2010 Kia Forte Up Close

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The Kia Forte will replace the automaker’s Spectra when it hits dealerships this summer, and it makes a break from the Spectra’s soft styling with creased body lines and angular headlights and taillights. Similarities between the Honda Civic coupe in the Forte’s grille styling and the Mitsubishi Lancer in its taillights are immediately apparent. Overall, the Forte is a pretty athletic-looking small sedan.

Cabin materials quality is good, but it doesn’t move the bar for the compact car class. It’s slightly better than the Corolla but not up to the Civic. Uplevel trims have nice steering-wheel controls for the audio system and a tilt/telescoping steering column that lets you put the wheel just where you want it. The knobs for the audio system move nicely, but the air-conditioning knobs aren’t as crisp. I checked out a model that had leather seats, and cushioning for the front seats is pretty firm.

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The Forte doesn’t look overly large from the outside, but its backseat feels like one of the larger ones in the compact segment. With the front seat adjusted for my 6-foot-1 frame, I still had sufficient legroom when sitting in the back and didn’t have to sit with my legs to either side. Backseat cushioning is softer than in front, and the backrest is reclined at a comfortable angle.

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The Forte’s trunk measures 14.7 cubic feet, which is larger than competitors like the Civic and Ford Focus. The release levers for the 60/40-split backseat are in the trunk; when folded, the backs of the seats aren’t flat with the cargo floor — there’s a ledge that’s about 4 inches tall, which could make it harder to load longer items.

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Taking on top-selling models like the Civic and Corolla is a tall task, but the Forte gets the basics right by offering good mileage and plenty of standard safety and convenience features. If the Forte hits dealerships with Spectra-like pricing — around $14,000 to start — it’ll be an appealing alternative to the small-car establishment.

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Mike Hanley has more than 20 years of experience reporting on the auto industry. His primary focus is new vehicles, and he's currently a Senior Road Test Editor overseeing expert car reviews and comparison tests. He previously managed Editorial content in the Research section. Email Mike Hanley

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