpensive compact Kia sedan to come equipped with features like heated leather front and rear seats, an advancement infotainment system, dual zone climate control, projection headlights, LED taillights or an adjustable sport steering system.

In the early days of the Kia brand, it was all about affordability and efficiency and that focus worked because those were what most competitors also focused on when engineering their compact sedans but with the upscale shift of pretty much every segment in America, every automaker began adding quality and quantity of amenities.

Kia has done the same with their Forte EX sedan but in many cases the Korean automaker goes above and beyond the competition with tons of technology inside, a stylish application of more technology on the outside and a powerful drivetrain that does a great job of balancing performance and efficiency.

My 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan was pretty much fully loaded with optional 17 inch alloy wheels ($300), the Premium Package ($2,600) carpeted floormats ($115) and the EX Technology Package ($2,300). When you add up those add-ons to the base price of the Forte EX ($19,400) and add in the $800 destination fee, my test car carried a sticker price of $25,515. That’s a big jump from the sub-$16k base price of the Forte sedan but for those compact buyers who want a small, sporty and efficient car without living in a world of burlap covered seats and wind-up windows – the 2014 Forte EX offers features once reserved for luxury cars in a very affordable package.

The Exterior of 2014 Kia Forte EX Sedan
The older Kia compact sedans – like so many other cars in that segment – used to look cheap because they were cheap but the 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan has the look of a much higher end car. This includes a front end that features projection headlights set in big, chrome bezels with great looking LED trim running across the top for a super high tech look. These headlights flow down into the big angular grille that has become a mainstay of the entire Kia lineup and while some people don’t like the familial look of the current Kia brand – I love the aggressive, sporty design language and I find the 2014 Forte sedan to be a great example of the look. There isn't much chrome, but that distinct grille is trimmed in chrome with matte black filled in the upper grille, the lower grille and in the fog light bezels. When combined with the short hood and slippery windshield lines, the Forte sedan has a much sportier look than any compact Kia before it.

Forte sedan front

Along the sides, the 2014 Kia Forte has a little more chrome around the bottom of the greenhouse glass with a black b pillar giving the greenhouse a big, continuous design which is accentuated by the fastback-like rear glass that slopes gently down to the diminutive trunk lid. Body colored mirrors and door handles work with the black window trim and the brushed aluminum 17 inch rims to give this Korean sedan a very sporty feel while the portions of the headlights and tail lights that you can see from the side with plenty of bright LEDs bolster the sporty feel while also adding a touch of class thanks to the high tech lighting.

Out back, the most noticeable feature is the addition of huge LED taillights that look good when they are turned off but they look awesome when turned on. For a very long time, the tail lights were an afterthought of exterior designers but the sharp tail lights of the Forte EX sedan with the Technology Package serve as a fitting exclamation point on the sporty little Korean sedan. The rest of the back end is fairly non-descript shy of some styling lines and a very subtle integrated rear “spoiler” which is also more of a styling line but just those big, bright tail lights make this a great looking rear end.

forte sedan rear

If you are one of the people who doesn’t like Kia’s aggressive approach on exterior design then you probably don’t care for the look of the 2014 Forte EX but I appreciate the company’s exterior design language and when you add in the optional HID headlights and the LED tail lights (the LED headlight trim is standard), you have a great looking compact sedan that stands out amongst a highly competitive segment.

The Interior of 2014 Kia Forte EX Sedan
While the exterior of the 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan has an upscale look thanks to some high tech lighting systems, the cabin is the real shining star of this show. The front and rear seats are all clad in surprisingly plush black leather with white contrasting stitch work. Both of the front seats and the rear outboard positions all enjoy heated seating surfaces while the driver also gets seat cooling with full power controls.

The front seats have deep side bolsters with a wide center section so that they can offer a snug ride for people of all different sizes while the thick padding under the black leather makes for a comfortable seat even on very long trips. The rear outboard seats are designed to have a padding layout that gives it a similar shape to the front buckets with distinctly sunken in spots that cradle the rear riders. The rear central seating position is pretty useless as it isn’t comfortable due to the basic design and the narrowness so unless you have a very small child riding there – it really isn’t a good place to seat someone. This car makes a much better four person sedan with the center armrest folded out.

forte sedan front seats

While the rear center seat isn’t great, the rest of the seating positions in the 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan offer a high level of comfort and spaciousness. Even very tall drivers and passengers should find plenty of leg, knee hip, shoulder and head room but elbow room is a bit tight between the front seats with an armrest that will only really accommodate one person. Out back, there is a good amount of leg space with the front seats adjusted to comfortably seat a pair of 6 foot tall adults. In fact, the rear seats wont allow taller passengers to stretch their legs as much as the folks up front but as the compact sedan segment goes – I was impressed with the amount of leg space in the rear seats. Like the seats, much of the lower portion of the interior is finished in black from the carpeting to the door panels to the dash pad with a touch of faux carbon fiber trim around the gauges and infotainment system and a light gray headliner that wraps around the optional sunroof.

forte sedan rear seats

Next up is the impressive list of high tech gadgets found in the cabin of the 2014 Forte EX sedan. The centerpiece of the interior is the big, bright infotainment touch screen that puts the controls for the sound system, the navigation system and the Bluetooth phone system all in one place. This touchscreen is very user friendly – as is the functionality of the nav system - but those who don’t like dealing with the touchscreen can access and change almost anything with the use of the knobs and buttons located just below the touchscreen or on the heated, leather wrapped steering wheel. In addition to the buttons that control the infotainment system, the steering wheel also has buttons for the cruise control, the selectable steering mode system, the hands-free phone system and the 4.2” driver information screen that is tucked between the large analog gauges in the cluster.

