2020 Kia Forte GT And Kia Forte5 First Drive Review: Keeping It Real In The Compact Segment

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The new 2020 Kia Forte5 is unique to Canada while the GT trim provides plenty of smiles per mile.

Victoria, BC. It was almost exactly a year ago that I attended the launch of the new 2019 Kia Forte sedan. At the time, and still today, the Forte remains an interesting choice in the compact car segment. With the intent to render the Forte that much more interesting, they’ve added a Kia Forte5 hatchback as well as a GT trim for both body styles.

So far this year, Kia happens one of only a handful of carmakers that has not suffered drops in new retail sales. Their current lineup continues to evolve and gain important new players. The new 2020 Kia Soul and large 3-row Telluride SUV are keeping dealerships and value-packed vehicle buyers busy.

With this kind of momentum, the new 2020 Kia Forte5 will glide into showrooms and draw even more potential consumers. Interestingly, th3 5-door hatchback Kia Forte5 will not be offered in the US which required Kia Canada to pull lots of strings and incur some costs in order to make it happen.

Built in Korea, the Forte5 still uses the same normally aspirated 2.0-litre 4-cylinder that develops 147-horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque as does the sedan. Available from the EX trim on for $22,245, the IVT (Intelligent Variable Transmission) or Kia-speak for a CVT transmission, with 8 programmed gears is included.

The 2020 Kia Forte5, like its sedan twin, is pleasant to drive. The IVT is a willing partner whether cruising or in the midst of spirited driving. Like the sedan, the hatchback is very much at home in the city or carving up a country road among the trees. The car is ideally balanced where handling meets power meets braking. It is lovely to drive.

What’s less lovely and I’m still trying to put my finger on it is the Forte5’s styling. Its rear quarters are not typical 5-door hatchback as we’ve come to know them. I’m referring specifically to the VW Golf, Mazda3 Sport and Toyota Corolla. The upright lower part of the hatch and how it meets with the glass and its surround remind me of the late Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback more than that of its non-identical twin, the Hyundai Elantra GT.

To note, the new Forte5 is 130mm shorter overall than the sedan due to its shorter rear overhang. It does provide a little more headroom but loses out mildly on trunk volume (502L vs. 428L).


Let’s talk GT

2020 Kia Forte | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

In order to be a semi-real GT, a car must provide performance, handling and be well-versed in long cruises. The new GT trim on both the 2020 Kia Forte sedan and Forte5 hatchback is quite nearly all that.

The first element is the addition of the Hyundai family-sourced turbocharged 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine which produces 201-horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,500 rpm to 4,500 rpm. To it is joined Kia’s 7-speed DCT transmission which includes wheel-mounted paddle shifters as the sole transmission available, at least for now. The US has confirmed that they will be offering a manual transmission as a $600 US option. My guess is that it will come to Canada, possibly as a $750 option.

Steeping out of the Forte5 EX and driving the Forte GT sedan was like living in Fort McMurray all your life and visiting Toronto for the first time. The interior confines are familiar with the exception of the sport seats and the flat-bottomed steering wheel. Switching the car on and manipulating the steering wheel is a whole other kettle of fish.

Steering’s very heavy, good precision but with little feedback. The 1.6T’s power is on tap at all times, or nearly, with little to no lag to speak of. The Forte GT is not fast but certainly quick enough for fun times. In Normal modes, I felt the “chocking” of the available power and in sport, the car comes alive.

When selecting sport, the 7DCT holds out for more revs but whether in smart or normal mode, it quite nearly matches the best dual-clutch units on the market today with its velvetiness and eagerness to downshift.

From a chassis stand-point, the only upgrades include a rear multi-link suspension (replaces torsion beam), tuned springs and dampers. These changes sacrifice ride comfort to a point where anything less than a sliky-smooth road upsets comfort levels. On such a road, the Forte GT sits, squats and sticks to the road with impressive surefootedness. Traction is provided by Kumho tires which somehow negated any signs of torque-steer. In fact, mechanical grip is so strong that I thought the car was equipped with a limited-slip differential.


The GT picture

2020 Kia Forte | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The 2020 Kia Forte GT sedan is $28,995. The soon to arrive 2020 Kia Forte5 GT starts at $27,395. The GT Limited, which adds leathers and active safety features, is $29,995. The feeling here is that the GTs are bargain Honda Civic Si and VW GTI and GLIs. In a sense, they are from a kit level. From a pure performance and handling standpoint, the Volkswagens are far more compliant and more powerful. The $4,000 (with DSG) premium for the GLI over the GT creates a reason to consider the Forte but I’m not certain justifies the Kia over the VW.


The Forte5 on the spot

2020 Kia Forte | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

As for the Kia Forte5, its value proposition is strong. However, the new Mazda3 Sport is not that far off. The tested EX is exactly what compact hatchback buyers want and need. While the VW Golf and Toyota Corolla hatchback provide competition, the Hyundai Elantra GT, priced almost identically, is an important foe. Styling-wise, I believe it’s more attractive but that may be its only advantage.


2020 Kia Forte Photo Gallery

2020 Kia Forte | Photo: Matt St-Pierre
2020 Kia Forte | Photo: Matt St-Pierre
2020 Kia Forte | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

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