There’s no doubt about it – hatchbacks are in and if you made it out to the Texas Auto Show this year you couldn’t miss the variety of hatchbacks several auto manufacturers were proudly displaying. We recently spent some time in one particular hatchback – Kia’s Forte5. If you missed experiencing the Forte or the Forte5 at the auto show this year, read on to see what we thought about the feisty sport version of Kia’s hatchback: the Kia Forte5 SX.
The Hatchback with a “5” in the Name
If you’re not familiar with hatchbacks think of them like the fun-loving, spunky middle child between compact cars and sedans; they’re set apart most immediately by one thing – the 5th door. That’s right, that isn’t a truck hood at the rear of that compact car. It’s a door and it’s the reason why this is the Forte5. A part of their appeal is the configuration of a hatchback, but what Kia does differently in this automobile segment is in the design of this 5th door. Looking at the Forte from the side, in profile view, notice that the roof line tapers downward before it actually reaches the rear of the car, giving the entire side profile a sportier feel. Compare the Forte5 profile view with the Forte profile and you’ll get a better idea of the shape a hatchback allows for.
For the 2017 model year, the Forte and the Forte5 received some upgrades in the form of a facelift to its outer design. Most notably are the restyled headlights and taillights which are now longer, sleeker and provide a sense of motion, even when the Forte is standing still. I particularly like how both head and tail lights wrap around the sides, particularly near the back of the car where the light extends onto the 5th door. These design elements add to the car’s overall “squatty” look and feels perfect with the SX branding.
Perhaps the most visual advantage of a hatchback is the extra cargo space that surely resides under that 5th door. Think about it: in a traditional compact car or sedan, you have to make do with only trunk space. Sure, you can add additional space with the rear seat down but you’re limited by the hole that leads from the trunk into the interior cabin; sometimes those holes can be less than impressive in size. With a hatchback, the roofline toward the rear of the vehicle is raised and there is no barrier between “trunk space” and the cabin of the car; it’s just one large interior space. To be exact, the 2017 Forte5 offers 23.2 cubic feet of cargo space with rear passenger seats up and 56.4 cubic feet with the seats down. Plenty of room for day-to-day storage or for light adventuring.
A Visual Sense of Speed
There is a lot of great design elements in a small package when it comes to the Kia Forte & Forte5. At 171.3 inches, the Forte5 feels like it has a longer body than the Forte but is actually a few inches shorter. The reason for this “illusion” is the overall design. The gentle slope of the roofline towards the rear of the vehicle that I mentioned earlier certainly plays a part but a protruding, curving line in the side of the Forte5’s body also does an excellent job on simulating the path wind would take rushing by. The 18” alloy wheels that come standard in the SX trim are hypnotic and contribute to t the idea of movement.
For 2017, Kia widened the “tiger nose” grille on the Forte5 which can also be found on its bigger brother, the Kia Optima. It’s a perfect grille size for a hatchback and complements the redesigned headlights. Other small design cues exclusive to the SX trim, like the red accent on the lower air intake grille, give the 2017 Forte5 personality and go a long way in allowing it to stand out in a crowd.
A sense of speed translates nicely inside of the 2017 Forte5 as well. A new orange hue was applied to portions of the leather front seats and in the stitching on elements like the shifter pop. These orange accents allow for beautiful transitions between the blue exterior paint job of the SX model we tested and the inky blackness that fills the rest of the interior cabin. This feels much more like the interior of a European roadster than a Korean built hatchback. Kia also managed to convey a sense of movement in its front dash layout. Notice how the infotainment display, the air vents and the cascading ridges above the glovebox work together to appear as if they are shooting outward from the steering wheel. It’s a fun aesthetic that feels right at home in a sporty hatchback.
Dual-Clutch Means more Bang for your Buck
All the sporty design elements in the Kia Forte5 SX would seem a little silly if there wasn’t a capable engine underneath the hood. Fortunately, Kia doesn’t disappoint. In the SX trim the Forte5 gets a 1.6-liter GDI Inline four-cylinder engine producing 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque (the LX and EX trims both receive a 2.0L Inline four-cylinder engine that produces 164 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque). For 2017 Kia upgraded this engine from a six-speed torque-converter automatic to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic which allows for quicker shifting between gears. You feel this during acceleration when the Forte5 launches from 0 and to 60 mph with little effort and longer strides of speed.
The dual-clutch automatic transmission configuration is only available in the SX trim and plays a part in keeping fuel consumption down. Kia says this engine should get 25 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 during highway driving. The dual-clutch automatic must certainly be doing its job because during our week of test driving I found that the Forte5 gave me about 35 miles per gallon during highway expeditions. Kia does offer a manual transmission version of the Forte5 but unfortunately we haven’t had the opportunity to test drive that trim yet. If we test it in the future, I certainly will post my experience with it here.
With a firm, sport-inspired suspension, the Forte5 SX handles well on the road, particularly at higher speeds and with nice, paved road to travel on. For a vehicle of this size, the ride was surprisingly less harsh than I was expecting and handling feels responsive. Once you settle into the driver’s seat of the sporty SX, you’ll want to go fast – which isn’t bad in itself – so it feels odd to hold back on the pedal, especially when it revs so easily to the touch. Open up the engine on the open road however and you’ll understand where that extra horsepower and suspension tuning comes into play.
The Quirky Alternative
Are hatchbacks for everyone? Of course not. That’s what makes them so important to the automobile landscape – they offer an alternative to compact cars for those who need a little extra space but enjoy the benefits of a smaller sized vehicle. The 2017 Kia Forte5 SX has all of that and a dash of sport for good measure. After all, hatchbacks are quirky but no one ever said they couldn’t be cool too.