Test Drive: New Kia Forte packs a wallop

Redesigned for 2017, the Kia Forte is a mainstream economy car, well equipped and nicely priced at less than $17,000. Throw in an additional $10,000 or so, and it’s still a Forte, but it’s a completely different package — a compact near-luxury sedan or hatchback that packs a 201-horsepower wallop. The Forte may occupy the space between the subcompact Rio and midsize Optima, but it covers a lot of ground — in terms of refinement, standard and optional equipment, and performance.

2017 Forte5 SX

Always stylish, from the moment it was introduced to the U.S. market during the 2008 model year, the Forte now offers the versatility of a sedan or hatchback body, and a list of luxury, technological and performance features that set it apart from most competitors. (The 2-door Forte Koup has been discontinued.) Starting at $16,800, the base 2018 Forte LX sedan comes with a 147-horsepower inline 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius-XM radio, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, and Bluetooth wireless technology with hands-free connectivity.

But Kia laid it on much thicker in our Deep Sea Blue test car, a 2017 Forte SX 5-door hatchback. Its standard features included the turbocharged 1.6-liter, 201-horsepower Four, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats and leather upholstery. A $3,800 option package added dual-zone climate control with rear vents, navigation system, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, ventilated front seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and power sunroof. The bottom line: $28,420.

We gave our Forte a pretty good workout, driving it from western and central Connecticut to White Plains and Nanuet, N.Y. This time of year, the roads can be pretty nasty, and we slammed into a pothole or two, as well as innumerable frost heaves and uneven sections of pavement. The Forte held its course well through every impact, but the suspension kicked the car’s occupants fairly hard at times. On smooth pavement, the ride was firm, but comfortable and composed.

2017 Forte5 SX

Although its dimensions are small, the Forte accommodates drivers and passengers well. Our 6-foot driver had ample leg room, and there was room for medium-sized adults in the back seat. With the rear seat upright, the Forte has about 23 cubic feet of space, and 56 cubic feet with the seat lowered.

The quiet, powerful engine motivated the Forte briskly in most situations, though the dual-clutch transmission wasn’t always in a cooperative mood. In our experience, conventional automatic gearboxes and stick-shift transmissions are almost always preferable, from a performance standpoint, to dual-clutch units. We figure this high-powered Forte would be a fun ride with the available 6-speed standard shifter.

The Forte’s fuel tank is small — just 13.2 gallons — but highway fuel economy is a respectable 30 mpg, giving the car a maximum cruising range of about 400 miles. We surpassed 32 mpg on some of our highway runs.

The 2017 Forte was rated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

2017 Forte5 SX

2017 Kia Forte SX 5-door

Price: $28,420

Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged Four, 201 horsepower, 195 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Weight: 2,976 lb.

Suspension: four-wheel independent

Wheels: 18-inch alloy (optional)

Tires: 225/40R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 23.2 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 56.4 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons

Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.