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Larry Printz: The 2018 Kia Forte SX is the enthusiastic understudy of hot hatches

Larry Printz, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

Now you may wonder how the competition stacks up; and that's a good question.

All have six-speed automatics and approximately 200 horsepower, but there are differences. The Honda Civic Si sedan costs $300 more and has 205 horsepower, but if you'd rather not shift for yourself, you must settle for a continuously variable automatic transmission – and there's nothing sporting about that. The Mazda3's larger 2.5-liter engine makes do with a mere 184 horsepower, while the Ford Focus ST has 252 horsepower, but doesn't offer an automatic transmission option for the shiftless. The original hot hatch, the Volkswagen Golf GTI, costs $1,795 more, has 210 horsepower, a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, but requires premium fuel. But the GTI performance abilities maintains its title as the king of the hill, with the sort of options that only make a great car outstanding. By comparison, the Forte5 SX is at best an enthusiastic understudy. It's good, but not as convincing as the star of the show.

The engine's turbo lag is evident, particularly when operating in the comfort driving mode. Switching to the sport mode makes it much less noticeable, as does shifting the transmission manually, but it's ever present. Transmission behavior is exceptional. There's plenty of power, especially given that it returned 26 mpg in mixed driving. All Forte5s use regular unleaded fuel.

Ride is comfort is impressive for a compact, yet it's firm enough to make the proceedings fun. The steering could be sharper, and its feel robs the Forte5 of some its fun factor. Body lean is fairly well controlled, although the suspension set up reveals the tires' limitations as understeer begins to set in. Most likely you won't notice unless pushing the car to extremes. Road noise is minimal.

Opting for the SX nets some exterior upgrades, including unique front and rear fascias, and dual chrome exhaust tips. Unlike some hot hatches, the SX doesn't overdress for the occasion, with a visual flair that's sporty, yet tasteful and decidedly European in outlook.

That sense of sporting restraint can be found inside, where red accents enliven the black trimmed cabin. Better yet, despite the many features this car offers, the controls are simply designed, proving easy to understand operate.

The test car had the $3,600 SX Premium Technology package, which transformed this mainstream hatchback into a premium commodity by adding 10-way power adjustable driver's seat with two memory presets, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, dual-zone automatic temperature control with rear vents, power sunroof, UVO infotainment system, SiriusXM Traffic, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration and ventilated front seats. That said, carpeted floor mats cost an extra $125. Standard goodies include leather seats, heated front seats, push-button start with Smart Key, and perimeter approach lighting, LED taillights, UVO infotainment system with 7-inch color touchscreen.

And let's not forget that the car is covered by a 5 year/60,000 mile basic warranty and roadside assistance, while the powertrain is covered for 10 years/100,000 miles.

But the Forte5's basic design is so good you might find it hard to improve upon, much like a paper clip. You might even be tempted to nickname it Gem.

STATS

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