The compact hatchback category remains strong in Canada despite the unrelenting popularity of small crossovers and SUVs. Kia's entry in this crowded field is the Forte5, a car that goes up against relative heavyweights like the Ford Focus, the Hyundai Elantra and, as of last year, the first Honda Civic hatchback to reach North America in more than a decade.
Following last year's mid-cycle styling refresh, the Forte 5 is back with just a single change: the LX+ trim replaces its 15-inch steel wheels with 16-inch alloys borrowed from the mid-range EX model.
That's a nice nod to a car that's one of the more handsome in this class. We could argue this five-door blends in a little too well, but at least those who do notice will think they're looking at a car more expensive than this one's $20,000 starting price.
For that money, you get a 2.0L engine good for 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque and a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions in LX+ trim. The mid-range EX is automatic-only. The top-end SX model comes exclusively with a 1.6L turbocharged motor that makes 201 hp and 195 lb-ft and comes paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The SX is quick, but that turbo engine doesn't quite turn the Forte5 into a sport compact. Uncommunicative steering and so-so ride quality mean this hatch is less satisfying to power through corners than the Hyundai Elantra Sport that uses the same engine, or a Honda Civic Si. Instead, the stronger engine gives the Forte a more grown-up feel that goes along with the SX's long list of standard features, which includes 18-inch wheels (they look like flowers!), navigation, shift paddles, 10-way power driver's seat, heated steering wheel, blind spot warning and lane keeping assist.
But you don't have to go straight for the $30,000 SX to get a comfortable little car. The LX+ comes with heated front seats, air conditioning, automatic headlights, display audio with seven-inch touchscreen, cruise control, backup camera and Android Auto smartphone integration.
The EX adds power folding side mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, drive mode selector, nice cloth upholstery and leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter. A luxury package brings 17-inch wheels, sunroof and makes the SX share its heated steering wheel, power driver's seat and blind spot monitor with this less-pricey variant.
Forte5's fuel consumption estimates are 9.4/7.0 L/100 km (city/highway) with the 2.0L and automatic, and 9.8/7.3 with the stickshift. The 1.6L turbo and its seven-speed auto is rated 9.4/7.9.
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