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'Station Wagon' is a Four-Letter Word

The 2011 Kia Forte 5-Door

As cars get smaller for economical reasons (gas mileage, sticker price, ecologically fueled guilty consciences), the driving public looks for ways to cram the same amount of stuff into a smaller vehicle than they’ve become accustomed to. As more car owners discover that, yes, they’d rather be a car owner than an SUV owner, they’re discovering, once again, the joy of—gasp!—station wagon ownership.

But please, don’t tell them they’re station wagons. For some reason, in America owning a station wagon seems to be on the list of things cool people don’t do. It’s somewhere in between friending your parents on Facebook and cultivating a Hitler mustache. Just not done, even though there are thousands of people out there driving brand-new station wagons today, which go by many different names: sportwagens, sports wagons, sport combis, tourings, or, in the case of this week’s subject, 5-doors.

The Kia Forte 5-door is the latest from the up-and-coming South Korean manufacturer, which is a part of the Hyundai group. It’s got five doors, yes, so the name isn’t totally misleading. But years ago that fifth door would have probably opened downward and have been called a tailgate. I imagine there’s a bunch of younger folks out there who spend eight or nine Sundays a year tailgating in the parking lot of Ralph Wilson Stadium and who haven’t a clue why it’s called that. Of course, back in the day you’d lower the tailgate at the rear of the car, place your edibles and potables on this makeshift table, and after a few hours forget why you were there. You can’t do that with a lift-up hatch (although you can still eat and drink and eventually forget why you’re there).

But the modern day sport wagon/combi/hatchback still has a useful place in drivingdom. Especially with the compacts such as the Elantra and Forte, you can really cram a lot of stuff in the back, still carry four or five people, and not be ashamed of driving a dorky-looking “station wagon.” The Forte 5-door, I’d say, is one of the better designed cars out there right now—and that includes snazzy-looking sedans and coupes. The proportions are just right from any angle. And, being a Kia, it’s got a killer 10-year or 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a five-year or 60,000-mile limited basic warranty, and a five-year or 100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty. Even if it were a dog of a car—which it isn’t—with that kind of protection it’s almost like driving on someone else’s dime.

The first Kias to come to these shores were tin cans with seats. Not so any more. The Forte 5-door is fully equipped and comes in two series: EX and SX. Personally, and not being one in marketing, I’ve never fully understood the progression of letters used by automobile manufacturers to differentiate between levels of trim. To my simple mind, the EX sounds like it would have “EX-tra” features when compared to the SX, which sounds more “S-tandard” (and to confuse matters even more, the base Forte sedan is the LX, which to me sounds pretty “LuXurious”). But, I digress. The EX comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which produces 156 horsepower, while the SX engine is 2.4-liters and 173 horsepower. Six-speed manual or automatic transmissions are offered for both. Fuel economy is in the mid-20 to low-30 miles per gallon range. Both models also come with ABS, electronic stability control, traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, front active headrests, and a slew of airbags. Cargo volume is nearly 19.5 cubic feet, and the 5-door was recently named to the list of “Top 10 Urban Cars” due to its “practical size, low starting price, excellent visibility and tight turning radius.” How unlike Mom’s old ’63 Ford Country Sedan station wagon, which was pretty much the opposite of most of those.

Pricing for the Forte 5-door starts at $16,895. More info

Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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