Updated: Apr 1
My benchmark for sport sedan handling was set when I was 17 years old and had the opportunity to drive a 1972 BMW 2002 tii that belonged to a friend's older brother on a winding road in the Sierra Nevada west of Bishop, California. In my second year as a licensed driver, having only been at the wheel of my high school driver training car (a 1972 Pontiac Catalina), my mom's car (a 1970 Mercury Monterey Custom) , my first car (a used $650 1966 Ford Falcon) and the 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle owned by the radio station where I got my first job, the BMW was a revelation.
The 2002 tii was light enough that 140 horsepower was plenty, yet despite its lightness, it felt bank-vault solid, with handling and braking that were simply perfect. Every now and then, a car will come along that reminds me of that car. This time, it's from Kia. The new Forte GT is a simply great car. I drove it down California's Highway 49 into Calaveras County and the old gold country town of Mokulumne Hill and I was grinning from ear to ear all the way down and back---a 100-mile roundtrip. The Forte GT always seemed to be in the right gear, never felt unsure going into a curve and always modulated the brakes just so. It was just plain flawless.
The 2020 Kia Forte GT is not only a spiritual successor to the BMW 2002 tii, it's a car that, if BMW built it, they'd charge you $40,000.
Under the hood is a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine pumping out 201 horsepower and 195 pounds per foot of torque. That's just four horsepower less than the obvious direct competition, the 2020 Honda Civic Si that I reviewed on the old TireKicker site in March. Zero to 60 times for both are within a few tenths of a second of seven seconds. The biggest difference is that the Civic Si comes only with a six-speed manual---and the 2020 Kia Forte GT is only available with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. But---as I've said before---modern dual-clutch automatics are probably better at changing the gears at exactly the right moment than you are, whether you want to admit that or not. EPA fuel economy estimates for the two are within walking distance of each other as well---26 city/36 highway for the Civic, 27 city/35 highway for the Forte GT.
I enjoyed the Civic Si, but the Forte feels much more solid and planted. Styling is an objective thing, of course. For me, the Civic's a little too boy-racer. '
The Forte GT also includes a sport-tuned exhaust that makes a marvelous snarl that comes out of the twin exhaust tips that are connected to a single muffler. There's also a sport-tuned suspension and 18-inch machine-finished alloy wheels.
The best part? The base price of the 2020 Kia Forte GT is $22,290. The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see the full list, but among the highlights on the standard equipment list is an eight-inch touchscreen audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a three-month trial subscription to SiriusXM Satellite Radio, keyless entry, pushbutton start and a sport cloth/leatherette interior.
Our test vehicle also had some extra-cost options, including $200 for automatic climate control and $2,200 for the GT2 Package, which adds blind-spot collision warning, forward collision avoidance (pedestrian), park distance warning (reverse), rear cross-traffic collision warning, a Harman Kardon premium audio system with Clari-Fi, a power-adjustable driver's seat, heated and ventilated front seats, SOFINO premium leatherette seat trim, a power sunroof with sunshade, and a wireless phone charger. There was also $200 for a set of Michelin Pilot Sport summer tires, $95 for a cargo mat, $135 for carpeted floor mats, $50 for a cargo net and $350 for an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass.
With $925 for inland freight and handling, the as-tested price of the 2020 Kia Forte GT is $26,445. That would have to rank very high on the list of great automotive value for money propositions. And it comes with Kia's legendary 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
The Kia Forte GT is proof that Kia wasn't fooling around when it benchmarked the Stinger GT2 AWD on the BMW 4-Series. The Forte GT shows an appreciation for the purest of BMW's DNA---the 2002. When you can deliver that for $26,445 today, you've got something.