On the Road

During our seat time in and around Seattle, we test drove an EX with the Fuel Economy Package and an SX version.

We found the EX's 5-speed automatic a bit annoying in its rush to get into fifth gear and sip the fuel. This made the car feel sluggish, especially in city driving situations where it resisted the need to downshift unless you really put your foot into it. The 2.0-liter engine seemed well matched to its miserly mission while providing sufficient acceleration in most circumstances. As expected, the ride was comfortable and compliant as the Forte soaked up rough roads with little drama. In faster turns, the EX was smooth but not overly inspiring. With the Fuel Economy Package factored in, our tester was priced at $17,395.

The SX's 2.4-liter engine offers a much more authoritative driving experience, delivering on the promise of the Forte's sculpted lines. The SX oozes confidence. We could feel the sport-tuned suspension and its grippy, low-profile 17-inch tires really dig in as we pushed the Forte through some undulating curves.

However, the soft-shifting automatic transmission in our tester limited the fun, leaving us to speculate how much more we could have coaxed out of a 6-speed manual version. The automatic in our tester pushed the base price up $1,000 to $18,195. Tack on $1,000 for the leather upgrade and $600 for a sunroof, and the bottom line of our tester jumped to $19,795. While zippy, the Forte is not as liberating as a Mazda3 s Sport or as refined as a Honda Civic, but it's close — real close. We are concerned that Kia has lost its cost-leader banner, but we also wonder if a car as well-rounded as Forte needs to play that card.

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