2014 Kia Forte Sedan and Sorento CUVPosted on February 4th, 2013
Automaker targets key growth segments with new models
By Nina Russin
Kia continues to play hardball, with an aggressive strategy for updating and expanding its portfolio in 2013. A refreshed Sorento crossover and all-new Forte compact sedan roll out first. The 2014 Sorento builds on Kia’s volume-leading 2009 model, produced at the company’s West Point, Georgia plant. The plant, which also builds the Optima sedan, currently accounts for over 40 percent of the company’s sales, with 11,000 employees and three full-time shifts.
Product planners hope that the all-new Forte sedan will gain momentum where the 2009 model did not. Kia has a long history of producing compact sedans for the US market, beginning with the Sephia in the mid-1990s. The Spectra which followed became the model to beat in the sport compact segment.
Kia attributes the ’09 Forte’s lackluster sales to bad timing. The 2014 model comes amidst a frenzy of new product introductions in the compact segment. The volume of products could actually help Kia conquest sales from brands that don’t share its focus on value. With styling inspired by the midsized Optima, two new engines and enhanced connectivity, Kia hopes to win back the young male audience it once owned with Spectra.
The Sorento rolls out in February, followed by the Forte in March. Pricing for the base Sorento LX starts at $24,100, not including destination. Kia will announce Forte pricing closer to roll-out, but has said that the base 1.8-liter model with the six-speed manual transmission will start just under $16,000.
2014 Forte features new styling and infotainment options
I had the opportunity to drive both the 2014 Forte and 2014 Sorento at a recent media event in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our drive route took us through Phoenix’s east valley to Bush Highway at the base of the Superstition Mountains. From there we headed east through the mining towns of Globe, Florence and Superior and then southeast on a mountainous two-lane road towards Tucson.
After time behind the wheel, I feel confident that the newest Kia Forte will come out of the box on a high note. The styling is much improved: more muscular and aggressive, giving the sedan a real presence on the road. Peter Schreyer and his team at Kia’s Orange County, California design studio were responsible for the styling: the same team that penned the current Optima.
While its exterior isn’t as edgy as the Hyundai Elantra, the Forte’s high-intensity discharge headlamps, LED tail lamps, long bulging hood and short decklid give it plenty of eye appeal. From the side, hockey stick shaped chrome trim around the window and a high beltline emphasize the car’s aero quality. Coefficient of drag is .27; down from .29 on the outgoing model.
The sedan rides on a longer wheelbase and is slightly longer overall, translating to better legroom in the second row and a more spacious trunk. The trunk also opens wider for loading in large cargo.
Ralph Tjoa, national manager for product planning who oversaw the project is a triathlete. It was important to him that the redesigned trunk be able to hold his bicycle.
Engineers dropped the base engine from the 2009 model, substituting two new gasoline direct injection blocks. The base 1.8-liter engine, available with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, develops 131 pounds of peak torque and is rated at 148 horsepower. The two-liter block, available exclusively with the six-speed automatic transmission develops 173 horsepower and 154 foot-pounds of peak torque.
The test car was the upscale EX model with the larger engine. Driving at elevations up to 5,000 feet was a good test for the naturally-aspirated block’s real power. It passed with flying colors.
Direct injection gives the engine excellent throttle response for good acceleration off the line and the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging into high-speed traffic. Weaving through morning rush-hour traffic heading out of Scottsdale was a non-issue.
The six-speed automatic transmission progresses smoothly through the gears, with no obvious shift shock or hunting on steep grades. Response from the electric power steering system is good. Drivers should have no problems with quick lane changes or the occasional evasive maneuver. Engineers increased the amount of high strength steel in the chassis for better torsional rigidity, and added a Flexsteer feature on the EX that allows the driver to modify steering response with comfort, normal and sport modes.
The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and torsion beam in the rear. It has enough compliance for uneven road surfaces without being mushy.
NVH is good for a car of this size and price range. There was no noticeable wind noise during the test drive, and tire noise was quite reasonable.
While I’m not a big fan of narrow greenhouses, visibility around the perimeter is pretty good. A rearview camera is standard on the EX, eliminating blind spots to the back. Side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots which the driver is moving forward.
The Forte EX interior makes the sedan seem like a more expensive car than it actually is, with soft touch leather surfaces, standard air conditioning, Bluetooth and a six-speaker audio system. Kia has enhanced its UVO infotainment system to interface better with smart phones. In the near future, Forte owners will be able to access Twitter and Siri using the vehicle’s head unit.
