Three years ago, Honda raised the bar in the compact sedan class with a Civic so comprehensively upgraded that it left most of its competitors playing a desperate game of catch-up.
Among the latest automakers to prove they still care about compact sedans is Kia, whose Forte is new for 2019 and comes to us wearing more interesting styling and sporting some new technology.
Among the key changes is Kia's introduction of its first in-house continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to replace the outgoing Forte's optional six-speed automatic. The new CVT is standard in most Forte trims, with just the LX coming with a six-speed manual, as was the case last year.
Both of those transmissions are mated to a single engine carried over from the 2018 model, a 2.0L four-cylinder making a modest 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque.
Interestingly, Kia has carried forward the less-advanced of two versions of its 2.0L engine: last year, it offered one with direct fuel injection that made 164 hp and 151 lb-ft. The less potent motor installed in the new Forte is fitted with less-efficient port injection. That decision leads us to believe Kia will roll out a new optional engine next year, perhaps in spring 2019 when it brings us the hatchback variant of the Forte.
Despite the engine's apparent sameness, the new Forte boasts nominal improvements in fuel consumption: Kia's 2019 Forte estimates are 8.6/6.4 L/100 km (city/highway) with the manual transmission (down from 9.4/6.8) and the new CVT yields consumption figures of 7.7/5.9 L/100 km, down from 8.0/6.1.
In the Forte's cabin we find a few expected touches, like the floating 8.0-inch touchscreen mounted atop the dash and standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.
LX trim comes with 15-inch steel wheels with covers, heated and height-adjustable front seats, heated steering wheel, air conditioning, Bluetooth and cruise control. Opt for the automatic transmission and Kia includes lane keeping assist, forward collision avoidance and a driver attention alert system.
EX gets 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and daytime running lights, wireless smartphone charging, tire pressure monitoring, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
EX+ adds 17-inch wheels, LED taillights, sunroof and LED interior lighting.
EX Premium trim comes with automatic high beam headlights, synthetic leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, passive keyless entry, hands-free trunk release, UVO intelligence connected car services, adaptive cruise control, satellite radio and advance forward collision avoidance assist.
Finally, EX Limited adds heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, navigation and Harmon Kardon audio.
This vehicle has not yet been reviewed