Forte is Kia’s new forte

Published on May 26th, 2010

Admittedly we’re not a blessed crowd in regards to the choice of vehicles available to us. Be it poor fuels, being a controlled market or other factors, variety isn’t the spice of our lives everytime we walk into a showroom.

So unless your pockets run really deep, value for money is the deal-clincher when it’s time to sign on the dotted line. That exact virtue was just what the Japanese offered back in the day, best bang-for-the-buck.

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Fast forward to the current and even the Jap offerings are starting to creep over the reasonably-priced line. Not that it’s a problem though, value-for-money is still the best phrase to justify them. It’s just that as the prices climb, there’s a gap currently for something equivalent to what the Japs offered back then, because you know… some of us still refer to Maggi Mee as a true friend in need.

So maybe if you’re really in that situation a car won’t be a priority right now, but you get the point right. So what are our options then in regards to a decent value-for-money car that falls in the C-segment and is preferably short of the RM100k mark?

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Sushi is definitely not digestible if that’s what you desire. Instead, you’d need a sampling of kimchi. That’s right, a vegetable pickle seasoned with garlic, red pepper, and ginger is just what the doctor ordered.

So what’s on the menu this week from Korea? The Kia Forte 1.6SX of course. It has all the boxes ticked, C-segment dimensions at B-segment coin with a modest spec sheet to boot and is properly nailed together.

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Let’s give it the once-over then from the outside before we get under the skin and see what makes this a logical buy.

The lines are unlike anything you’ve ever seen from Korea, very European with strong angles that give it a slight muscular look. It was designed by Kia’s California design studio, which explains the fresh injection of excitedness and was blessed by Kia’s chief design officer Peter Schreyer, formerly of Audi, which clears up the Euro silhouette.

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Up front, the Tiger Nose grille dominates the fascia, giving it a very neat yet slightly aggressive look. Dare we say, it’s a very futuristic-esque design. The hood sweeps across in a clean and uninterrupted flow sans the edges that flow into the A-pillar and juts out to meet the fender.

The side profile is very clean without any creases except for the shoulder line that angles up to give the impression of the car leaning forward, contributing to the aggressive stance.

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Flip her around and you’ll be greeted by an equally tout derriere. Once again, it’s flowing and easy on the eyes although more than few people have mentioned the similarity the tail lights share with the BMW 3 Series. To that, we have to say ‘What’s the problem?’ because it makes the rear more smackable if anything.

Motivation is courtesy of the all-aluminium inline-4, DOHC 1.6-liter Gamma engine that calls the Hyundai i30 home as well. In the Forte, it pushes out a [email protected],300rpm and a [email protected],200rpm that find their way to the front wheels via 4-speed slushbox with manual override.

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The underpinnings consist of MacPherson struts up front whereas the rear gets a torsion beam setup. Pretty archaic, we know… but Kia sings the tune of weight saving, space saving and additional rigidity over the tighter and driving-friendly multilink setup that the i30 is blessed with.

Stopping power hasn’t been compromised with ventilated discs on the head and solid discs at the tail. Couple that with the host of acronyms that litter the safety list and you’re left feeling very assured on the road. Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Brake Assist System (BAS), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) work in tandem to keep you on the road in an emergency situation.

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Nonetheless, even with all that safety tech, bear in mind the age old adage that even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence is no match for the unpredictability of human stupidity. So try to keep things sane behind the wheel because this is no sports car after all.

The interior is a very pleasant place to be in. Although its still fabric, the seats are firmly sculpted and hold you in place even with some spirited driving. What stands out the most though is the quality of the materials used and the fit-and-finish. Hopefully the materials are able to stand the test of time and o the modern-looking dash justice in about five years time.

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Although the plastics aren’t going to make the Japs sweat, it worthy to note that it’s closer to giving them a headache than we might think. For the price you’re paying, the materials used are worth every cent and the finishing is very Jap-like. No squeaky panels or loose fittings were present to annoy us and we’re pretty sure it’ll go plenty of miles before anything of that sort pops up.

