We drove the 173-horsepower 2.4-liter Forte SX with five-speed automatic and the 156-horsepower 2.0-liter Forte EX with five-speed manual.
The Forte EX gets an EPA-estimated 25/34 mpg City/Highway with either the manual transmission or four-speed automatic, compared to the 23/31 mpg of the 2.4-liter Forte SX with the five-speed automatic. Given the performance difference, fuel mileage and lower base price by $1400 would be the only reason to choose the EX. And, considering there are many other worthwhile SX features, the loss of meat is not worth the savings. In other words, we'd spring for the SX.
However there might be an exception. There is a Fuel Economy Package with the EX, including five-speed automatic, electric power steering, a smart alternator, silica tires for low rolling resistance, and an aerodynamic kit that costs $1600, making an Eco EX about the same price as a sporty SX, but it raises the fuel mileage to 27/36 mpg. So if fuel economy is your priority, this is the best choice.
Kia's 2.4-liter engine can't match the reputation of the Mitsubishi 2.4-liter that powers not only the Lancer, but also many Chrysler products, from Jeep Patriot to PT Cruiser. The SX makes a fine 173 horsepower, and its 168 pound-feet peaks at 4000 rpm. It's fun to work the transmission to use the power; the Sportmatic manual mode in the five-speed automatic makes shifting easy.
Forte is a brand-new car and it uses a new ground-up chassis, caging 63 percent of the cabin with high-strength steel, plus ultra high-strength steel in the side sills. This increases rigidity and improves handling. The Forte replaces the Kia Spectra and there's like no comparison in the chassis feel, if not overall quality.
Front suspension is your basic MacPherson strut with coil springs, while in the rear there's nothing fancy, a torsion beam axle again with coil springs. The SX front brakes use 11.8-inch vented discs, and the rears 10.3-inch solid discs, employing an anti-lock brake system with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Plenty big and responsive for a car of this weight, we can say after using them hard through a twisty section. EX brakes are the same, but with 11.0-inch front discs.
The Forte is quite nimble and fun to drive, with power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and a very tight turning circle. It displays no bad habits as long as you don't ask it to do outlandish cornering things. Among the compact sedans we named in the opening Overview, we'd say the Forte feels most like the Mitsubishi Lancer. The long wheelbase and wide stance are felt in the ride and cornering. Maybe especially the ride, satisfactory on every surface we drove the SX. Firm but not harsh. The SX comes with firmer springs and shocks and a larger front anti-roll bar, which is another reason it's a great value for just $1400 more than the EX.
For real sport-driving excitement, watch for the Forte Koup (as in coupe), coming soon.
We tested the Forte right after the all-new Subaru Legacy, and it might not be fair to compare the two because they're in a different class, but we can say that the Forte did not feel as solid as the Legacy. It felt lighter, if not tinnier. And it is lighter, by about 500 pounds, tipping the scales at a lithe 2868 pounds. And that's our SX; the EX is 150 pounds lighter than that.