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car review

2010 Kia Forte Koup.

Introduced at the 2010 New York Auto Show, the Kia Forte Koup was the first two-door coupe configuration from this Korean manufacturer.

Officially classed as a five-passenger vehicle, with room in the back for three, elbow room was a tight back there and four people would fit just about right.

Initially, it came in two trim levels – EX and SX – and shared its platform with the Forte sedan. It could be had with two engine choices: a 2.0-litre or 2.4-litre four-cylinder. The former developed 156 horsepower, while the latter put out 173. These two engines were also the latest iteration of the World Engine utilized by Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Chrysler and others.

Both engines came with two transmissions; the smaller of the two had a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, while the larger could be had with a five-speed autobox or a six-speed manual. The manual six-speed returned slightly better fuel economy on the highway, but around town these two were virtually the same.

Suspension was handled by MacPherson struts up front with a torsion beam arrangement in back, and a front roll bar. Brakes were four-wheel discs with ABS, and the SX came with tighter suspension than the EX – it made a difference, with tighter steering and handling.

Despite the minor difference in powerplant size, the larger-engined models offered appreciably better performance. Either way, for the majority of buyers, the Korean-built Koup offered entertaining handling and performance, but it was never going to set the road or racetracks on fire.

Typically for most Kia products, standard equipment level was high, with the usual complement of modcons such as power windows, Bluetooth, air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering and so on. The SX added leather interior, heated outside mirrors, power sunroof, 17-inch rally-style wheels and tires, aluminum pedals, climate control, fog lights and Sirius satellite radio. You definitely got your money's worth.

The Koup also represented a maturation on the part of Kia. It was now in the embrace of the Hyundai organization and assembly quality and fit and finish was on par with its Japanese competitors. Not to mention less idiosyncratic styling. The race for world domination was on.

No safety recalls for the Koup either from Transport Canada or the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA, however, has 18 technical service bulletins on file for the Forte. These range from issues with the cruise control, to "abnormal" noise coming from the sunroof, to a problematic heat/ventilation blower motor, to the seat belt warning light failing to shut off even when everyone is belted up. Mysterious computer glitches are also part of the picture.

NHTSA also has its share of gripes from owners. Again, most of these apply to the Forte, but since the Koup is essentially the same car, they're worth noting. "The traction control stayed off and would not turn on," reported one owner; "Major factory paint defects," says another; "While driving, the engine stalled," complains a third. NHTSA has 24 such complaints on file.

Consumer Reports likes the Forte/Koup, but the magazine is not over the moon about it. It collects a better-than-average overall rating, but there are problems with paint and trim and assorted squeaks and rattles. "While it's a big improvement, it still ranks below the class leaders," says C.R. Some comments from owners: "This little gem is a work horse," "The back is high; backing up feels dangerous," "Plenty of legroom in the front of the car as well as the back."

Market research firm J.D. Power, meanwhile, likes the Koup, but has misgivings about its dependability. It rates better than average for overall performance and design, but is in the middle of the pack in terms of predicted reliability. Overall quality is a sticking point with this organization.

Three years on, the Koup is hanging in there for resale value. You can expect to pay $12,000 for a base EX, up to the mid-teens for a well-equipped SX. The larger engine models fetch $1,000-$1,500 more than the two-litre versions, depending upon equipment level.

Tech specs

2010 Kia Forte Koup

Original Base Price: $18,495; Black Book: $13,100-$14,975; Red Book: $11,025-$12,300

Engine: 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 156 hp/143 lb-ft for 2.0; 173 hp/168 lb-ft for 2.4

Transmission: Four-speed automatic or five-speed manual for 2.0-litre; five-speed automatic or six-speed manual for 2.4-litre

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.0 city/6.3 highway (2.4 litre with five-speed auto); regular gas

Alternatives: Honda Civic Si, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, Ford Focus SES, Mazda3 Sport, Nissan Altima Coupe 2.5 S, Volkswagen Golf, Toyota Corolla XRS