2017 Kia Forte S Review

The small affordable sedan has more than meets the eye

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: Surprisingly roomy for something that seems small on the outside, impressively-sized trunk, attractive exterior design, Porsche-like steering wheel, power folding mirrors are unnecessary but nice, excellent value that doesn't come across as cheap or chintzy.
Negatives: Less than great-feeling cloth seats, droning four-cylinder, numb steering, strange dash pattern, bad understeer when pushed.
Bottom Line: A solid contender in the compact sedan category in terms of fuel economy, room, comfort and available safety tech. Just don't look for a thrilling drive or a visually appealing interior. We think the Mazda3 sedan is a much better car.
 View Our 2017 Kia Forte Overview
There's not much in the Kia lineup that hasn't been blessed by smart refreshes and redesigns. The Optima is a capable and well-appointed sporty sedan, the Sorento is better than it's ever been, and now the refreshed Forte sedan gets reworked and improved in the process. In the new S trim, the upgrades are much-welcomed and noticeable, as well. The subtle changes to the front and rear fascia bring a sportier and more refined style, and added tech tidbits are now available for safety and convenience. Though the Forte can't compete with the Honda Civic's sales, it's definitely putting its best foot forward with the 2017 model. We drove it recently for our latest review.

Driving Experience



Our S model came with the base 147 horsepower four-banger, which we would've easily traded for the slightly more potent 164 hp mill in the EX trim model. We wouldn't call the Forte S slow, but it's by no means rapid, and the engine sounds like it's being overworked when pushed. The driving experience will be fine for most people, but don't look to overtake anyone in situations that require quick and authoritative speed. Moves require planning and the ability to manage understeer under somewhat hard cornering. At least the overall driving dynamics are much improved over the last car thanks to a good suspension setup.

Ride Quality: A very smooth ride for a car that's so affordable. We were pleasantly surprised by how well it absorbed bumps and manage expansion joints without getting ruffled.

Acceleration: It's no rocket, but the 8.7 to 60 mph isn't terrible, either. There's not much throttle lag, but the engine is pretty noisy when you push the car hard.

Braking: The brakes feel good with decent progression, but it doesn't provide stellar stopping distances. About average for the segment.

Steering: The combination of quick turn in and vague feel is interesting. It's a bit dead on center.

Handling: Body roll is manageable. We'd call it nimble but not sporty, and the understeer is very noticeable when you drive the car hard into turns.




Kia typically does an excellent job with tech and infotainment. And even though our tester didn't have navigation, it still coms with both a 4.2-inch TFT display between the tach and speedometer with vital info and 7.0-inch touchscreen in the center stack for infotainment duties. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come standard, and like all other Kias, audio has physical knobs, as does the climate control system. Everything works well, and despite the lack of automatic climate control, we had few issues with tech, infotainment and controls.

Infotainment System: Easy to read, easy to use. We like the additional control buttons located just below the screen.

Controls: The addition of steering wheel controls for audio, phone and cruise are great. The three large climate control knobs are also very easy to use.

Bluetooth Pairing: Kia does this about as well as anyone. There were no pairing issues whatsoever.

Voice Call Quality: Very good with no complaints on either end.




With the fascia changes, the car's exterior looks more upscale, though your average Joe probably won't be able to tell the difference at a glance. At least the S exterior provides nicer 16-inch 10-spoke aluminium wheels, LED driving lights, a subtle decklid spoiler, and a chrome exhaust tip for flair.

Front: The grille is larger, as are the headlights. They meet, making the front look wider than the previous year's model.

Rear: The essential shape of the taillights are unchanged, but the lenses have a simpler layout that loses the light ring.

Profile: The shape is rather generic for this segment, but it's by no means unattractive, just a bit plain.

Cabin: There's nothing wholly original, and there's not much you can do to spruce things up at this price level. There's a lot of grey plastic, but the materials quality isn't bad at all. That being said, we don't like the seat fabric very much because it's rough to the touch, nor are we fans of the weird wave pattern on the dash that seems utterly pointless. The faux carbon fiber is a waste.




The interior of the Forte isn't short on space and makes surprisingly good use of it given the overall size of the car. Though we aren't fans of the seats and the weird cloth, there won't be any complaints about room. The steering wheel and gauges are the high points of the car's interior. The steering wheel is handsome, sporty and easy to grip with the perfectly placed cutouts. Controls on the wheel are near-perfect, and the bright gauges lack adornment and look crisp against the black background, just the way we like them. The ultra-soft headliner is a pleasant surprise.

Front Seats: The fabric seats aren't terrible, nor are they great. They just feel cheap to the touch. The cushioning is pretty soft, so we imagine they might not be supportive enough on longer trips. Bolstering is adequate. At least there's plenty of leg room for six footers.

Rear Seats: A mushy cushion and flat bottom for rear passengers is balanced by good legroom and a higher seating position.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The most noticeable thing is the engine noise under hard acceleration. Other than that, the car was vibration-free and there was no wind noise we could notice.

Visibility: Decent visibility all around, enhanced by the front porthole windows that help mitigate the somewhat wide A-pillars.

Climate: The AC works well, and everything is easy to modulate despite the lack of automatic climate control.




In the past, the Kia Forte has done well in crash testing, earning top ratings two generations before and good ratings last year. The current car hasn't been tested yet, but in S trim with the Tech Package, the safety features are decent.

IIHS Rating: The 2017 Forte has not yet been crash tested by the IIHS.

Standard Tech: The standard set of features includes ample airbags, traction control, ABS, tire pressure monitoring and stability control.

Optional Tech: The Tech Package provides a strong set of features including autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning system, blind spot detection, a lane departure warning system that works surprisingly well, lane keep assist system, and rear cross traffic alert.




This is one area where the Forte shines. It's got more storage and cargo space than its competitors and borders on big. The interior cubbies are sizable and well thought out, and the trunk can accommodate more than you'd imagine. If you're in need of a capable, affordable sedan with ample room for gear, the Forte is an excellent choice.

Storage Space: We fell in love with the big storage compartment in front of the shifter. It's deep, wide and has a brilliant sliding cover. Our keys, wallet, cords and giant iPhone 6s Plus fit it easily with room to spare. The armrest compartment and glove compartment are also ample.

Cargo Room: The 15 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk is shockingly big for this segment. The opening is large, and we even fit in a giant double jogging stroller and four full bags of groceries. Too bad the split folding rear seat doesn't fold flat and compromises rear seat cargo space.

Fuel Economy



Another area where the Forte shines is gas mileage, and that's no surprise given the automatic transmission that's got tall gears. Of course, you have to combine the great gas mileage capability with the nearly constant need to wring out the engine due to the somewhat lackluster power.

Observed: 33 mpg combined.

Driving Factors: We put in Sport mode the whole time and drove pretty aggressively. We don't doubt that the Forte could match or beat the 38 mpg EPA estimate under more conservative driving behavior.




The audio system is merely acceptable. It's hard to criticize it at this price, but the system lacks fullness and has virtually no bass to speak of. At least the controls and overall user experience with infotainment is good.

Final Thoughts

You can't really go wrong with the Forte if you're looking for an attractive, roomy and practical sedan that also happens to have a solid warranty package. The refresh is a positive move, and it will never be mistaken for a cheap car. Our recommendation would be to spend a couple thousand more for the more powerful EX trim, which would help with the acceleration but likely not the understeer or steering feel.
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