2018 Kia Forte5 SX
“Kia’s Forte5 SX is a great value commuter car with a sporty side.”
Powerful turbo engine
Loaded with luxury features
Large luggage space
Unrefined automatic transmission
Weak audio system
It looks so-so
Kia, which has blossomed into a well-rounded brand that doesn’t just make economy cars, has recently shifted its focus to making sports cars. While the BMW-fighting Stinger takes center stage, there’s a more affordable option further down the line that’s sporty on a budget – the 2018 Kia Forte5 SX.
Kia has offered the Forte5, a hatchback version of its regular Forte, since 2011. The more powerful SX trim has always been available, but the model is now sportier than ever. You could even call it a hot hatch, a category epitomized by cars like Ford’s Fiesta ST.
But unlike other heavily reworked hot hatches as standard, aside from its more pedestrian siblings, you’ll need a keen eye to spot the sporty details of the Forte5 SX. Aside from the 18-inch wheels, dual exhaust tips, red accents, round fog lights and a slightly larger front air intake, the Forte5 SX doesn’t flaunt its athleticism.
The real changes are lurking under the skin. These include a powerful turbocharged engine, a redesigned chassis, stiffer suspension components and a quick 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. It may be the sportiest Forte5 model in the lineup, but Kia still hasn’t forgotten what made its vehicles so popular: value. So the SX trim comes with almost every feature you could ever want in a car, including some high-tech ones not offered on others in the segment.
On paper, it has specs and features that resemble those of the hot hatch.
We tested the flagship model priced at $28,395, making it the most expensive Forte5 in the lineup. It’s a far cry from the base, which starts at a more modest $19,195. The automaker offers the Forte5 in two other trims – LX and EX – but these are more about getting from point A to point B.
Interior and tech
Our top-of-the-line test car came with the optional SX Premium Technology Package ($3,600) which brings plenty of goodies, including leather sport seats with orange stitching, a flat leather steering wheel and aluminum pedals. Comfortable seats provide good support when the mood for energetic driving strikes.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen on the center console includes compatibility with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, both of which are must-haves for any new car. A 4.2-inch LCD screen sits between the gauges, providing driver information in an easy-to-read layout. Navigation, auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert and HID headlights are also included in the package.
While Kia has consistently worked on its infotainment system, the unit found in the Forte5 SX is still a bit confusing to use. For example, it completely prevents you from using navigation while the car is in motion. Fortunately, it’s easy to get your smartphone to handle all the infotainment duties: just plug it into the USB port conveniently located under the center console.
Despite being Kia’s more affordable model, the cabin of the Forte5 SX is a nice place to spend a lot of time.
Despite being one of Kia’s more affordable models, the cabin of the Forte5 SX is a nice place to spend a lot of time. You get dual-zone automatic climate control, a power sunroof and ventilated seats on top of the standard heated seats — all of which are included in the tech package. The only thing missing in the package, and in the car itself, is a decent audio system. We’d like to see a Harman/Kardon sound system as an option or as part of the available technology package, as the standard six-speaker system is subpar at best.
Due to its hatchback body style, the Forte5 SX boasts an airy cabin, even for five full-size passengers. The car’s available cargo capacity is also impressive. There is 23.2 cubic feet of available cargo space with the rear seats in place, while that number increases to a total of 56.4 cubic feet with the seats folded down. That last figure rivals some compact crossovers.
While the rest of the Forte5 lineup makes do with a 164-horsepower 2.0-liter 4, the SX trim gets a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 that makes 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are on par with other sports hatchbacks, but the numbers tell only half the story.
There are two transmission choices for the 2018 Forte5 SX, including a 6-speed manual and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. A quick 7-speed gearbox joined the Forte5 SX’s feature list last year and helps give the vehicle street cred in the hot-hatch segment.
Our tester came with a dual-clutch transmission, which does a great job of providing quick and smooth upshifts and downshifts at high speeds, but struggles at lower speeds. Stepping on the throttle from standstill leaves the transmission in a quandary, offering a bit of squirm to begin with, then suddenly allowing the engine to let up all of a sudden. This makes it difficult to get out of a jam.
The transmission also had problems with reverse, sometimes thrashing around like a wild horse, and other times it didn’t provide any power at all. Trying to parallel park was a hassle, as the engine offers a bit of its power and then takes it back a second later.
At higher speeds and higher gears, the problems with the gearbox disappear. It may not be the fastest dual-clutch on the market, but it changes gears faster than having to shift gears yourself and, thanks to the paddle shifters on the handlebars, it’s fun to use. The transmission will also hold the gears for you, making it a willing companion on a windy road.
The SX is not a popular hatchback, but it is a comfortable and sporty hatchback that has everything you could want.
Speaking of curved asphalt, the Forte5 SX really impresses in turns. Its powerful engine blasts it out of corners, while the learned suspension and rigid chassis keep body roll to a minimum. Poor steering feel prevents it from being as sharp as a Ford Fiesta ST or Volkswagen Golf GTI, but the rest of the vehicle isn’t far behind.
Where the SX shines above the competition is everyday situations. The ride was never harsh, the cabin is quiet and the powertrain offers more than enough grunt to get by on the highway. The SX isn’t a true hatchback – rivals like the Focus RS beat it by 150bhp – but it’s a comfortable and sporty hatchback that has everything you could want.
When not in front-wheel drive, the Forte5 SX has an EPA rating of 27 mpg combined (25 mpg city and 30 mpg highway). In our testing, our SX got 32 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in the city, which is great for its ratings.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety does not have crash test results for the Forte5. However, the four-door is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Forte5 a five-star rating in the side crash test and a four-star rating in the rollover test.
The SX is backed by Kia’s comprehensive warranty. There’s a 5-year, 60,000-mile New Car Warranty, as well as a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. The anti-perforation warranty (which covers deep rust) and the roadside assistance plan last as long as a new car warranty.
How would DT configure this car
If performance is what you’re looking for in the Forte5, the choice is simple: Choose the SX. While we didn’t test the regular Forte5 with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the punch of the turbocharged 1.6-liter engine is worth noting. Drivers who enjoy finding a good weekend release road will enjoy the sport-tuned suspension, sport steering, sport seats, aluminum pedals and shift paddles that are part of the car’s standard features.
Unless you’re a city dweller or encounter stop-and-go traffic on a daily basis, we’d go for the 6-speed manual transmission. It shouldn’t have the problems we encountered and should make the hatchback more attractive to drive. Although expensive, the SX Premium technology package is also worth the extra money.
The Forte5 SX cannot be a hot hatch. It doesn’t have the same playful nature or muscular look of proven competitors like the Fiesta ST or Volkswagen Golf GTI. The main advantage of the hot hatchback is its ability to put a smile on your face. While it’s fun and engaging, the Forte5 SX just isn’t as comfortable as its bolder peers on a good road.
However, this does not mean that the car is bad. In the real world, the Forte5 SX isn’t that far off in terms of performance. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t require compromises of interior space and features for a sportier ride. It’s fun when you want it to be, quiet and comfortable when you just want to get from one place to another. This makes it a worthy addition to anyone’s shopping list for an economical car with a bit of personality.