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2011 Kia Forte5
We just might have to stop using the phrase "economy car"

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Kia Forte5Fuel economy" has always brought with it the "economy-car" stigma, but there's a definite shift going on in 2011: good on gas can also mean a good car. Maybe even a great car.

As if Kia was trying to prove the point, buyers now have a highly versatile Forte5 as well as the sedan and two-door "Koup" to choose from.

The Korea-based automaker refers to the Forte5 as a hatchback, but there's little to differentiate it from most typical wagons. Some might argue that the rear opening must be virtually vertical for a wagon to be called a wagon, while others believe the amount of storage space is the ideal determining factor. In any event, if Kia prefers calling the Forte5 (obviously not bothering to differentiate between passenger doors and rear-access cargo openings) a hatchback, then so be it.

In any event, the four-door Forte5 uses the same basic platform as the sedan and both cars are equal in width and in distance between the front and rear wheels. However, the Forte5 is actually shorter in overall length by about 19 centimetres and is trimmer by about 23 kilograms as a result.

2011 Kia Forte5But the most important measurement for any practical hatch is the volume of stuff it can carry. With the rear seat folded flat, the Forte5 can swallow a fair chunk of groceries; more than the Toyota Matrix or Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback but not as much as the Hyundai Elantra Touring or the diminutive (but surprisingly spacious) Honda Fit.

Kia's designers have done a pretty good job at loping off the sedan's trunk and integrating the new rear end of the Forte5. The lines remain crisp and purposeful from all angles, accentuated by the blacked-out door pillars and wrap-around taillights. From the back though, the Forte5 appears suspiciously similar to the Subaru Impreza, a vehicle that that automaker unabashedly refers to as a wagon. No wonder there's confusion out there.

The interior shares most of its components with the sedan, including a virtually identical dashboard. Kia somehow managed to dial a bit more passenger space into the Forte5, likely due to a slightly higher roofline.

Also common to all three Forte body styles is the two-engine lineup. The base LX and EX models run with the 156-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder, while a 173-horsepower 2.4-litre four-cylinder belongs to the fancier SX.

Both powerplants can be ordered with six-speed manual transmissions, or optional six-speed automatics (with extra-cost paddle-shift capability).

2011 Kia Forte5Fuel economy with the base engine and automatic transmission is rated at 5.5 l/100 km city and 8.0 highway (5.7 l/100 km city and 8.1 highway with the stick shift). Those impressive numbers are sufficient to propel the Forte5 to the head of its compact wagon/hatchback class.

If you're seeking only basic transportation, the LX, which starts at $18,150, including destination charges, should suit you just fine as it lacks air conditioning, remote keyless entry and cruise control. Those items are included on the EX, along with heated front seats, up-level audio system and 16-inch wheels instead of the LX sedan's 15-inch steelies.

In addition to the more powerful 2.4-litre engine, the SX adds climate control, power sunroof, leather seat covers, metal pedals, fog lamps and 17-inch wheels. But perhaps the most useful SX item is the sport-tuned suspension that Kia claims delivers a firmer, more controlled ride. In addition, larger-diameter front brake discs are claimed to produce shorter stops.

The SX option list is short, but sweet and consists of push-button start, auto-dimming rearview mirror and a navigation system.

Whether entry level or loaded to the hilt, the Forte5 is a handsome, practical and affordable hauler. Most folks who opt for this particular configuration, regardless of its wagon or hatchback designation, will likely wonder how they ever got by without it.

What you should know: 2011 Kia Forte5

Type: Four-door compact hatchback
Engines (hp): 2.0-litre DOHC I4 (156); 2.4-litre DOHC I4 (173)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: Compact hatchbacks and wagons appear to be gaining in popularity as more buyers seek smaller and thriftier vehicles that offer the maximum in versatility.
Points: Attractive looks should guarantee Forte5's popularity; Peppy, yet fuel-efficient engine choices; Spacious stowage area, but lacks Hyundai Elantra's volume (Kia is owned by Hyundai); Once an airbag leader, Kia is being outpaced by competitors; Extra-long comprehensive and powertrain warranties give the Forte5 an edge.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 5.5/8.0 (AT)
Base price (incl. destination): $18,150

By comparison     

Toyota Matrix
Base price: $18,100
Popular, roomy Corolla-based wagon offers optional all-wheel-drive.

Dodge Caliber
Base price: $16,000
Now more appealing with significant interior upgrades for 2011

Mitsubishi Sportback
Base price: $21,600
Lancer offshoot adds extra trunk room. Ralliart version really flies.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted May 25, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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