Meet the New Kia K3: You and I Will Probably See It as the New Rio

A new Forte isn't confirmed here yet, but it's built in Mexico'll probably happen

(Images: Kia Motors)

Kia is revamping much of its lineup, including the compact K3 sedan.

Both Kia and Hyundai tend to reveal their new designs in South Korea first, and we have another example Wednesday with the new K3. Now, we more readily recognize this model as the Forte, so that’s how we’ll experience this car if (and probably when) it makes its debut for the North American market.

South Korean naming aside, the K3 is currently manufactured at Kia’s manufacturing facility in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. The styling for this updated model leans heavily on the K5 (formerly the Optima here in the U.S.), from the more pronounced Tiger Nose front end to the slimmer headlights and running light design. Like Kia’s other recent overhauls, designers are going in a much bolder direction here. To that end, you’ll definitely be able to tell this car apart from other everyday, common compact offerings like, say, the Toyota Corolla or Nissan Sentra.

The story takes an interesting turn here, though, as the new K3 actually occupies a different market segment than the old one. While the previous K3 an overseas analog to the Forte (and also known as a Cerato), this new model is more or less a successor to the fourth-generation Rio, which sits a segment down. (Update: An earlier version of the story missed that change and incorrectly referred to the new K3 as a likely contender for a new Forte. That does not seem to be the case.)

Fastback-like design, updated interior

One remarkably common trope with these new sedans is the fastback-like shape to make it look less, well, snooze-inducing. Add to that the full-width LED lights, punched-out trunk lid and similar greenhouse profile, and the new Kia K3 really does look like a scaled-down K5, as you may well expect. One key difference between the two is that the chrome brightwork follows the beltline and curves upward on the K3, instead of it following the roofline like it does on the K5.

While the car has a reasonably short front overhang, that sloping roof design does leave the car with what looks like a particularly long rear overhang. To my eye, the wheels on the production version also look a bit too small (at least compared to the design sketches), but you may feel differently about that if you aren’t a fan of mega-huge wheels.

Inside, the new Kia K3/Forte sports a cleaner look to the old Forte. The car adopts a digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch infotainment screen (at least on some models). In short, it looks fairly similar to the Niro, though the center stack controls appear to be a bit more basic this time around. The K3 also gets a two-spoke steering wheel like the EV6 and the Niro, which is actually pretty useful if you like cruising with your hand on the bottom edge of the wheel. With this design, at least you don’t have to worry about the bottom spoke getting in the way.

Technical specs are thin on the ground, at least for now

As is usually the case with these design reveals, there’s not too much in the way of firm specs on the new Kia K3 right now. The automaker did say the base-engine for some global markets would be a 1.6-liter engine with 121 horsepower. That will come with either a 6-speed manual or an automatic transmission. Above that, K3 GT-Line buyers can get either a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated unit with 150 horsepower or an “expert-oriented” 1.4-liter engine, though Kia did not shed any information on that last one.

In the Rio we know here in the U.S., we only see the 1.6-liter Gamma II engine with about 120 horsepower. It’s likely that will continue if we get the next-generation model, but no details have emerged for an American market version at time of writing.

We should know more about potential U.S. availability and features in the coming months. The new Kia K3 will launch in South Korea first (again, as these launches tend to go), followed by other markets. If we do see it land here in North America — difficult to see why they wouldn’t, since they just have to ship it across the U.S./Mexico border — it’ll probably be early next year.

Correction 8/16/2023: An earlier version of this post erroneously referred to the Kia K3 as the new Forte, were it to come to our market. The Kia K3 used to be the overseas version of what we know as the Forte, but this latest-generation K3 is actually a subcompact model, and as such would replace the Rio. I deeply apologize for the error in missing that research in originally reporting the story.