Review: 2011 Kia Forte SX 5-Door
By Brendan Moore
Yes, I know, the 2012 models are already out. But we hadn’t reviewed this car yet, and with a full dance card of 2012 models already in queue, it may be quite some time before a Kia Forte 5-Door works its way into the rotation again, so I decided to take the opportunity to review this hatchback.
So, I told Kia to bring it over to Autosavant Plaza, and here we are – I’m writing and you’re reading. There certainly is a certain symmetry to the universe, don’t you think?
What Kia sent over was a Titanium Silver 2011 Kia Forte SX 5 DR, loaded to the tune of $23,640. That tune includes verses for things like the Leather Package (including heated seats), a power sunroof and the SX Technology Package, which includes a navigation system, rear backup camera, keyless start button, automatic temperature control, etc. Nice, and everything worked perfectly.
The SX has the larger 2.4 liter, 173 hp four-cylinder engine (standard is a 2.0 liter with 156 hp) which is a 16-valve, DOHC CVVT design. The gearbox is a six-speed automatic transmission, and those two things together give you EPA Fuel Economy Estimates of 23 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the open road.
Let’s start with the looks. Some reviewers think the little Kia hatchback’s looks are too generic and they ding the car for looking too much like every other small 5-door. I don’t agree.
To me, the Forte SX hatchback’s lines are more crisp and more defined. The side profile is tidy, the front and rear look sporty, and overall, the look is pleasing. Regular people (not auto reviewers) agree; there was uniform praise for the car’s looks from people that saw it and commented on it. Aesthetics are a personal thing, and personally, I think it’s an attractive vehicle.
Inside? Well, you know how when you ask a woman what she thinks of some guy, and she replies, “Bob? Yeah, he’s nice. He seems like a pretty nice guy”. You know right then and there that Bob is done in terms of any relationship potential, stick a fork in him. He does not stand a chance with that woman. It’s sort of the same situation with the Forte SX’s interior. It’s nice and all, but…
It’s definitely middle-of-the-pack, not overly impressive, but hardly hateful. It certainly doesn’t match the exterior level of style, but its okay, albeit a bit dull and maybe a half a grade lower in quality than most of its segment competition.
While we’re on the theme of over-promising, let’s get right to the performance of the vehicle. The Kia Forte SX 5-door looks sporty, but it is probably more accurate to say that it is merely willing. Handling is good, but not great; the engine sounds a bit agricultural and gets breathless easily, the brakes are fairly good, but again, not impressive, and hard driving quickly belies its economy car platform and heritage.
One things that I definitely didn’t like after spending a week in the Kia was the six-speed transmission keeps you in the first two gears too long, and, the not-so-sonorous engine sound is even more pronounced during the climb of the tachometer in these moments.
Of course, regarding the fact that performance doesn’t quite live up to it’s looks, lots and lots of cars in this segment hand out wolf tickets, so it’s simply not fair to single out the Forte for criticism in this regard. And I will say that despite the complaints I have about the Forte, I do like the car overall. It is a nice distance cruiser on the highway. It is a hatchback, a body style I like. It is a reasonable value for the money. It does seem very well screwed together. It’s just not the kind of car that produces strong passion in me for owning it. Except for the exterior, it’s kind of average, frankly.
However, getting back to those regular people, it’s incumbent upon me to tell you that everyone that saw the car, and the two people that rode in the car during the week I had it, really liked the Kia Forte SX. They expressed the view that this was a vehicle that they would consider in this price/size range. Compare this to the reaction I got the next week regarding the 2012 Honda Civic, which no one liked, even those people that own a Civic now. So, the people at Kia are definitely doing something right; “regular”people like the Forte SX.
My verdict on the 2011 Kia Forte SX 5DR is: Meets the bar in this segment, but doesn’t exceed it except in the looks department.
Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at