ho can you trust in the imported compact sedan marketplace these days?  With Toyota fending off unintended acceleration woes and Honda nearly silent in everything having to do with Civic pride, Nissans Sentra about as invisible as Kate Moss, maybe its time to look at the Kia Forte for motoring redemption.


The Forte four-door sedan supplants its Spectra model and does so in fine fashion.  New for 2010, Kias compact entry offers plenty of content.  All models, from the base to the sportier SX, arrive on dealer lots with all-wheel ABS-equipped disc brakes, stability control, Bluetooth hands-free phone (on the steering wheel), satellite radio and CD-equipped audio with auxiliary, iPod and USB jacks.


The SX model, reviewed here in Corsa blue, is the sportiest of the Forte lineup and has the largest engine in the model range, an all-aluminum 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder mill with 173 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 168 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.  Kia offers either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission on the SX; our Forte featured the former, which has direct and short throws, grand gearing and good clutch uptake.


Sporting and firm suspension on the Forte SX is by MacPherson struts with coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front and by torsion beams with coil springs and gas-filled shocks at the rear.  Steering is rack & pinion with hydraulic power assist, resulting in a luscious turning circle of 35.4 feet and 2.77 turns lock-to-lock, very quick and precise indeed.  The up-market Forte SX model sports Goodyear P215/45R tires mounted on elegant 17-inch twinned five-spoke alloy rims.


Kia pays great attention to safety with its small, four-door sedan as it includes the ABS discs with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution.  Electronic stability and traction controls are standard, as are front, side and full-length head curtain airbags.  Active front headrests and tire pressure monitoring system help continue a listing of passive safety items.


With its taut bodylines, the 2010 Kia Forte SX stands 178.3 inches long, 69.9 inches wide, and 57.5 inches tall on a 104.3-inch wheelbase.  It weighs a delectable 2853 pounds and feels lithe and agile at every turn.  While there is some body roll to this sedan, its not obtrusive at all. 


There is more brightwork at the front of the Forte than the rear, with a chrome-look surround to the black mesh air intake on a posted hood that leads to a strong shoulder line carrying to the rear and accenting the beltline.  Turn signals are integrated into the mirrors.  Front fog lamps below the set-in headlights create an integrated appearance.  The upswept and tall rear trunklid leads to splayed tail lamps and a single, large exhaust with a nice throaty sound.  The lines are crisp and detailed; seams are straight and well spaced throughout.


The SX model Kia Forte has black gauges with white letters and red numbers.  The 140-mph speedometer is bathed in a red glow day and night and there is no temperature gauge.  That information is available through the trip computer, accessed through the trip button on the dash below the gauge cluster.  Rubber-tipped aluminum pedals aid foot adhesion and windows are one-touch, albeit in down position only.


Sport seats have very good lateral and lumbar support and are height adjustable through manual levers.  The leather-covered and tactile steering wheel tilts and telescopes; the shift knob also has leather covering.  Steering wheel controls include those for audio on the left; cruise (a very good system) on the right and phone controls below.


The metal-trimmed central stack is easily workable and understood, with a good LED screen for clock up top and audio below.  Wheels for the heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems are simple to use.  An open storage area below is faced with dual 12-volt plugs, an auxiliary, iPod and USB port enabling all device usages.  The central armrest has bi-level storage areas.


The 2010 Kia Forte SX as tested has an entry fee of $17,890 including freight.  There are two options on this sedan: the SX leather package that trims the seats in black skin and heats the front seats with controls at the base of the center stack.  It costs $1000.  There is also a one-touch (both directions) power sunroof that was so nice to have on the few days of sunshine this winter for $800, leaving a bottom line of $19,490. 


Unlike so many other manufacturers, Kia uses a real key for ignition and lights the slot where it is inserted.  There are remotes on the floor for both the fuel filler and the 14.7-cubic-foot trunk.  Fuel mileage is delectable at 22/32 mpg from the 13.7-gallon tank and, with the Forte turning 2300 rpm at 70 mph, theres no doubt that figure can be achieved.  As we did mostly in-town traveling, the average was closer to 27 mpg, just as expected.


My six-foot neighbor and two dogs had no problem occupying the rear seat that folds 60/40 and has cupholders in the central armrest, together with a single pocket in the front passenger seatback.  There are cupholders in the front doors and in the central console.  The headroom for my neighbor wasnt a problem, even with the sunroof, at 37.6 inches; front headroom is 40 inches so there really isnt much of a slope to the roof.  Legroom is adequate as well at 43.3 inches front and 35 inches rear.


The driving capabilities of the 2010 Kia Forte SX are its true calling card.  This sedan feels solid and agile; it has the kind of inherent balance any true driver will enjoy.  All controls are readily at hand and the interior is pretty darn quiet for a near-entry level vehicle.  Space is good in the cabin and trunk; finish is good everywhere on the car.  With its exceptional warranty of 10 years/100,000 miles, the Kia Forte SX (and all Kia vehicles) offer the kind of peace of mind that consumers deserve.


Looking for a straightforward sedan that has excellent road manners, sporting tendencies and overall safety and economy built to last?  Kia has exactly what youre looking for in the 2010 Forte SX. 


© 2010 Anne Proffit