We have to discuss this quietly. Nobody must know. Kia has a hatch made for drivers that really like to drive. Let’s keep it a secret, k?
The 2017 Kia Forte5 looks, at first, like just another innocuous hatchback. Yeah, it has five doors, front-wheel-drive and a little engine under the hood. But there’s more: much, much more. The first clue is a red horizontal bar across the front grille. A second hint is the pair of large exhausts nearly covered by aerodynamic additives at the rear. A third is the bicolor black-red interior that wants so badly to scream “Drive me fast now!”. And then there’s the gearbox…
This Kia Forte5 SX has a stickshift, three pedals with which to help propel its 1.6-liter inline, turbocharged and directly-injected all-aluminum 4-cylinder engine to 201 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 195 lb-ft of torque between 1,500-4,500 rpm; 6,500 is the engine’s redline. The six-speed manual gearbox’s nicely weighted clutch and well-selected gears allow the Forte5 to cruise quietly at 3,400 when hitting 80mph (hey, I nearly got run over at that speed).
Good chassis dynamics with sport-tuned McPherson struts and coupled torsion beam axle suspensions, together with a well-insulated cabin keep the noise level down. Ventilated and solid disc brakes do an optimal job of hauling this 3058-pound hatch to a quick stop and rack-and-pinion steering is very precise, even with an electric motor assist. I’d prefer quicker ratios for the steering since this Kia does have sporting tendencies. It’s got a good 34.8-foot turning circle for a front-wheel-driven hatch and very little overhang with its 106.3-in wheelbase and 171.3-in overall length. Nexen 225/40R all-season tires are mounted twinned, five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels on the 2017 Kia Forte5 SX.
Phantom gray is an excellent color for those that wish to remain anonymous on a long trip; this Kia and I endured one another for 1,095.6 miles in a single week, going from Orange County, Calif. to Tulare in the central valley our first night, on to Martinez in San Francisco’s East Bay a second, to Novato and Sonoma Raceway for a weekend of Indy car competition, then back to Long Beach on US101. It was the series’ season finale and, with this rich gray color, it was easy to zip in and out of traffic without being noticed, although several other drivers did pull up on CA99 to check us out.
As this is a front-wheel-drive hatch with good power to weight balance, the Kia Forte5 does have a tendency to chirp the tires at takeoff and occasionally has a bit of torque steer, although it’s not a trend that wrenches the steering wheel from one’s hand. Power from stop is more than acceptable and cornering on country roads makes anyone feel accomplished behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel, one that holds audio and phone on the left, cruise and info systems to the right.
The 2017 Kia Forte5 SX cabin is quite businesslike and easy on the eyes, with the red-rimmed sport seats that are both comfortable and supportive for this long trip and black headliner. The driver has full 10-way power seating with two memories; passenger has manual adjustments. A central full-color, sharp 7-inch display canted to the driver holds the navigation system and audio screens, with climate control below. At the base is covered storage that has a pair of 12-volt plugs, single USB and auxiliary. Its flooring keeps the phone in place when being charged.
Surrounding the gearshift lever are controls for the heated and cooled seats – both work great – and behind that is an uncovered storage area and dual cupholders. There’s a central armrest (too far back for me) that has a small opening for odds and ends. There is ventilation for rear passengers, who have cup holders in the pull-down armrest as well as all four doors. As expected there is a 60/40 fold to the back seats that increases the 23.2 cubic feet of space to a good 56.4 cubes when folded.
The hatch area is extremely well-appointed and has little side indents perfect for holding small items of value (they collected some toiletries that fell out of bags during heavy cornering). No spare tire but there’s a “mending kit” below the floor, which has tethers throughout to keep things in place.
Let’s talk cost: this 2017 Kia Forte5 SX is considered top of the line and has a list price, with the single option of floor mats $125) of $27,020. Navigation is included, keyless entry and pushbutton start are standard, one-touch (quiet when open) sunroof is included, XMSirius radio with three months gratis, well-ventilated leather seating is part of the long list of amenities like HID headlights, LED tail lamps and turn signals, fog lights and lovely door-handle courtesy lights, non-skid, rubber-tipped aluminum pedals for this made-in-Mexico hatch.
While this vehicle does have antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control, rear camera, vehicle stability management, hill-start assist and tire-pressure monitoring, it’s significant for what it doesn’t have on either the standard safety listing or as options: there’s no blind-spot monitoring, no lane departure warning/mitigation and none of pre-collision warnings or radar cruise control that are so ubiquitous on most cars today. As a driver, I appreciate the fact that Kia expects me to drive the Forte5, not have it be my big brother.
By the same token, while I truly enjoyed the cruise control with its easily ratcheted changes, I do appreciate the navigation quadrant in dash central and the uses it provides. The navigation is easily implemented and has very direct instructions to get from A to B; its screen is crisp, easy to see. On start-up the screen divides between audio and map, touching one or the other gives it a full screen view. Syncing the phone is another easy exercise and both Apple CarPlay and AndroidPlay are simple to access.
Without big brother on-board to harass me about my driving – passengers do a far better job – I was able to use Kia’s UVO infotainment system that allows voice recognition, enables roadside assist, vehicle diagnostics, a parking minder, the eServices guide and settings. It controls the nav system, the great audio sound, the display, Bluetooth settings, clock and wifi in the car. I kept the Forte5 on XMSirius stations for most of my drive and used the map’s ability to give me traffic info on the ride back to Long Beach – very helpful when traffic came to a standstill.
I can’t rave enough about the driving capabilities of this 2017 Kia Forte5 SX. While its torsion beam rear suspension is on the antiquated side, it works well in spirited cornering and the suspension itself is firm without being too stiff. Power is more than acceptable for a vehicle of this nature and amenities are just what I want, nothing I don’t need. Even fuel mileage is better than expected, with only my third tank under 30mpg average from the 13.2-gallon tank, even though Kia received Federal ratings of 23/29/25mpg. My final tank load came in over 33mpg and I was not light on the throttle.
If you’re smart enough to want three pedals, sufficiently savvy to realize this is a good way to keep your mind on your driving and don’t need all the bells and whistles inherent with an automatic transmission-equipped vehicle, this cute hatch is just the ticket. The Kia Forte5 SX would fit comfortably in my garage but please, let’s keep this our secret?
Words and photos by Anne Proffit