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2020 Kia Forte5 GT: An Opportunity to Seize Now

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The 2020 model year marks a new generation for the Kia Forte5, making it the freshest compact hatchback in Canada. And unlike the Kia Soul, which is also new this year, it returns with an available turbo engine.

With the Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen Golf GTI nearing the end of their cycle (the latter is essentially unchanged for 2020 and its successor won’t come here until 2021 as a 2022 model), the Korean brand has a great opportunity to attract more customers.

Converting the Unfaithful
Sporty compact car enthusiasts are often loyal to a particular brand or model. Just think about the Subaru WRX. Closer to the Forte5 GT, the two rivals mentioned above also have strong supporters and it’s not easy making them switch their allegiance.

However, there will always be independent souls who listen to their reason more than their heart and want to get the most bang for their buck, not to mention all those who seek the newest product on the market. For these pragmatic, non-loyal customers, here is an alternative that’s definitely worth a look.

Same Engine
Nothing is new under the hood, unfortunately. Kia engineers did not inject more power or torque into the turbocharged 1.6-litre mill that motivates the 2020 Forte5 GT. With 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, it’s still a good step below the Golf GTI (228 hp, 258 lb-ft), though on par with the Civic Si (205 hp, 192 lb-ft).

Of course, the latter is only available in sedan and coupe body styles (the Civic Hatchback Sport tops at 180 hp). As for the Hyundai Elantra GT N Line and Mazda3 Sport GT, they generate 201 and 186 horsepower, respectively, putting the Kia in the middle of the pack.

The real shame, at least for anyone who likes sporty driving, is the absence of a manual gearbox. Yet, Kia offers one with the four-door Forte GT in the U.S. and every competitor does the same. Your only option here is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that could use a bit more fine-tuning. The paddle shifters and Sport mode do help a little, but the fact of the matter is that acceleration sometimes feels uneven.

Improved Dynamics
Built on a more rigid chassis, the 2020 Kia Forte5 GT offers a pleasant and more dynamic driving experience than its predecessor. Engineers revised the fully independent suspension and increased the precision of the steering, resulting in enhanced handling and stability around corners. Despite the 18-inch wheels, the ride isn’t stiff, either.

At the same time, the cabin is quieter now (warning: the sound of the engine is artificially amplified through the speakers) and the driving position is good. In addition to the numerous adjustments and ergonomically arranged controls, we liked the flat-bottom, multi-function sport steering wheel and attractive sport seats (in synthetic leather) that properly support the thighs and upper body.

Modern? Yes. Distinctive? Not Really
Designers sure did a heck of a job with the 2020 Kia Forte5. Could they have done more? We think so, especially in GT trim. The red and gloss black accents on the front grille and the combination of the dual exhaust tips with the fake diffuser in the rear are nice, but overall this Korean hot hatch is neither as cool as a Civic Si nor as sexy as a Mazda3 Sport. Rather, it follows a more conservative approach in line with its domestic cousin and German rival.

The Forte5’s biggest edge is arguably interior room. It’s 16-cm longer and 2-cm taller than the previous generation, making it ideal for a trip with three or four friends you want to impress… or even help them move a few pieces of furniture. The rear seats are quite accommodating by compact-car standards, storage is more than adequate and the trunk alone can haul 741 litres of cargo. That’s more space than in all of the competitors and even some small SUVs.

Throughout the week, we heard a strange noise coming from the trunk and we weren’t able to identify the source. It might be just an isolated case, but you should check that out during your road test.

A Value Winner
While the 2020 Kia Forte5 GT doesn’t have the most refined materials or the lowest fuel consumption ratings in its class (8.9 L/100 km in the city and 6.9 L/100 km on the highway), it continues to stand out with a very long list of features at an affordable price. In top-line GT Limited trim, which doesn’t even exceed $30,000, you get automatic high beams, navigation, heated/cooled front seats, heated rear seats, intelligent cruise control and pretty much everything else you’d want.

For our money, the mid-range GT trim at $27,395 looks like the best pick, meaning the one that makes the strongest case for buying a Forte5 GT instead of a Golf GTI, Civic Si or Mazda3 Sport GT. Let’s not forget the excellent 5 years/100,000 km warranty and Kia’s first place among mainstream brands in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study for five consecutive years.

If your heart doesn’t fully belong to any of the aforementioned rivals, it might be a good opportunity to seize now.

Evaluation

Test model 2020 Kia Forte
Trim level N/A
Price range $24,005 - $29,155
Price as tested N/A
Warranty (basic) 5 years / 100,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years / 100,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 8.9 / 6.9 / 8 l/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models N/A
Strong points
  • Improved driving dynamics
  • Spacious, user-friendly interior
  • Plenty of value
Weak points
  • Styling is too conservative
  • Not as sporty and refined as other rivals
  • Dual-clutch gearbox needs work (and a manual option)

Editor's rating

Fuel Consumption 3.5/5 The official combined rating is 8 L/100 km. We achieved closer to 9 L/100 km due to the cold temperatures, which is still reasonable.
Comfort 4.0/5 For a sporty compact car, the Forte5 GT is fairly smooth and very spacious.
Performance 3.0/5 Kia should have used the new generation to increase the output of the turbo engine and either fine-tune the dual-clutch transmission or add a manual option.
Infotainment System 4.0/5 A 10.25-inch display like the Kia Soul’s would have been nice, but the system is just as user-friendly.
Driving Experience 3.5/5 The drive is not super-exciting, but a definite improvement from the previous generation. The Forte5 GT is closing the gap with the Golf GTI and Civic Si.
Overall 4.0/5 This sporty compact will be liked by every occupant on board. Kia is on the right path but still has some work to do.
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