Driving Impressions: 2019 Kia Forte – Best Small Car in Canada Award Winner

This car entered the family stable just before Christmas.  It is my youngest son’s first new car, succeeding his previous ride, a 2004 Honda Civic.  He got that Civic pre-owned, and got more than ten years of hard driving out of it.  Since he had occasion to borrow my Crossover-Compact-Light-Truck for a few days, I swapped with him.  (I hate the SUV acronym because the thing is not really sporty, it has less utility than my old minivan, and the V should be more accurately descriptive – it is after all a light truck).

I found this Forte’s performance to be adequate. It is a lightweight car and the 2.0 L engine deported itself nicely. On line reviews are not quite as favourable. The 147 HP mill is coupled with what I would call a CVT transmission, although Kia calls it an “IVT” (infinitely variable transmission). It took me a few kilometres to realize I was not sensing shift points on the tachometer and that it was not shifting in the traditional sense. The IVT has a gear ratio of 2.68:1.0 from 1st through 7th gear, or speed, if you will. The drive train has only to move 2720 pounds, (about 100 pounds more than the old Civic) but it is not built to win any drag races after all.  I did coax some kick-down acceleration driving at 100 km/h, and it ranged up to about 4000 RPM and felt like it shifted gears.  132 pound-feet of torque are provided. (I recall that this measurement used to be provided in foot – pounds.  I don’t know what the difference is.)

The photos of the car in its unshiny condition were a result of driving it in salty slushy road conditions. It went for its first annual rustproofing treatment this day.

The name Kia is is roughly translated as “to come out of the east”.  The company dates back to 1944 when it began in the steel tubing and bicycle parts business.  It was known as the Kyungsung Precision Industry but changed its name to Kia in 1952.  Kia got into the car business in the 1970s.  Hyundai owns approximately 33% of Kia, and Kia in turn owns several subsidiaries of Hyundai.

As you can see, the brand has evolved quite significantly over the years.  The three wheeler seems to be a motorcycle derivative.

Perhaps fifteen years ago a colleague won some money in a lottery and decided to replace their car.  They went from a 1990s Imperial to a Kia Sportage compact crossover.  To say that the whispers in the room were deafening would be an understatement.  Not that it wasn’t time to get rid of the sedan, but opinions of the Kia brand were not positive to say the least.  Notwithstanding, the Sportage ran well and provided a number of years of good service.

I didn’t get a photo of our featured vehicle through the windshield, but here is the driver’s view of the controls.  The windshield wipers wiped the windshield in nice right to left sweeps. When using the spray cleaner, it gave only the required number of wipes unlike my compact light truck (OK it’s an Escape) that always has that annoying extra swipe that is not needed and often makes it worse. With all the salt and slop on the road I got nice clean windows.

The turning radius was very nice and tight and the shift back-and-forth between reverse and drive were quite sharp and crisp as opposed to the slushy sense I get on my Escape. I’d compare it favourably with a Hyundai Elantra that is also in the family fleet.  (Note those are not the floor mats specifically for this car, they were absconded from another vehicle for winter duty.)

The Blindspot system (why does everything on a car need to be a “system” nowadays?) warned me of impending disaster with cars beside me. However, it beeped at me annoyingly and distractingly when I changed lanes when in its opinion I was too close to do so.  After getting used to the distraction I pushed it a bit to see if I could detect a threshold point for the warning, but I didn’t want to get too close for the sake of the car, my safety, and the fear of some cataclysmic beeping or sound warning me of the falling sky.

The radio / AV system allowed me to create new favourites easily, however when I was trying to select a station and was simultaneously going over a road bump it thought I was trying to scroll the screen instead of selecting the station thus diverting my attention.

I couldn’t see both sides of the back window through my rear view mirror, as my own headrest was blocking part of the view. I could have reclined my seat further or just glanced at the mirror at a different angle to remediate.  I did find the seating position a bit low, and that aspect was not adjustable.

I was pleased that the outside mirror adjustments allowed me to go nice and wide with the mirrors. I like to eliminate blind spots by going real wide with the outside mirrors. After all, the car I am driving is the last one I need to see when changing lanes. Using this method, any approaching car from the rear and on either side moves from my rear view mirror, to the side mirror, to my peripheral vision. I can reliably use my side mirrors to execute lane changes without the need to ‘shoulder check’. A quick glance is all that is required. On any car I drive. Jim Kenzie, an auto journalist/engineer around these parts authored this method years ago, still advocates it today, and I have followed it without exception.

It has a good heating system which gave me lots of warmth once it warmed up. The weather here has been rather on the cold side, so any car that can provide warmth to its occupants gets good points. It took a good 8 to 10 kms before the temperature got up to the halfway mark and thus provided nice warm air in -7C temps (19F) outside. I partially compensated by using the electric seat heater (system).

The Forte had lots of nice options like lights above the vanity mirrors in the roof and not on the sun visors, cruise control, Bluetooth and all the latest Android Car Google Play Apple music gadgets. It did not seem to have GPS navigation that I could find, that must have been available on a higher trim level.  Fold down rear seats are a must and these folded pretty flat. The Tire Pressure monitor system was unhappy as the mounted snow tires lacked sensors. Those are resident on the summer tires. On the subject of tires, the car does not come with a spare tire. This is a weight saving and a cost saving measure I’m sure. I think they gave my son a can of something to spray into the tire if a slow leak occurs. The car has ABS brakes, which came in handy on snow covered corners. Apparently my son tells me it has lane departure assist as well, which he quickly disabled. He reported that the system fought him a bit when road markings were either unclear or snow obscured. The last thing anyone wants is a car trying to think for you and taking action that is unwelcome and unnecessary.

Compared to the 70s when a compact car had equipment as options such as power steering and power brakes and sometimes an automatic transmission, economy cars today come with all the goodies.

Fuel consumption of 7.1 litres per 100 kms is pretty respectable for a compact car these days. On line reviews say it is one of the least thirsty compact cars on the road, at least in the gas engine world. The Forte provides at least a 10% improvement in gas consumption over the 2004 Civic.  I think the conversion of 7.1 litres per 100 k is somewhere in the 35-40 mpg US gallon range.

Overall I am pleased that he selected this car, and I believe it will serve him well for some years to come.

In the “It’s a small world” category, I ran into the fellow who sold me my new 2001 Caravan, he now works at the dealer at which my son purchased this Kia.  Small world indeed.

Postscript – in today’s paper, it was announced by AJAC (Automobile Journalists Association of Canada), that the 2019 Kia Forte won the Best Small Car in Canada award, as announced at the Montreal Auto Show.  That would seem to follow the pattern established by the brand of winning various JD Power awards, and so on.  It’s nice and reassuring to have industry wide authorities give recognition to the brand.