When it comes to attracting younger buyers, Kia has it works cut out for it. The new 2014 Forte Koup – and its kissing cousin, the Forte5 – are up against the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Scion tC, and Honda Civic Coupe. It can’t be just as good as the competition; it has to be better.
After spending a full day navigating the seemingly endless tight turns and switchbacks on Highway 79 en route from Los Angeles to Borrego Springs in southern California, I’d say both of these compact runabouts are pretty close, but could still use some refining….specifically, in the manual shift linkage department.
Time and time again, I found myself trying to pull away from a stop light in third gear when I was sure I’d put it into first, and by the end of the day, it was getting pretty old. Kia needs to clean this up and make the gate between first and third a little less ambiguous. Compared to, oh, a Honda Civic, the Koup’s linkage is crude and difficult to get along with.
But let’s remember, these are a modestly priced cars. The Koup, for example has a starting price of just under twenty-five large. For that, you get standard equipment that includes four wheel disc brakes, tilt/telescoping steering, air conditioning, heated front seats, cruise control, a electronic stability control, and hill start assist. Even at the base level, this is a well-equipped car. You can also choose from 18-inch wheels and tires, ventilated drivers seat, heated rear seats, leather interior, and a cooled glovebox. A six-speed automatic adds some $1200 to the price tag.
The market the Koup is aimed at – buyers aged between 25 and 54, with the emphasis on younger consumers – tends to be careful with its money and, according to Kia Canada vice-president, Maria Soklis, one in four of these buyers are first timers. Maximum bang for the buck is paramount and the higher the standard equipment list, the better.
You can get the Koup in three different trims: EX, SX, and SX Luxury . Like most offerings from Kia, the options list seems to go on forever, and prices range from $22,480 to $29,780, before taxes and extras. One weird note here: there is no spare tire with the Kia Koup; what you get instead is a “tire mobility kit”, that plugs into the power outlet and pumps up the afflicted rubber. “The industry is moving away from spare tires,” claims Kia. Stupid idea, regardless.
Helping the Koup duke it out in this fiercely competitive market segment are two new engines: a normally-aspirated 2.0 litre and turbocharged 1.6 litre. These develop 173 and 201 horsepower, respectively, and to put things into some kind of perspective, Volkswagen’s famed GTi develops just nine horsepower more than the turbo Koup, and Honda’s Civic Si with the larger engine has the same horsepower output but less torque. The normally aspirated version, meanwhile, is more powerful than any of its rivals.
How does this translate when the rubber hits the road? Pretty damn well, actually. The turbo version, in particular, may be the smoothest of its kind I’ve ever driven. The usual drawbacks of forced air induction….nonexistent bottom-end grunt, throttle lag, and understeer…. are nonexistent, even when you’re giving it some welly. The turbo model, in particular, just does not feel like a front-drive turbocharged automobile, and all the usual attributes of a good handling car – predictability, balance, power delivery, and braking – make for a non-stressful, surprisingly civilized driving experience. Of course there are tauter, more tossable models on the market, but not at this price.
Of the two models, my vote goes to the turbo version. Yes, it’s about $4000 pricier than the normally aspirated model, and slightly thirstier, but offers better performance by a country mile and comes with Kia’s intriguing FlexSteer as standard equipment.
AT A GLANCE
Engines: 2.0 litre normally-aspirated & 1.6 litre turbocharged four cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed ,manual/six-speed automatic
Drive: Four-wheel drive
Horsepower: 201 horsepower at 6000 rpm & 173 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 195 ft. lb. @ 1750-4500 rpm & 154 ft. lb. @ 4700 rpm
Prices: $22,480 & $29,780
Fuel Economy: 9.7 city; 6.9 hwy. (Turbo w. manual trans.)
Alternatives: Mazda3 Sport, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra GT, VW Golf, Nissan Scion tC.