Quick Drive: 2010 Kia Forte

By Charles Krome

At the beginning of summer, as I was chatting with my friend Rod about the curvaceous lines of my third-gen Ford Taurus, he asked me how many miles I had on the odometer. When I told him I was just about to hit six figures, he gave me a knowing look—Rod’s a Ford quality engineer—and mentioned I’d probably want to start searching for another ride in the not-too-distant future.

Sure enough, a few days ago, with about 103,000 miles on the clock, I heard the two words no one ever wants to hear from a mechanic: “head gasket.”

Now, the car itself was cosmetically very clean, with no rust issues, and I had long been telling everyone—with a certain amount of seriousness—that one day it would be a classic. This 1996-1999 generation was the fruit of the first comprehensive Taurus redesign, and, truth be told, the reception was positively Aztek-like. There was nary a straight line to be seen on the car’s exterior, which its designer supposedly likened to a pair of slippers, and that ovoid design theme carried through to the Taurus’ interior, with similar results.

But what turned off plenty of potential buyers back in the day, I viewed as a sophisticated, streamlined shape that was simply a bit too unconventional for the automotive hoi polloi. On the other hand, there was no way I was going to pony up a few grand to drop a new motor into the car, especially with a kid headed to college next year. The bottom line: I needed a new ride.

Because we’ve got a minivan for hauling around the full Krome crew and I don’t happen to need a separate car too often, I was just looking for a compact sedan that could hold a couple of kids when necessary, turn up some decent EPA numbers and provide at least a modicum of interest when driving.

And so far, the Forte has delivered, with the bonus that it’s also a pretty sharp-looking little car. I much prefer the new Kia design language to what’s going on at Hyundai, and it works quite well on the Forte sedan. It’s got a fast windshield and aggressive lines, yet Kia didn’t try to cram too much busy work into the sheet metal, a problem that’s noticeable on the Hyundai Sonata, and that car is a size larger than the Forte.

The inside is a bit on the spartan side as compared to the Taurus, but I’ve got a high tolerance for hard plastic at this price point, and the Kia does at least mix in a couple of different textures. The Forte also earns extra points with its relatively robust headlight and wiper stalks; I’m not afraid they’ll snap like kindling when I use them. There’s a high level of content, too, with a nice audio system with a USB port, defeatable stability control for when I want to wring the Forte out on the way to the grocery store (hey, it could happen), Bluetooth compatibility, steering-wheel-mounted controls, remote unlock, etc., etc.

I’ve also enjoyed the car’s driving manners more than I expected. 156 hp and 144 lb.-ft. of torque coupled to a five-speed manual go a long way in a car that weighs 2,700 lbs, and ride and handling are tuned to provide a decent facsimile of sportiness. The steering is overly heavy at low speeds and the suspension is too stiff—the car gets a bit skittish on particularly rough pavement—but frankly, I’d rather deal with this then the opposite problems.

The best part of the deal? I came out of the Kia dealership leaving a mere $16,000 behind.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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2 Comments

  1. First things first:

    I myself am a huge fan of the 1996-1999 Ford Taurus design. I love the sedan’s shape, and I am positively enraptured with the wagon. I find the slavish adherence to the oval very pleasing; in fact, to me it seems quite organic.

    I also find the design quite international; it is almost as the designers from Citroen in the 50’s and 60’s did some work on the late-90’s Taurus.

    But people in the U.S. that like this design are definitely in the minority. The car’s looks were reviled when it appeared on the scene. We are the odd ones in this dynamic.

    In terms of the Kia Forte, it is not a great car, but it is an excellent bargain.

  2. Maybe there are moore of us than I thought! I also love the way the 3rd-gen Taurus looks. I think it’s a great design, but people look at me as if I’m an idiot whenever I say that.

    I always considered the do-over to be killing the purity of the oval design with blandness.

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