Drive Review: 2017 Kia Forte S

The compact car segment has always been a very competitive group.  With fewer buyers in the car market these days, one might think that this space wouldn’t get as much attention as it once did, but in fact, there are several refreshed or all-new models to choose from.  Civic, Cruze, Mazda3, and Elantra have all benefitted from recent make-overs, and for 2017, Kia has done the same with Forte.

Our Car

Kia supplied us, not with a top-trim EX variant of the Forte, but with the new-for-2017 sporty trim, the Forte S that sits between the base LX and EX.  What is likely to become the Forte’s best-seller, the S trim features a sport-tuned suspension, 16-inch wheels, rear spoiler, and chrome exhaust tip.  Pricing starts at $20,195, but ours was equipped with the Technology package, bringing the total to $21,685.  The technology package includes keyless entry, welcome lights, LED lighting, fog lights, and a host of safety features.  A Premium package is also available for an addition $2,500 for heated, power seats and a sunroof.


The new Forte has a more uniform nose incorporating Kia’s ‘Tiger Nose’ grille with the headlights.  New taillights are also part of the update.  A swoop line along the doors keeps the profile from being boring, though it also gives the compact a bloated look.  That aside, this sedan won’t stand out in a crowd, but that’s not to say it’s unattractive.


Upgraded black cloth seats, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob highlight the interior updates.  Though the seats are comfortable, they sit high in the car, giving a feeling of sitting on the car instead of in it.  A standard 7-inch display is crisp and easy to use, but currently only supports Android Auto; Apple CarPlay will be a late addition.


Power comes from a new 2.0L engine, replacing the old base 1.8L unit.  The new engine produces 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque.  It is mated to an also-new six-speed automatic transmission with drive mode select (normal, eco, sport).  Strangely, the more powerful engine cannot be had in the sporty S trim (the EX 2.0L produces 164 hp and 160 lb-ft of torque).  The feel is adequate for a car this size, but it won’t win any stoplight battles.  On the plus side, it returns a respectable 29 city, 38 highway, 32 combined fuel economy rating.


The sport-tuned suspension does ride a little stiffer than a normal Forte but doesn’t seem to have many payoffs.  It seems like this detail could have been left out of the equation and nothing about the S would be any worse.  It’s an addition that is a little puzzling, especially with it being combined with the lower-powered engine.


What is becoming more and more popular are driver assistance safety technologies and the Technology package added a fair amount of these to the features list.  Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring, and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert are all included.

Our Take

The Forte did benefit from exterior enhancements in this latest refresh but still suffers from being lost in a crowd.  The interior is a fine place, but it is also forgettable and lacks some much-loved features unless an additional $2,500 is shelled out.  In this class, the Civic is still king, with the Mazda3 being close to the top as well, especially if you are looking for a sportier ride.  The Kia doesn’t do any one thing well, but we doubt you’d be disappointed with your purchase.


Photo Credit: Joe Fischer

Randy Milanowski

Randy Milanowski

Randy has had a passion for the automobile for as long as he can remember. He lives in the Chicagoland area with his wife, pets, and project cars.

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