There’s a lot good to be said about hot hatchbacks. They’re fun, yet practical. They seat the same amount of people as a crew cab pickup with a center console up front and they all get better than 30 mpg on the freeway.
Even better, they also will do double-duty for HPDE and autocross, something “Car Corner” is all about. We had the chance to get in a Kia’s Forte5 SX T-GDI, the hottest hatch in Kia’s Forte lineup, at the Motor Press Guild’s Track Days program on the Streets of Willow track.
The regular Forte5 comes with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline four cylinder, but the SX comes with a turbocharged 1.6-liter, which is good for 201 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, so we were eager to drive it. When we did mat the accelerator, we were wondering if any tuners specialize in Kia cars, because this car could have used more boost. Weight reduction would be a good idea, because the 2,970-pound curb weight certainly wasn’t helping performance.
We also weren’t wild about the brakes. Sure they worked well enough — they slowed the car — but the feedback was numb and the pedal was mushy throughout its arc. We thought there might be some air in the brakes from other journalists driving it hard, but it was early in the day, so it had not yet seen much abuse, so that likely wasn’t it. I have read other reviews on Kia cars that have said the same thing their brakes. Brake feel is a difficult thing to engineer into a car, but it makes a big difference in the driving experience.
In terms of driver ergonomics, the Forte5 was good for street applications, but as any track enthusiast knows, the racetrack has a way of revealing flaws that might never surface during street driving. The seats could have used more side bolstering and I kept hitting my knee on the steering column when heel-toe shifting. Obviously, drivers of average heights won’t experience this, but it’s worth noting because I didn’t hit my knee in the Ford Focus ST nor the Ford Fiesta ST.
Those two cars are worth pointing out because they are key competitors in the hot hatch market. They both cost a little more. The Fiesta ST is $21,460 and the Focus ST is $24,425, but in terms of doing double duty for track days and autocross events, either is the better bet than the Kia. It just seems like Ford put more thought and effort into taking an economy car and turning it into something sporty.
Those are just two of the Forte5’s competitors. Volkswagen’s GTI starts at $24,995 and Subaru’s WRX hatch starts at $26,595, but comes with 67 more horsepower and all-wheel drive. Although Mazda doesn’t offer a Mazdaspeed version of its Mazda 3, the model it does offer comes with 185 horsepower in a naturally aspirated engine and better driving dynamics.
All that’s true, but all those companies have been in the hot hatch business for a while. They had a head start that lets them capitalize on past lessons, so it’s fair to cut Kia a little slack. It’s also important to note that the Kia Forte5 SX T-GDI has a sticker price less than all the aforementioned competitors’ models. Base MSRP is $20,990, which is downright reasonable.
For that money, you get a car that’s screwed together well in a tight package. The Kia’s interior looks and feels far better than you would expect. Material choices are more sumptuous than some competitors’ hot hatches. For example, it’s definitely less plasticky than the interior found in the Fiesta ST. The car is handsome, has interesting lines and delivers a great ride on the street. The car is perfectly comfortable and the six-speed manual transmission is a pleasure to row.
The Forte5 ride on P225-40-R18 tires, so there’s really no need for a wheel upgrade, and there is a litany of tire choices available for it, including some nice sticky options. The car also is available with technology such as cross-traffic alert and blind-spot detection with lane-change assist. 2017 will bring a redesigned Forte5, with a fresh rear and front fascias and Kia’s “tiger nose” grille. Introduced in January, it should be available mid 2016.
|1.6-liter turbocharged I4|
|201 @ 6,000 rpm|
|195 @ 1,750-4,500 rpm|
|Coupled torsion beam axle|
|Six-speed manual transmission|
Rear axle ratio: