Kia’s Answer to the VW GTI
Okay, I need to come clean: When I first spotted the Kia Forte5 at the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press’s track day at High Plains Raceway last month, I was surprised Kia brought it to the track. But then I took it out and drove it at the limit, working its sweet-shifting 6-speed manual transmission and wrenching everything out of its 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine. Hot damn! The Forte5 was a hoot to drive and reminded me in many ways of a VW Golf GTI in both form and function. I was impressed. And after spending a week with the Kia this a month later, I was rethinking my mental hierarchy of top-5 sport hatchbacks.
Kia’s Forte5 SX with the turbo engine comes one way, spec’d to the nines with a sport-tuned suspension, power sunroof, heated and vented leather power seats, navigation. As such, base sticker price on my test vehicle came to $26,000. Add in floor mats and destination, and the final price, as tested, came to $27,020. For what you get that’s a fantastic value. The Forte5 SX’s base price is only $405 more than VW’s base model GTI with its 2.0-liter turbo-4 that puts out 9 hp and 5 mpg hwy more than the Kia. Yet the Kia is packed with more standard features and leather. OK, so the Kia’s a copycat, but it’s a very, very good copy cat.
And yes, Kia’s sibling brand, Hyundai, offers its own version of this hot hatch, the 2018 Elantra GT Sport. You can check out TLF’s Nathan Adlen’s video review of the Elantra GT Sport with the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The same 7-speed dual clutch you can get in the Forte5. And by the way: Opting for the DCT boosts EPA fuel economy by 3 mpg for city/hwy/combined.
On the track, the Forte5 feels light and lively as opposed to stiff and firm. The small turbo puts out 201-hp at 6,000 RPM and 195 lb-ft. torque starting at 1,500 RPM. The engine is well matched to the suspension and 18-inch wheels shorn with P225/40R18 rubber. There’s enough power to have fun flinging the hatchback into corners, but not enough to push it beyond its capabilities (unless you really tried. I didn’t). Compared to the VW GTI Mark 7 with a dual-clutch transmission that was also at the track, the Kia had more body-roll and was slower over all. But working the Forte5 SX at 4,500-6,000 rpms via its 6-speed manual’s short throws left me grinning on every lap.
Out on the street the Kia’s turbo is equally as enjoyable, turning every on-ramp and hard right turn into a minor-league thrill. There’s enough juice here to make the front tires on the FWD hatch squeak on 0-60 take offs. The car’s character fairly begs you to dive and juke through traffic. And I gave in and did. The only downside to the manual is that I was aware of having to shift up and down much more than I was used to in order to keep the Forte5’s 1.6-liter engine squarely in its happy place with snappy power on demand.
The electric steering and the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with its squared-off bottom is up to the task, and I’ll leave it at that.
Even driving the Forte5 hard over 222 miles of urban and suburban city driving, I notched 26.8 mpg according to the vehicle’s trip computer. EPA estimates for the car are 23 city/29 hwy/25 combined. Bonus: the Forte5 makes do with 87 octane gas.
COMFORT & CONVENIENCE
The interior of the Kia is jazzed up with red accents on the seats and dash, but for the most part it’s all black. The bucket seats up front aren’t as aggressively bolstered as a VW GTI’s and on the track, I noticed the absence of support. I found myself gripping the steering wheel tighter to hold my body in place on high-speed turns. But around town they do just fine. In fact, the Kia’s seats are much easier to get in and out of than the GTI’s. And the venting feature in the Kia’s front seats was a welcome addition at this price point.
Rear seat room is adequate, but I found the Forte5’s overall cargo room with the seats down impressive. By comparison, the Forte5 has roughly 10 cu. ft. more room than the GTI. That’s more space for dogs, gear, or even track tires. The rear cargo area in particular has a simple but clever storage management idea, the floor covering folds back on either side to uncover a tray slotted around the spare tire that easily holds a bag of groceries or case of beer in place so it doesn’t slide all over the place.
One nitpick: When I turned off the vehicle, the driver’s seat automatically moved all the way to the rear for easier egress. But to move the seat forward again when I got back in, I figured out, after almost a week, that I had to depress the start button, then wait for the seat to move forward far enough to give me enough leverage to depress the clutch and then start the engine. I’m 6’2″ tall. I can’t imagine how long it’d take a much smaller person to return the seat to a viable position to start the car. Quick getaways aren’t happening.
TFLCAR’s TAKE: The Kia Forte5 SX may be the relatively new turbo hot hatch on the block, but its value and performance can’t be dismissed. It checks off nearly all the boxes that go into today’s best hot hatches. But then factor in Kia’s crazy great warranty — 5 year/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 year/100,000 powertrain warranty — and it becomes the rational choice.