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2011 Kia Forte5 (Kia)
2011 Kia Forte5 (Kia)

2011 Kia Forte5

No catch to the Forte5 hatch Add to ...

If I was in charge of Kia’s advertising, I’d mount a campaign that somehow incorporates “the element of surprise” as its overall theme. It seems that every new Kia product I drive these days catches me by surprise. Usually in a pleasant way. Although as I say that, the Soul comes to mind, which was a surprise alright, but not necessarily in a good way.

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Nonetheless, virtually every model in Kia’s stable has impressed me lately. Especially the Forte, which I’ve driven in coupe, sedan and hatchback form.

All of these are built on the same platform and feel very much the same behind the wheel. The Forte5 also shares architecture with the Hyundai Elantra Touring wagon, which comes as no surprise, since Hyundai is the parent company.

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If I have my druthers, I’ll take the Forte5. Hatches seem to be making a bit of a comeback lately – Scion xD, VW Golf, Mazda3, Nissan Versa, etc. – and it’s about time.

As someone who has owned at least five MGB-GTs over the years, this is one of my favourite body configurations; it gives you the practicality of a sedan, but with better rear access for cargo. True, there’s no trunk, but if you’re worried about thieves peeking into the back to see what’s there, for example, the Forte5, like all hatchbacks, has a rear cargo cover, and when it comes to day-to-day activities such as shopping, carrying stuff around, hauling the kids off to hockey practice and so on, the only thing more useable is a minivan.

A few particulars. The Forte5 is available with two engine choices: 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre four-cylinder. Just 17 horsepower separates these two. There are two transmission choices: six-speed manual or automatic.

My test EX featured the smaller of the two engines mated to an automatic transmission. The autobox adds some $1,200 to the base price, and fuel economy is virtually the same for either transmission. I tend to favour manuals in this situation, but the automatic worked nicely as well.

Most typical buyers are probably looking for uncomplicated, efficient transport here, with as few complications as possible, and the autobox will give these drivers what they’re looking for. And, if I may be blunt, I would guess that a significant number of buyers in this market segment have yet to learn of the delights of a manual transmission, and pretty much have to drive an automatic. Either way, the automatic does the job.

As far as interior cargo space goes, the Forte5 has a 60/40-folding back seat, which, when laid down, will form a flat floor. It boasts some 550 litres of storage with the LX and a little less for the EX and SX models, mainly because these last two versions have a sunroof. By way of comparison, the Scion xD, which must be considered as a competitor, has just 308 litres, while the VW Golf delivers about 413 litres. So, a surprising amount of room back there.

As is usually the case with Korean imports, standard equipment level on the Forte5 is relatively high. That said, air conditioning is an option on the base LX. For that you have to step up to the LX Plus, which is another $2,600. Yes, you get other stuff as well, such as remote keyless entry, but air should be standard issue here.

Climb up the model range, and things like heated front seats, power sunroof, Bluetooth and even leather interior become available, but I think Kia should rethink its packaging strategy for the Forte5. Instead of giving us things like Bluetooth connectivity and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls as standard issue, throw in a/c and heated front seats. At the very least, make air conditioning a stand-alone option.

On the other hand, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, a traction control system and electronic vehicle stability control come standard with the LX, and that’s all good.

And I still like this car. It lacks the European flair of the Golf, is pricier than its kissing cousin, the Elantra Touring and isn’t the kind of vehicle that has you doing cartwheels, but it has a nice everyday drivability about it and would make a decent little commuter car.

It makes less noise on the highway than some of its Japanese rivals, and reserve power, though not monumental, is good enough.

One little thing: there is no issue regarding knee-room on the driver’s side. Often with compact and subcompacts, I have a hard time keeping my right knee from colliding with the centre console, which really gets annoying over the long haul. There are some models on the market that I simply can’t drive for any length of time because of this problem. Thankfully, the Forte5 – and its sedan and coupe stable-mates – is exempt from this.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

2011 Kia Forte5

Type: Compact four-door hatchback

Base Price: $21,295; as tested: $23,000

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 156 hp/144 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 8.0 city/5.5 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Volkswagen Golf, Toyota Matrix, Scion xD, Mazda3, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Suzuki SX4

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