2019 Kia Forte pairs Stinger style with 35 mpg

The new Kia Forte evolves for the third generation with design cues inspired by the Stinger, all new in-house designed and built Intelligent Variable Transmission, advanced driver assistance technology, and infotainment. Kia's aiming to move the Forte upmarket with a new design and features to evolve their best selling vehicle into something more so than a compact car that is meant for getting people from points A to B.

That means improved cabin comfort, fuel efficiency, and a selection of advanced driver assist technologies. On the outside, the Forte looks to the well-received Stinger for several of its styling cues, though distilled down into what's a smaller and more youthful car. Design enthusiasts know that the right proportions are essential and, as with the Stinger, the Forte's longer hood and short rear deck lends it to an overall fastback-like shape.

The designers added creases in the hood to add to the Forte's muscular appearance, along with Kia's signature tiger-nose grille and an aggressive black lower valance. The Stinger also inspires the Forte's headlamp design and layout, including separate turn signal indicators mounted below the front bumper, where air curtains promise to help improve the overall aerodynamic performance. At the back, the rear bumper gets the same treatment with separate reverse and turn signals, which are located beneath the optional LED taillights. The taillights are connected with a horizontal trim piece, similar to that on the Sportage.

The fastback shape not only looks good, but it also gives the engineers and designers the opportunity to expand the passenger compartment in several important areas. That adds up to a more comfortable space no matter how long they're in the car. The overall length of the Forte has increased by 3.2 inches to 182.7 inches overall. This increase allows for more legroom and additional cargo in the trunk; indeed, with 15.1 cu-ft, cargo room is among the largest in the segment. The interior space is generous enough to accommodate a group of friends' worth of gear necessary for a road trip. The engineers also added a half-inch of headroom for a total of 56.7 inches, and the overall width has increased to 70.8 inches.

While the extra 0.7 inches of width may not be entirely noticeable to the eye, the layout of the dashboard gives the appearance of a wider interior space similar to the Stinger. A horizontal theme creates a sense of openness and avoids clutter with clean lines and minimal buttons. The few buttons are placed below the 8-inch color touchscreen. Aeronautically-inspired spoked vents and soft-touch materials add up to the more premium feel.

Building upon an already-solid structure that helped the Forte achieve the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating, Kia has strengthened the structure with additional hot-stamped components and 54-percent advanced strength steel. The stronger seat frames promise extra lumbar support, while denser foam in the seats offers more comfort. There are standard projection headlights or optional full LED headlights.

The body stiffness plays a significant role in the NVH performance, with Kia claiming it's now 16-percent stiffer. A new subframe design helps improve lateral responsiveness of the chassis, while steering feel should be improved over the previous car thanks to the new engineering of the Motor Driven Power Steering (MDPS) system. Kia promises it'll reduce any artificial steering feel and friction. Reworked suspension geometry has a quicker and more nimble feeling in mind, while the throttle response and brake feel have also been updated. Altogether, you're looking at smoother initial response at tip-in, and shorter stopping distances.

Underneath the Forte's new, longer hood is the second generation of the 2.0 Liter Nu four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine with a cooled EGR system. The Atkinson cycled and cooled EGR technologies are typically applied to hybrid and electric vehicles, where they're designed to help boost fuel efficiency. The new engine can be paired with either a six-speed manual or Kia's all-new Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT). The engine and in-house built IVT are the first of a new lineup for highly efficient "Smart Stream" powertrains that will eventually spread across the Kia lineup.

The Kia engineers waited before developing the automaker's own continuously variable transmission (CVT), giving the engineers time to research the issues often associated with the technology. It's fair to say that not everybody is a fan: one of the most frequently-expressed pain points is that they can create a rubber-band-like feel to the drivetrain. To address the issue, Kia engineers built IVT with an adaptive style shift logic and a chain belt instead of a push belt. The belt allows for smooth and linear acceleration, and, so the claims go, a far more enjoyable and sporty driving experience. A step shift-like feel mimics the conventional automatic at wide open throttle or when passing.

Noise is another criticism that CVTs often face, and so the engineers wrapped the Forte's transmission case with sound insulation to help muffle the typical drone. NVH levels were decreased by 5db as a result. Horsepower and torque are expected to remain unchanged from the 2018 Forte, delivering an estimated 147 HP and 132 lb.-ft. of torque. Efficiency, though, has improved: thanks to the new transmission and engine, the 2019 Forte is expected to return up to 35 MPG combined, about a 3 MPG improvement over the current vehicle.

Inside, the 2019 Forte comes standard with an 8-inch color touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. With certain smartphones, the system can read SMS texts aloud through Bluetooth. Wireless charging is also available as a tray perched up on the center stack, and is compatible with many Android phones and the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. Also available is a 320-watt premium sound system developed with Harman Kardon.

Kia's suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) offered in many of the automaker's more expensive vehicles make their way down into the 2019 Forte, too. In addition to Blind-Spot Collision Warning (BCW) and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA), there's Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist (FCA) and Smart Cruise Control (SCC). Smart Cruise Control is designed to maintain a pre-set distance between the Forte and the vehicle in front, and can slow the vehicle with traffic in certain circumstances.

Sales are expected to kick off later in 2018, with pricing announced closer to release. Kia says it will launch the 2019 Forte in LX, S, and EX trims initially, with more variants of the car to come.