VICTORIA, BC – After taking a one-year hiatus for the launch of the all-new Forte sedan, the Kia Forte5 hatchback is back for 2020. Built on the bones of its redone sibling, the Forte5 gets kicked up the ladder several rungs when it comes to power, refinement, features, and general desirability.
And while the previous generation of Forte5 was available in the US, our southern neighbours are taking a pass on this 2020 model. We Canadians do appreciate our hatchbacks, and we appreciate Kia for noticing. With the outgoing Kia Forte, the hatchback accounted for about twenty-five percent of sales here, which was apparently enough for the top dogs in Canada and Korea to think it was worth the effort and expense to keep us in Kia hatches.
Longer, Lower, and Wider
The 2020 Forte5 gets marginal increases in length and width, while roofline is a bit lower. It’s a handsome, if somewhat conservative car, with fine detailing a purposeful stance.
While the Forte sedan is offered in a number of trim levels, starting with the LX trim with manual transmission; the Forte5 hatchback bows with the comprehensive EX IVT at $22,245. It is fitted with Kia’s in-house continuously variable transmission (IVT for “intelligent variable transmission”) – no manual gearbox is offered. Power comes from an Atkinson-cycle 2.0L inline-four-cylinder making 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 132 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm.
As is the general rule with Korean cars, Kia puts the boots to the competition when it comes to standard features. Notable niceties in the 2020 Forte5 EX include heated steering wheel, heated front seats, 16-inch alloys, LED taillights (but not headlights), 8-inch infotainment display, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, auto emergency braking, blind spot detection, lane-keep assist, driver attention alert, and rear cross-traffic alert.
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The 2019 Kia Forte sedan was named AJAC’s Best New Small Car, so it’s no great surprise that this 2020 hatchback version impresses with its road manners.
It wasn’t all that many years ago when driving any Korean car guaranteed a steering wheel that felt connected to… well, nothing, and ride quality that was subpar at best. That notion is resolutely kicked to the curb here. The 2020 Kia Forte5 EX, like its sister sedan that was introduced last year, is leagues ahead of its predecessor. It all starts with a much stiffer structure (up 16 percent) that features a higher percentage of high-strength steel and increased amounts of structural adhesive.
The Forte5 has excellent steering feel – naturally weighted, accurate with nary a hint of on-centre numbness. Similarly, the ride quality shows an expert blend of compliance and body control. We spent much of our day here on Victoria Island snaking along some scenic routes coastal and inland, and this slick hatch never put a foot wrong. On the highway, the Forte5 settles into a credible cruiser with little road or wind noise.
Power for the Forte5 is class-competitive, although it doesn’t have the easy mid-range torque of the Honda’s little 1.5 turbo four. Still, it’s overall a smooth operator, and Kia’s redesigned continuously variable transmission does a fine job of not acting like one. That is to say, with its eight programmed shift points, under most driving conditions you’d never know it was a CVT. The only time it really sets the engine droning is when your foot hits the floor for passing manoeuvres or highway merging.
Manual-mode shifting is available by moving the shift lever to the left and tapping forward for upshifts and back for downshifts. Response is fast enough to be engaging and a bit fun.
Kia claims this freshened 2.0L “Nu” Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine paired with the IVT nets a 17 percent gain in fuel economy over the 2018 Forte5.
Interior quality is top-shelf for this class of car. All the plastics and trim look rich, and the controls work with expensive precision. For example, Kia has engineered the normally afterthought rotary dash vents to work with a beautifully damped feel that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rolls-Royce. Similarly, the soft leather trimming the steering wheel feels like… uh, leather – not the expected unyielding processed hide.
A day in these fabric seats caused me no back issues, and jumping in the back to “sit behind myself” (I’m just under 6 feet) showed there to be sufficient legroom and headroom.
Buttons and Knobs – Bring ’Em On
I never tire of praising Kia/Hyundai/Genesis for its sensible and safe approach to ergonomics – nicely suited to those of us with opposable thumbs. All the controls are well marked and fairly high up on the dash so there’s no peering down for adjustment. Two large rotary controls for HVAC with clear illumination, thank you, and good old-fashioned volume and tuning knobs. Below the 8-inch screen is a row of large, well marked buttons. The gauge cluster in front of the driver is clearly illuminated, so no matter the glare or angle of the sun, all pertinent info is visible.
And despite all the Kia’s buttons and knobs – things that currently seem to be the scourge of the tablet-obsessed industry – the cabin looks clean and modern.
Another touch that might be too quaint for some is a key that actually has to be inserted into the ignition receptacle and twisted to start the car.
Here’s a hatchback that’s not afraid of some serious hauling. The 60/40-split rear seat easily folds forward, offering 1,335 litres of total cargo volume. This is made all the more useful by a large hatch opening, flat floor, and low lift-over height. Additionally, the wheel wells don’t intrude much into the cargo area.
There’s nothing to gripe about here with the 2020 Kia Forte5 EX. Yes, the Honda Civic hatchback is more sporty and has a punchier turbo engine, and the new Mazda3 feels marginally more premium inside, but as a value proposition this redone Korean hatch is impossible to ignore. It does everything very, very well and slaps you silly with features, all the while sipping less fuel and feeling surprisingly premium.