Kia introduced its new Forte sedan in 2009, re-establishing the company as a player in the compact-car segment with an affordable alternative to the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
The Koup aims to do the same versus other two-doors, but unlike its four-door counterpart, there isn't as much value in this new model. The Koup has a lot going for it, especially its attractive styling and gutsy engine in higher trim levels, but it doesn't beat the competition on price. Will buyers still take a chance on Kia?
The best thing Kia has done with the Koup is embrace a design philosophy that isn't boring. Despite a hood and front end that resemble the Civic, the rest of the car's design looks familiar, yet daring. The grille and headlights are the same ones found on the sedan and are making their way across Kia's lineup. In profile, there are even elements that reminded me of Chevy's new Camaro.
The back really makes a statement, with dynamic taillights and a black lower air diffuser that create what could easily be the most aggressive look in the class.
The SX trim level I tested comes only with an all-black interior, which makes it seem more like a sports car, as well as hides some of the cheaper materials found inside. The EX comes only with a tan interior, called Stone.
Piano-black plastic runs down the center of the dash and over the stereo and climate controls, which definitely adds some flair.
Most of the controls and buttons show the strides Kia has made in refinement.
My SX model had upgraded leather seats, which were comfortable despite being a bit firm. Overall, the interior doesn't feel roomy despite decent legroom and headroom specs and a height-adjustable seat. Nearly every editor who tested it complained about the cramped confines. At 5-foot-10, I didn't feel like I needed more space, but the cabin generally felt small. Taller editors did complain, however; if you're 6-foot or taller, this might be a make-or-break attribute.
Compared with the front, the backseat was surprisingly roomy for a coupe, and a few passengers commented positively on the headroom and legroom back there. I fit a convertible child-safety seat behind the driver's seat fairly easily, although getting my son in and out wasn't a snap. Families, of course, aren't the target market for this or any coupe.
Generally, when you get an economy car you don't expect much in the driving-thrills department, but the upgraded 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the SX is quite capable. A 156-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard in the base EX, which I've tested in sedan form. Our test car had a six-speed manual transmission that was terrific when accelerating quickly through the gears. I took a curving highway onramp with conviction, and the Kia showed no signs of cut-rate handling. The steering was one of the car's better attributes, and for the most part it was a joy to drive. The ride was somewhat rough, but that was likely due to the sporting nature of the trim level's more taught suspension setup and larger 17-inch wheels.
The only car in this class I can compare the Koup to in terms of overall acceleration and handling is the Mazda3, which comes as a four-door hatchback and sedan. The Civic coupe just isn't as performance-oriented, unless you get the more expensive Si model.
There was one big problem with this setup, however: I kept stalling the darn engine. First gear didn't engage until high in the release of the clutch, and during my entire week with the car I never got used to it. It was very hard to start in 2nd gear, too, or even to slowly ease a roll into 2nd in bumper-to-bumper traffic without stalling.
At least two of our other editors also admitted to stalling the Koup, and one who didn't thanked me for the warning.
Mileage is rated at 25/34 mpg city/highway for the EX with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, 22/32 mpg for the SX with a six-speed manual and 23/31 mpg for the SX with a five-speed automatic. That makes it competitive with the Civic and Ford Focus two-doors.
I put nearly 300 miles on my test car in mostly heavy traffic and returned an average of 26 mpg calculated from a gas fill-up.
The Forte Koup starts at $16,595, which puts it within hundreds of dollars of its competition. Kia does, however, offer a lot of standard features at that price, including 16-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo, a USB interface and iPod connectivity, cruise control and, surprisingly, Bluetooth for hands-free calling.
Moving up to the higher-powered SX costs an additional $1,100, starting at $17,695 and adding the more powerful engine, 17-inch wheels, a trip computer, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, fog lights and a sport-tuned suspension.
Leather seats are optional on either trim for $1,000, as is a power moonroof for $700. My SX had those two options and rang in at $20,090. Not a cheap ride by any means.
The Forte Koup does not come up short in the safety department. It features all the standard airbags, along with seat-mounted side airbags and active head restraints for front passengers. Stability control is also standard. At this time, the Forte Koup has not been crash-tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Forte Koup in the Market
It's strange to type a sentence extolling the looks and performance of a Kia — rather than praising it as a value statement — but that seems to be the best way to sum up the Forte Koup. The price is within spitting distance of the competition, but it's just not priced so low that the MSRP alone will bring people into the showroom. Maybe that's why Kia made it look so good.
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