Finally, the Forte EX sedan features a dual zone climate control system that puts relies on a set of knobs and a panel of buttons located at the bottom of the center stack. The temperature in each zone is controlled by a large knob but the direction of the airflow is controlled by a single button that forces you to toggle through all of the options and when driving, it is tough to get the mode that you want without taking your eyes off of the road as opposed to a system that has a different button or dial position for each mode.

forte sedan dash

The 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan is a car that can comfortably seat four average to above average size so for someone who is always driving around their friends or a family man (or woman) with two bigger kids – the Forte sedan should prove to be a very adequate car in terms of passenger comforts and space. There isn’t much that the Forte EX sedan doesn’t have when fitted with the Premium and Technology packages so for those compact sedan shoppers who want luxury amenities with an economy price – the Forte EX is a smoking hot bargain.

The Drive
The 2014 Kia Forte EX is powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine that delivers 173 horsepower and 154lb-ft of torque to the front wheels by means of an electronic 6-speed automatic transmission. This drivetrain makes the Forte sedan quite peppy and while I would vastly prefer a manual transmission or at least the paddle shifters from the Forte Koup, the Forte EX sedan is still fun to drive. I’m not totally in love with the manual shift setup using the console shifter but when left in D, the Forte offers solid acceleration from a stop and when traveling at speed. While you don’t have the same precise control of the shifts like you do with the Optima (for example), the Forte EX sedan packs enough spunk to make this an enjoyable car to drive for those who like to exhibit a little speed from time to time.

Forte sedan side

Another area where the 2014 Kia Forte EX shines is in its handling capabilities as, not only does this car handle itself well without compromising ride quality, but it also offers an adjustable steering system that allows the driver to select the steering feel that they best prefer. The steering modes include Comfort, Normal and Sport with Comfort being especially “soft” with added power assist, Normal providing a very average feel and Sport offering a much stiffer feel with less power assist. I prefer to get a better feel for the road and I found that Sport was the mode that I preferred the most as Sport mode felt the most natural to me. Regardless of the mode chosen, the Forte feels fairly light on its toes and while I don’t see a stock Forte dominating the autocross world – this peppy Kia sedan can hurry through a twisty road with a fair amount of confidence although the lack of strong feedback requires you to spend a little more time learning the car before you can really hit the turns hard. It will understeer if you push it too far but when driving at reasonable speeds for public roads, the Forte EX sedan responds well to being pushed through turns.

The same is true on the highway where the Forte offers a ride that is a little comfortable and a little sporty – not completely killing every bit of imperfections but not sending as much vibration into the cabin as you would have with a more dedicated sport model.

In terms of fuel economy, the 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan in the same configuration as my test car is expected to get 24mpg around town, 36 on the highway and a combined number of 28mpg. While I enjoyed driving this car, it was not one that I felt wanted to be driven hard and that translated to strong fuel economy numbers. During my time with this Forte EX, I averaged 28.9mpg and saw cruising highway fuel economy figures (based on the on-board system) in the predicted mid-30s range.

forte sedan on the road

Unlike some cars in this segment which are really a bore to drive, the Kia Forte EX offers a solid amount of fun to drive factor with plenty of power to keep up with fast moving traffic but the company has achieved this in a way that doesn’t hurt ride quality or fuel economy capabilities. This isn’t the best handling car in the segment nor is it the most powerful so if you want a compact race car you may want to look elsewhere but for those buyers who want a car that can easily keep up with traffic on the highway while still getting solid fuel economy figures, the 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan delivers.

The Final Word
The 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan is impressive considering how much better it is than older small Kia sedans but this car isn’t just better because the older models were bad – this new Forte has risen to the level of its competition. No longer should you consider the Kia Forte because it is very inexpensive…you should consider it because it has a long list of impressive optional amenities, tons of standard high tech gadgets, a sharp exterior design and a drivetrain that delivers solid performance and fuel economy. This car is fitted with features that would have been reserved for substantially more expensive vehicles just a few years back but the company has managed to add all of those features without straying from the goal of offering a low cost product.

In a segment packed with some of the bestselling cars in the world, the 2014 Kia Forte EX sedan is a strong competitor for the likes of the Ford Focus, the Honda Civic, the Chevy Cruze and the Toyota Corolla.