Some say that compact sedans are a dying breed. That might not be the case during the ‘90s but as the years go by, Filipino car buyers tend to choose vehicles with more seats and higher ground clearance, signaling the end of some compact sedan nameplates.
Case in point: the Kia Forte. The name was part of the Korean marque’s lineup a few years ago until Kia Philippines decided to kill it off.
However, together with the brand’s reform this year, Kia brought back the Forte name into its lineup, but with a surprising twist – a GT variant came, a real one, which means extra in Kia-speak. Turbocharged with sporty aesthetics touches, I’ve got to drive the Kia Forte Turbo GT trim for a full good week for some real-world testing, and here’s my verdict.
The Forte GT’s exterior design isn’t all rave, at least in my book. I have my reservations against its overall shape, especially with the stubby hood that’s crowned with a “convex” tiger-nose grille. While other compact sedans tend to embrace sportiness with their wide stance, the Forte differs.
Kia, however, manages to catch my attention with this Turbo GT variant. Variant-exclusive touches like red accents on the grille, glossy black side sills, and some more red and glossy black accents at the back all make for a standout vehicle. My favorite part of the design was the lighting, a Kia thing, which includes extensive use of multiple LEDs, front and back, giving the car a very aggressive demeanor, especially at night. The 17-inch alloys aren’t the best-looking out there, but they complement the whole getup.
Can’t say the same about the glossy black lip spoiler, though, but I guess that’s the case since the media unit came in white.
Great execution of cabin materials – another Kia thing present in the Forte GT that I absolutely love. Save for some piano black plastics on key touchpoints and several blank buttons, the leather feels soft and nice, while the soft plastics and satin chrome look like they will age just fine. Vehicle controls are also clustered logically. The red stitching adds flair to the dark cabin, as is the flat-bottom steering wheel that adds extra room for my chubby legs.
Speaking of room, space inside the Forte isn’t abundant but it’s enough to accommodate five of me (standing 5’6” with medium build) without any complaint. The middle rear passenger has to make do with a flat seat and two-point lap belt, though. As for the driver, the driving position’s pleasantly low and well-supported.
Ride quality’s a bit on the soft and comfortable side; perfect for Philippine roads but not for those who are expecting a firm ride to go with the Forte GT’s sporty exterior styling. On the plus side, NVH insulation superb plus the default 502-Liter trunk volume is huge enough for a standard-sized child stroller and a month-worth of groceries.
As a range-topper, the Forte GT gets all the goodies that Kia could throw at their vehicle – and then some. Apart from the good-looking LED lights outside, the compact sedan has power-adjustable front seats, automatic headlights, speed-sensing door locks, auto up/down driver’s window, electro-chromatic rearview mirror, cruise control, rear parking camera with front and rear sensors, keyless entry, and push-start ignition. Air conditioning’s dual-zone automatic, too.
It’s surprising, however, that e-parking brake with brake hold isn’t included at this price point, as well as rain-sensing wipers.
Crowning the cabin is an 8-inch infotainment system with tactile knobs and buttons. By itself, it’s a pleasure to toy with, responsive to touches with minimal lag. My problem lies in its Apple Carplay and Android Auto. In the entire week that I had the car, I was only able to activate Apple Carplay once, which shouldn’t be the case since it’s designed to work as a plug-and-play system. Not sure why this happened but Kia has to look into this problem since it’s a major selling point in this modern age. Good thing, Bluetooth pairing was seamless and the 6-speaker setup sounded good enough for a wide variety of music genres.
The Forte GT comes with a full set of airbags, ABS, electronic stability control, hill-start assist, and ISOFIX child seat tethers. Lower variants, however, only get dual front airbags and lose the ESC and hill-start assist. Plus, as I’ve said, the middle rear passenger only gets a two-point lap belt, which isn’t good news in case of head-on collisions.
On this end, the Forte is at par with the industry standard with its range-topper but a bit short when you go down the trim levels.
Driving & Handling
The main course of the Forte GT is its 1.6-Liter turbocharged DOHC gasoline power plant. With the help of forced induction, the 4-banger gets more horses and extra pull at an early onset. On paper, the engine produces 204 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 265 Nm of torque as early as 1,500 RPM. On the road, however, there’s something left to be desired with the car’s performance and that’s mainly because of the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The combination of turbo and DCT was best for ideal situations, able to shift quickly and smoothly during fast runs. Abrupt accelerator inputs were welcome plus the availability of paddle shifters makes for a fun drive. On a good day to drive, the Forte GT is a worthy steed.
However, the Forte GT was a bit of a pain to drive when in Metro Manila traffic. Power delivery was lazy at first and second gears, which would warrant you to give more input in order to get a satisfying pull at slow speeds. If it were a conventional automatic transmission, things would have been better.
Handling, on the other hand, was among the better front-wheel-drive cars out there, but can still be improved. The motor-driven power steering was nicely weighted but there were moments when I wanted more feedback from the ground. With that, tight city maneuvers were a cinch but fast runs on winding roads needed more care. Plus, the soft suspension setup meant prominent body roll when tackling mountain passes at speeds.
With the mentioned driving characteristics, the Forte GT reflected impressive fuel efficiency numbers during spirited drives but a bit on the thirsty side amidst the city.
Highway drives with the cruise control set at 90 km/h gave back 19.8 km/L, while fast provincial runs at around 50 to 60 km/h clocked in 14.3 km/L. An hour on heavy EDSA traffic read back 6.8 km/L.
Forte – strength, specialty, best suit. With a name that screams superlatives, Kia’s compact sedan makes for a strong comeback, especially with its desirable GT trim. It has missed in some areas, sure, but the positives could overcome the negatives, I reckon, except for one thing: the price.
With this in mind, price-conscious car buyers would be hard-pressed to look towards the Forte GT’s direction, but it won’t be a bad decision if they do. You’ve got to love how the car drives during spirited runs.