When Kia unveiled the Forte Koup a couple hours ago amid a sea of luxury fluff, questionable designs and face-lifted-for-2010 models at the New York auto show, it was the first car to leave me impressed and without reservations. Kia has thus far avoided this year’s industry-wide sales collapse, and the Forte coupe is proof positive that the brand with kitschy press conferences and stupid-inexpensive cars has what it takes to weather this downturn.
The Forte coupe looks very similar to the Koup concept on display at last year’s New York show, right down to the rear air diffuser and radically cut wheels. Other cars at this show — seen the Subaru Legacy? — look designed by committee. The Forte coupe has clean, assertive sheet metal that's free of clutter from any angle. The vertical fog lights and piano-black grille, which are unique to the coupe, look sharp. So do the headlights, though they’re somewhat derivative of the Civic coupe’s. The car is well proportioned, too — no ungainly overhangs or oversized trunks. The Forte sedan looks sharp enough, but the coupe is alluring.
The show car’s cabin was closed off, but apart from sportier front seats it doesn't appear to be much different from the Forte sedan. That means overall quality should be good but not quite class-leading. I chatted with product manager Fred Aikens, and value looks to be solid, too: Even the base EX trim comes well-equipped on both the safety and convenience fronts. If Kia can undercut similarly equipped versions of the Civic coupe — its LX and EX run $17,255 and $19,305, respectively — the Forte Koup could present some serious competition.