Handling: Capable but Not Quite There

As noted in our prior drives of the SX sedan, the Forte’s chassis isn’t tuned for serenity. The hatchback’s MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension, combined with 17-inch wheels and low-profile, 215/45-series tires, is set up for friskiness, and body motions are well controlled. The steering offers decent feedback, proving relatively satisfying during spirited runs on back roads, although its off-center quickness requires a lot of course corrections to maintain a straight line on the highway. Overall ride quality is decidedly firm and accompanied by unpleasant resonant booming.

As with its acceleration times, the Forte hatch’s maximum lateral grip came in just shy of the sedan’s, at 0.83 g versus 0.85. At 184 feet from 70 mph, this test example took 11 more feet to stop than did the SX sedan, despite the brakes’ early-onset grabbiness. That touchiness, combined with the aggressive throttle and darty steering, means both manual and automatic versions of the Forte are a little tough to drive smoothly. So while all of that immediacy does impart a sporty character to the Forte, it is ultimately less polished and less satisfying to drive than the Mazda 3 five-door, which only challenges a driver’s smoothness with manual models’ numb clutch takeup.

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