The test car has two option packages: a premium package that adds a power sunroof, ten-way power driver’s seat, driver’s seat memory, ventilated driver’s seat, heated front and rear seats, and push button start, as well as a technology package that includes navigation, HD radio and dual-zone climate control.
Second-row passengers benefit from additional legroom and a vent behind the center console that circulates air through the back of the cabin. There is enough room with the rear seats folded flat to stash a road bike.
Sorento builds on successful formula
The 2014 Sorento refresh is more than a styling update. Engineers made significant changes to the rolling chassis which give the car more power, better ride and handling and more interior space.
The base four-cylinder engine from the outgoing model is no longer available. Buyers can choose between a 2.4-liter four-cylinder block and gasoline direct injection 3.3-liter V-6. The test car is the Sorento EX with the 290-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission.
Although the new Sorento doesn’t feel radically different from the model it replaces, owners will appreciate its larger standard 18-inch wheels and improved turning circle, thanks to a new electric power steering system.
Full-time all-wheel drive features a torque vectoring system that applies the brakes automatically to prevent understeer. Blind spot monitoring warns drivers about vehicles passing through his blind spots with visual and audible signals.
The 3.3-liter engine has ample power for cruising around town, and performed well on the test drive in elevations up to 5000 feet. Towing capacity is 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV minimum standards.
A four-wheel independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup with dual-flow dampers in the back. It offers both rows of passengers a compliant ride, yet keeps the chassis flat and in control through decreasing radius turns.
Flexsteer enables the driver to adjust steering effort to his liking. Use of ultra-high-strength steel throughout the body has improved the car’s torsional rigidity for better steering response. The Sorento’s turning circle is 35.9 feet, making U-turns a possibility on wider suburban roads.
Noise intrusion to the interior is minimal, allowing passengers to converse on long road trips or enjoy the audio system.
Engineers lowered the Sorento’s step-in height 10 millimeters and increased legroom in the second row, making the car easier to enter and exit, and more comfortable to travel in.
Keyless entry and start on the test car is part of an option package that also adds a seven-inch thin-transfer-film gauge cluster, eight-inch navigation screen with rearview camera, cruise control, automatic headlamps, Bluetooth, UVO, power windows and door locks, panoramic sunroof, 115-volt outlet, power liftgate and Infinity surround-sound audio system. The TFT screen and power liftgate are new features for 2014, while the panoramic sunroof is a new design.
I find it odd that Kia requires customers to buy an option package for features such as power windows, power door locks and cruise control, since those features are standard in the much less-expensive Forte. On the other hand, standard amenities including dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat with memory, heated front seats and leather trim are not usually included as standard equipment in competitive vehicles.
Second-row seats fold flat in a 40/20/40 pattern, enabling owners to extend a section of cargo floor to load in a bicycle, while still having room for a rear seat passenger. A three-row Sorento is an option for larger families.
Standard blind spot detection makes the Sorento an easier, safer car to commute through traffic in, by warning the driver when cars in adjacent lanes pass through his blind spot. The TFT screen is easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions, and includes an information display.
Designers did a good job of equipping the Sorento with ample 12-volt power points, cup and bottle holders for all passengers. The available UVO infotainment system interfaces with internet radio, and will expand to include other features such as Twitter in the future. The optional 115-volt power outlet enables passengers to plug in games or a computer.
The Sorento cargo area easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards. Standard roof rails make it easy to add a carrier up top.
Both the Kia Forte and Sorento come with front, side and side curtain airbag, hill start assist, antilock brakes, traction control and stability management. Front active headrests, a rollover sensor and blind spot monitoring are standard on the Sorento.
Kia’s standard ten-year/100,000 mile factory warranty includes five years of roadside assistance, up to 60,000 miles.
Like: The all-new Forte is a more stylish, tech-savvy car than the model it replaces. The two-liter gasoline direct injection engine offers plenty of power and good fuel economy. The refreshed Sorento gives passengers more interior room, while the 3.3-liter engine offers more power. The updated UVO system features enhanced social networking options.
Dislike: Power windows, door locks and cruise control are not standard equipment on the Sorento.
Base price: N/A Forte/ $24,100 Sorento
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 173 Hp @ 6500 rpm (Forte); 290 Hp @ 6400 rpm (Sorento)
Torque: 154 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm (Forte); 252 lbs.-ft. @ 5200 rpm (Sorento)
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Towing: No (Forte); Yes (Sorento)
Fuel economy: N/A (Forte); 18/25 mpg city/highway (Sorento)2014, Best Value, Urban 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Kia, performance, pricing, standard safety
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