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Not My Mother's Compact

2014 Kia Forte

Growing up, my dad liked big cars, while my mom preferred the smaller ones. Dad bought her a new 1960 Falcon for her birthday; years later she drove a 1970 Ford Maverick, and finally her last car was a 1976 Ford Pinto. There were other, larger station wagons in between, but they were bought out of necessity, not desire.

What would Mom think if she’d been with me on my test drive of the 2014 Kia Forte? She’d like the size, I’m sure, but she’d be gob-smacked by the features. Her Falcon had two options: a heater and an AM radio (which didn’t even have pushbuttons—just two knobs). Crank windows, three-on-the-tree, 13-inch tires and dog dish hubcaps—Dad was the last of the big spenders.

The Forte’s standard equipment list is longer than the Falcon’s throw from first to second gear. Arriving at Northtown Kia, sales consultant Stan Snuszka handed me the keys to a more upscale Forte EX (starting at $19,400), which counts among its equipment: remote keyless entry, rear back-up camera display, sliding center armrest, and a cooling glove box. Also on the EX, the standard engine is a 2.0-liter, direct-injected inline four, rated at 173 horsepower. The standard transmission is a six-speed stick—the test car was equipped with the optional six-speed automatic, which I found to be responsive and smooth-shifting. That combo is EPA-rated at 24/36 miles per gallon city/highway. However, pushing the economy mode button on the dash has a marked effect on acceleration (as it should); it’s much more responsive in the standard mode. The steering is also crisp, and the handling a bit improved over the previous Forte, thanks in part to a slightly wider stance. The suspension has been revised, and the steering converted from the old hydraulic power steering to a new electric set-up. Further enhancing the steering is the EX’s Flex Steer package, which allows the driver to choose from among three settings: comfort, normal, and sport. I’m not sure that’s necessary on a car in this class, but there it is. The only complaint I had about the steering was that I thought the steering wheel was too slippery. I never felt that I had a good grip on it.

The room inside is very un-compact-like. The doors are wide for easy entry/exit; the head and leg room in both the front and back seats will make you forget you’re in a compact. A pull-down rear seat armrest contains two cupholders, and the back seat easily folds down to make the already huge trunk a cavernous space. The dash is laid out sensibly, however, the audio controls are via a touchscreen—no reaching and feeling where you are without looking to change a radio station. Happily, the HVAC controls are of the good old knob variety.

The exterior is both an evolution of the previous model, and a melding with the Forte’s cousin, the Hyundai Elantra. It’s not at all an unpleasant shape, but it’s hardly revolutionary, either.

Pricing on the test car included a few add-ons: rear bumper applique, cargo mat, carpeted floor mats, cargo net, and wheel locks, which, including delivery, brought the total to $20,590.

The base Forte LX, with its $15,900 starting price, is available in only three colors: silver, black, and tan. The interior color choices are: gray. Just gray. Henry Ford would be pleased. It also comes with a smaller 1.8-liter engine and 15-inch tires. It does have a/c, power windows and locks, and a tilt and telescoping wheel. And, other than the smaller wheels, it looks the same on the outside as the ritzier EX, so your neighbors will never suspect that you’re as thrifty as my dad was, years ago, when buying that Ford Falcon.

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

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