As a brand Kia has come a country mile here in North America from a struggling maker of entry-level cars to a very successful full line automaker. The power to surprise is one the advertising tag lines used in marketing campaigns it is quite appropriate. Recently, I got to spend a week behind the wheel of the 2017 Kia Forte S which surprised with its content level and performance as well as bang for the buck.

The second-generation Kia Forte was launched in 2013, alongside its Korean counterpart, the K3. Penned by former Audi designed Peter Schreyer, the second-gen Forte is a significant departure from its predecessor in just about any department. Sporting a modern appearance, a more upscale interior, and new engines, the new Forte has help change the way consumers think about Kia-badged compacts. The second-generation model received its mid-cycle facelift for the 2017 model year.

The new trim level is dubbed the “S” trim and is slated to sit between the entry-level LX trim and range-topping EX trim.

Kia didn’t change the Forte enough to make it that indistinguishable from the current model. Kia claims that “the tiger nose grille has been extended to connect with the new headlights” . What was really extended was the headlights. On the 2016 model, there is spacing between the grille and the lower half of the headlight. On this 2017 model, the headlight isn’t quite as tall, and the entire inboard edge of the headlight meets the grille. It gives the car a much better look, but that isn’t all that changes up front.

For the most part, the hood has remained the same. It is able to sit a little lower on the sides thanks to the facts that the headlights aren’t as fat. Those headlights, by the way, still wrap around the front end, terminating on the fenders. Down below, the fascia has been changed dramatically. The fog lights have been moved inward and sit next to the air dam. It should be noted that those fog lights are a bit larger too. Now that the fog lights have been moved inward, Kia added a small air vent on each corner, giving the front end a much sportier look.

Looking at the back of the Forte S, there are minor changes. The deck lid has a slightly more pronounced lip, and the tail lights have a double-layered look to them. Down below, a small body line has been added to the corners, giving way to a sportier rear end, and the reflectors have been dropped down a little. The insert on the bottom of the rear fascia has a straight edge on top, and the exhaust outlet is now oval-shaped instead of round.

Exterior features are dependent on the trim model at hand. For instance, the new “S” trim receives 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, a rear spoiler, and chrome exhaust tip.

Inside, there isn’t that much change in comparison to the 2016 model. The gill-like styling on the door trim remains and has been added to the passenger side of the dash between the center stack and the passenger dash vent. The seats retain the same general design, however, technology and material features vary by trim level. My test vehicle S trim, with the S trim receiving exclusive black cloth with white contrast stitching. The S trim also receives a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. y.

The S trim also come standard with UVO3 telematics, which is Kia’s infotainment system. It includes a seven-inch touchscreen and connects to mobile devices via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The coolest part of the new Forte is that every trim level comes with Drive Mode Select as a standard feature. This function changes the way the car shifts, accelerates, and performs dependent on your selection. Normal mode is pretty self-explanatory, Eco mode tunes the car to cut back on fuel usage, while sport mode will allow the car to have quick shifting and longer periods between shifts allowing the car to take advantage of the entire rev range. Naturally, some fuel economy will be sacrificed in Sport mode.

For the 2017 model year, the Kia got rid of that old 1.8-liter four-cylinder. LX and S trim levels receive a new 2.0-liter, Atkinson four-cylinder. Both trim levels come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, but a six-speed automatic as my test car had is optional.

Te new S trim receives a sport-tuned suspension. At second glance The new grille and headlights on the 2017 Kia Forte look like they’re straight from the bigger Kia Optima sedan. This also true for the tail lights, which retain the original shape, but have been redesigned to look more like the Optima sedan

The new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder base engine in the Forte sedan puts out 147 horsepower and
132 lb-ft of torque while delivering excellent feel economy numbers 29 mpg city and 38 mpg when connected to the 6 speed automatic.

The new Forte S model sedan starts at about $20,000 which is quite a great value for the dollar. The Forte S sedan surprised across the board. It is fun, playful and affordable.

The Long Drive Rankings

Front Engine-FWD 6 speed Automatic

Highlights

Value

Interior content and build quality

Lowlights

A few cheap plastics

The Long Drive Rankings 1 Low 10 High

Exterior Styling 7
Interior styling and quality 7

Handling 5

Braking 5
Fuel Economy 9
Performance 6
Trunk-Cargo Capacity 8

Audio System 6

Value 10

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