The equipment list is something you can only dream of getting in an equivalent Jap C-segment machine. A six-CD, yes six CD, MP3-capable audio unit adorns the center of the dash with iPod, AUX and USB connectivity. Now name me a Jap car that gives you all this for under RM100k? Even the steering wheel gets audio control buttons for the driver’s convenience.

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Sitting below the audio unit is the climate control that finishes off the central panel for the dash in similar fashion to the exterior, simple and neat. The gauges look sharp too, glowing an orangey-red with a multi-information display below the speedo.

The Forte is packed with stuff that you can only dream of getting in a Jap segment mate. Keyless-go is another feature that’s standard, just hit the engine-start button and you’re on your way.

The vanity mirrors get their own lights, something that was a welcome relief from all my female friends and is also the first thing they check when getting into a car. Completing the package is an anti-glare rear-view mirror and tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel for full adjustability.

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Occupant comfort is further enhanced with the abundant space and legroom, especially at the rear. Rear legroom is beyond generous, courtesy of the torsion beam rear setup that allows the rear seats to be pushed further backwards. Pop the boot and you’ll find a load of space, more than enough for a family’s needs.

So by now it’s all starting to look pretty promising right? And you’re expecting the driving impressions to be the blow below the belt that brings things crashing back to reality. Well we’re sorry to disappoint you but things actually kick up a gear behind the wheel.

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The seating position is comfy, with the well padded seats holding you firmly and the steering being fully adjustable to cater for even the most disproportionate.

Although there wasn’t a higher-specced 2-liter unit for comparison, we think it’s safe to say that even the 1.6-liter will more than suffice. Power was ample throughout the lower and mid range, making it well-suited for its intended city crawling and highway cruising for those balik kampong trips.

If there’s ever something to raise an eyebrow at, it would have to be the apparent lack of feel or lightness in relation to the driving effort. The steering was a bit too underweighted for our liking. Granted it’s not meant to cater to the spirited driver but a little feedback never hurt any hands.

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Getting a move on will never be a problem with the punchy pick-up, even with a full load of five adults but minus baggage. Stomping on the brakes is very reassuring as well, giving a firm bite. The feel through the pedal though asks some questions. Once again, the brake pedal is underweighted and the bite too sudden. However, after some time behind the wheel you’ll definitely get adjusted to it.

The lightness didn’t just stop at the driving feedback though. As we pushed her towards the extreme end of the speedo, the car on a whole felt light. It exhibited some swaying but not enough to threaten a derailment. Perhaps its 1.2-tonne kerb weight is a little too anorexic for its own good.

Being us, we tended to push the Forte a bit more through the curvy bits. She took the abuse well, getting decent grip with those 17-inch rollers. As the limit approached, you had sufficient feedback to know it was time to reign it in or risk a firm handshake with the Armco barrier.

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Suspension settings weren’t too stiff too, making the ride comfortable for front and rear occupants with bumps and potholes soaked up with a reassuring thud.

Nonetheless, all the lack of driving feedback are mere grazes on an otherwise smooth surface. For the amount of money you’re shelling out (RM81,800 OTR w/insurance), you’re getting a whole lot of car in return that’s not only properly nailed together but well equipped and rides nicely.

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So at the end of it, it’s safe to say the Forte is totally worth every cent no matter which way you look at it. Once again, we have a sub-RM100k car that offers us total value-for-money without really cutting back on the goods. Bonus too as it comes in a handsome package, especially the white.

So if you haven’t already driven one, hit your nearest Naza-Kia showroom and feel her up yourself. Trust us when we say she won’t disappoint you.

text & pix: Dinesh Appavu

Comments

  1. Posted by John on May 28th, 2010, 10:53

    I heard, this car don’t have break in alarm system? Its only have immobilizer. Is it true?

  2. Posted by Traffic Mag on May 29th, 2010, 05:12

    the forte do have an alarm system.

  3. Posted by Phan Gak Cher on June 1st, 2010, 21:00

    A great car -no regrets buying it. A perfect blend of form, style and performance.

Reply

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