The new 2014 Kia Forte has a crisply chiseled shape sitting on a wheelbase some two inches longer than the previous car. Kia describes the front end as having a winged bumper shape between the distinctive Kia grille and the underbumper intake, which shares the grille's mesh pattern. Headlamp enclosures are flared into the bodywork like streamliner canopies, and they showcase projector low-beam lamps on all models.
The windshield and A-pillars are set at a sporty rake, calling for small front quarterlites that match, in turn, rear versions necessitated by the car's fast roofline. Body color is used on doorhandles and mirrors, while a chrome beltline garnish emphasizes the glasshouse's wedge profile, lending the Forte's profile a strong cab-forward visual sense.
An extreme rear window rake and generous deck height provide a distinctly European flavor to the rear aspect of the sedan. Any chunkiness is relieved by the asymmetrical tail-light shapes and underbumper diffuser, and the lights themselves have 81 LEDs for a conspicuous night-time presence. The trunk opening is two inches wider for easier use.
While one might see the design as Euro-derived, it is nonetheless attractive, tidy and balanced. We have yet to see the 15-inch wheels on the Forte, but the aggressively patterned 16-inch alloys fill their apertures in a pleasing fashion.
Less obvious are the underbody tweaks that company officials say have helped the Forte achieve a slippery drag coefficient of 0.27.
As on the sedan, the Forte 5-door's swept headlights stretch deep into the front fenders and the raked windshield and broad shoulders give the front end a sleek, sporty appearance. LED positioning lights add a premium look to the front fascia. Large 18-inch wheels fill the wheel wells on the SX, and the hatchback profile affords a performance-oriented European personality. Around back, the rear hatch glass opens to reveal 23.2 cubic feet of usable cargo space. LED tail lights complete the premium feel of the exterior and a sporty rear valance with twin chrome exhaust tips maintains the Forte 5-door's edgy demeanor.
Interior ambiance is one of the big challenges facing compact cars. Consumers can easily adapt to smaller exterior dimensions, but they will notice cheesy interior details for the life of the car. Kia's designers know this, and they've worked hard to provide an upscale experience.
The dash surface features a ripple effect on the passenger side (echoed in the door panel) to provide character, while the instrument binnacle and center console feature seams and contours designed to break up any monotonous surface expanse. Angled 10-degrees toward the driver for a more-intimate interface, the center console is clean and uncluttered.
The instruments themselves are large and bright, and the various control buttons have a pleasing sense to their operation. Much of the molded surface is coated in a nano paint treatment which is slightly rubbery to the touch, mitigating the usual criticisms about hard moldings.
Considerable detail abounds in the door panels, where distinct concavities house the armrests and window controls. As you'd expect from a car with sporty pretensions, the steering wheel is a three-spoke design with contrasting colors, and it's leather wrapped in the EX model.
Our Forte EX test car featured leather upholstered seats, and these proved supportive and comfortable throughout the trip.