Test Drive: 2017 Kia Forte5 SX

Photos by Stephanie Wallcraft and Jeff Wilson

In many ways, the 2017 Kia Forte5 SX can be considered the underdog.

A few of its features are unusual finds in hatchbacks at all – hello, heated rear seats.

It comes from a brand that is sometimes overlooked by car shoppers despite a huge uptick in the breadth and quality of its offerings in recent years. Plus, Canadians have been trading their traditional favourite small cars lately in favour of SUVs.

I’ve always kind of enjoyed cheering for underdogs when they’ve got a legitimate shot, which I suppose is why I find myself enjoying this car quite a lot.

Granted, it’s relatively expensive. This is the top-priced car in the Forte5 model range coming in at just shy of $30,000, which is $10,000 higher than the base model and a higher top-out point than most vehicles in its class.

But when you delve into it, there’s an enormous amount of value in this car and this trim. In fact, a few of its features are unusual finds in hatchbacks at all – hello, heated rear seats.

The SX trim comes with a few elements that are exclusive within the Forte5 range such as a unique lower front fascia design with rounded fog lights and a sporty red accent, xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, LED light bar taillights, a rear spoiler, and 18-inch alloy wheels. It straight-up looks ready for action. When I had it beside a selection of its competitors, I found it to be among the most attractive.

It also has an exclusive powertrain. Rather than the standard 2.0L I4 and its 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, the SX trim comes with Kia’s 1.6L turbo I4 that’s good for 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque that’s accessible from 1,500 to 4,500 rpm. (That’s just a few ticks shy of a Volkswagen Golf GTI’s 210 hp for roughly $5,000 less.) It’s also the only way to get the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Together, this combination is great fun.

The engine sounds uppity, shifts are nice and sharp, and once it slips into second gear and hits that optimal rev band everything under the hood gets really happy. Even the most mundane launch will put a smile on your face.

That said, though, the power naturally requires some trade-off at the pumps. This setup’s 9.4 L/100 km city rating and 7.9 highway is on the high side for the segment, which is a factor that contributed to the Forte5 finishing fourth in autoTRADER.ca’s recent compact hatch comparison test (though I personally ranked it higher).

The suspension features McPherson struts on the front and a coupled torsion beam axle in the rear for its front-wheel drive configuration across the entire line-up. The SX is sprung a little more tightly, though, to add to the performance character – which is nice on the autocross course, but it does make for a somewhat teeth-rattling ride quality on urban streets.

It’s when you climb inside that the value for the money really shines through. On top of the aforementioned heated rear seats you’ll find heated and ventilated front seats with the driver’s seat being adjustable 10 ways and including a memory function, a heated sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, leather upholstery, alloy sport pedals, a power sunroof. And the quality on all of it is high.

Where does it not quite measure up? Its soundproofing could use a boost. The hatch window is relatively small, which makes rearward visibility not quite up to its competition. And my tall-torsoed and short-limbed self doesn’t fit into the driver’s seat especially well; my head touches the roof, which doesn’t exactly combine well with that rough ride.

The infotainment system in this car adds in a few more plusses, though. Kia’s smaller-screened systems have a more user-friendly button layout than the larger ones like the one I complained about in the Sorento, and this one also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. (The Android Auto website says that functionality is coming soon to the Forte5, but the Kia Canada website says it’s already available across the board. I used it myself, so it’s there.)

On the safety side, the SX trim is the only Forte5 that offers lane-keep assist, and it also includes the blind-spot detection system that can also be found in the EX Luxury package as well as the standard rear-view camera. That’s where the bells and whistles end, though that covers most of what consumers ask for most. If you’re concerned with things like forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, or 911 assist, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

So, no, the 2017 Forte5 SX is not perfect. But even as I bumped my head for the tenth time and asked my daughter to repeat her questions again from the back seat, I couldn’t help but find myself cheering for it.

In a world full of ho-hum yet practical cars, this one unapologetically delivers a great time. Long live the fun-makers.

2017 Kia Forte5 SX
Engine Displacement: 1.6L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 201 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque: 195 lb-ft @ 1,500–4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 9.4/7.9/8.7 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 657 L
2017 Kia Forte5 SX
Base Price $29,895
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,560
Price as Tested $31,755
Optional Equipment $200 – Colour $200
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.9
8 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
7 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
8 Value