Model Lineup

The Forte represents a new design DNA for Kia, and the car's chiseled physique, intense front fascia and broad-shouldered fender treatments are a huge departure from the outgoing Spectra, and should really impress style seekers in the segment. The Forte is available in three distinct flavors with two engine choices, three wheel-and-tire combinations and four transmissions. But its true advantage is the standard electronics package: Bluetooth connectivity, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, MP3 capability, USB and Aux input jacks and steering-wheel controls to integrate the proceedings.

The LX trim is the most wallet-friendly. It sports a 2.0-liter engine and sacrifices air conditioning and power windows and locks to keep the price under $14,000, a scant $145 more than a Spectra LX. The Forte LX rolls on bare-bones 15-inch steel wheels and features a base 4-speaker stereo. An optional Convenience Package adds AC and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, but buyers need to weigh the advantages versus the cost of just jumping up to an EX.

The EX represents the middle ground of the Forte lineup and sports a base price of $15,795. It has all the power accessories, AC, a 6-speaker stereo and access to more option packages than the LX.

Kia has identified fuel mileage as one of the top three deciding factors shoppers use when making a new vehicle purchase, and developed the EX Fuel Economy Package to satisfy that demand. The EX is the only trim that can be ordered with the $600 package, which adds a 5-speed automatic; electric power steering; a smart alternator that operates only when needed; low-resistance, high silica content tires; and minor underbody aerodynamic changes. It bumps the 2.0-liter's mileage from 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway to 27/36 mpg.

The SX version has sportier intentions. Its $17,195 price tag includes the top-of-the-line 2.4-liter engine, a 6-speed manual, sport-tuned suspension, larger front brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, 45-series performance tires, an electroluminescent gauge cluster, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, and metal-finish interior trim.

Buyers will appreciate that Kia has no package hierarchy. You do not have to order a premium package to "qualify" for a leather, technology or moonroof package, and the prices for most of the packages are the cheapest we've seen in the segment.

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