Kia Forte Koup SX at Mount Mary College in Wisconsin
Kia's latest youth quake is the Forte Koup: a compact front-drive funster. This coupe's specialty: stylish, sporting mobility with enough practicality to be your first, second or third car. Its neatly sculpted shape is attributed former Audi designer Peter Schreyer. If you see a mini-me Audi A5's panache in this car's roofline, you've got good eyes. Just like the Audi, each frameless door's weather stripping is custom molded imparting a seamless sexy look.
The SX's motivation: a 2.4-liter, 173-hp, four-cylinder engine. Its urgent throttle responds to the foot faster than Carrie Bradshaw buys fashion-forward shoes. This also leads to autocross torque steer and makes gentle launches via the six-speed manual transmission's clutch awkward.
Kia's power to surprise is found in its deviation from corporate cousin Hyundai's usually sedate suspension tuning. Indeed, although this Kia shares Hyundai bits, there's heft to its steering and stiffer springing. With performance-oriented 17-inch tires and wheels, you can explore some "Gs" until understeer screams slow down. Add bumps the Forte inelegantly galumphs, pounds and just plain gets rowdy.
The interior marries hard plastics and some soft-touch materials with thinly padded front armrests. Leather-trimmed front seats lack thigh support. Some screw heads are visible. A rattling sun visor extender announced each road flaw. This Kia doesn't have the zigzag button interface found on the Soul, however, there are three simple dial-type climate knobs. And for your highway fidelity amusement, the front door loudspeaker surrounds put on a light show-mood, music (pulsates like a prop from "That 70s Show") or off. This was kind of fun when "Brick House" blared from the satellite-radio tunes player. After that, I picked off.
Rear room is better than expected-nearly as good as some midsize coupes. Nonetheless, headroom is tight below the rakish rear window. If Kia would indulge us with something other than hard plastic cup holders as rear armrests and stiff shells covering the front seat backs, this space would be a coup in the two-plus-two category. One neat trick: the max-headroom sunroof pops up and slides back atop the car's roof like a Porsche 944.
Since coupes often ferry gear, Kia endowed this one with a relatively spacious carpeted trunk that can accept longer items due to a split folding rear seat. If you're off to the slopes, you'll need an external ski rack as there isn't a center-rear folding armrest with pass through.
The EPA's numbers: 22 mpg city and 32 highway; trip computer registered 28-31 during everyday commuting, 19 mpg while rampaging Road America.
With six airbags, antilock brakes and stability control the Koup is a handsome package that retails for $20,000 as tested.