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Turbo GT power, hotter GT Line looks on tap for 2020 Kia Forte

2020 Forte GT

What changes will make the 2020 Kia Forte different?

A pair of sporty trim levels with an available high-output turbocharged engine make news for the 2020 edition of Kia’s compact-class sedan. There’s also a chance the Forte5 hatchback will make its return to the lineup after taking 2019 off.

Back to the sedan, model-year ’20 marks the sophomore year for the third-generation Forte. As part of its 2019 redesign, the car received fresh styling, new safety and convenience features, and availability of Kia’s first continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

Compact-car sales are in freefall as buyers continue to choose crossover SUVs of similar size. Only the Elantra produced by Kia’s corporate partner, Hyundai, saw its sales increase in calendar 2018. Every other entry realized modest to severe declines, with the overall segment down 13.5 percent. Forte saw a nearly identical drop for the year, and its outlook for January 2019 wasn’t much better with a drop of 11 percent for that month. While the sport-themed additions likely won’t reverse Forte’s fortunes, Kia would be wise to bring back the more practical hatchback body style.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of the 2019 Kia Forte sedan. In areas where the ’20 might be different, we will reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

You’ll have to wait if you want to sample the any of the tuned-up Forte models. Otherwise, look at the 2019 since we don’t expect any significant changes to the rest of the lineup for 2020.

Base FE, mainstream LXS, and luxury-themed EX grades will return. The 2020 GT Line will replace 2019’s S grade and reside between the LXS and EX. Supplanting EX as flagship will be the GT, which includes the GT Line’s appearance package plus mechanical upgrades in the form of a more powerful engine and firmer sport suspension.

In January 2019, Kia announced a redesigned Forte5 that will appear for model-year 2020…in Canada. As of this review’s writing, the company has yet to confirm availability for the U.S. We hope it will come here because its exterior design looks more like a small station wagon than a traditional hatchback.

2020 Forte GT

Will the styling be different?

For the new GT models, yes, otherwise, no. Kia redesigned the Forte sedan for 2019, modeling the exterior styling after its larger, premium-class Stinger hatchback. The result is a small car with a more aggressive appearance than its predecessor. It retains the brand’s signature “Tiger Nose” grille. Sweeping headlights, flared lower-front gills, and a “fastback” roofline are where Forte draws the most inspiration from the Stinger. GT Line and GT are distinguished by a gloss black grille, exterior mirrors, lower-body side sills, and rear spoiler. Red accents adorn the grille while the more performance-minded GT gets unique wheels with gloss black and red accents.

Forte’s interior will carry over into 2020. All would have clear gauges with a layout like that of the Hyundai Elantra. Touchscreen infotainment with an 8-inch screen and support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto will remain standard across the board. Imbedded GPS navigation that does not require a connected smartphone should be optional on the GT Line, EX, and GT.

Passenger comfort is unexceptional. Front-seat occupants will have enough legroom. Headroom is cramped under the housing of the optional power sunroof. Rear-seat legroom is also somewhat tight, though no more so than in other compact sedans. The leatherette upholstery that’s standard on EX grades is quite firm, which could lead to sore backsides on extended drives. GT Line and GT grades have sport bucket seats with more prominent side bolsters than on other Forte models.

The sedan’s trunk volume of 15.3 cubic feet is above the class average.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes, on the GT. Other 2020 models will carry over with the mechanicals that debuted on the third-generation Forte. FE, LXS, GT Line, and EX will reprise a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on the FE. Optional on that model and standard otherwise is the brand’s first CVT.

Kia tasked its engineers to concentrate on the most common criticisms associated with continuously variable transmissions. Instead of shafts and cogs, a CVT uses belts and pulleys, which allow for a near-infinite number of gear ratios. Such a design can cause excessive noise and vibration, as well as “rubber banding” where engine speed races ahead of road speed during acceleration.

The company addressed the former by wrapping the transmission case in sound-deadening material. Officials claim a 5-decibel reduction from the outgoing Forte, which had a conventional automatic transmission. To sort the rubber banding, the gearbox uses a chain-style belt instead of the more traditional push belt. Combined with specialized shift logic, and this is one of the best CVT implementations available. Acceleration is smooth and linear, with the car feeling faster than its horsepower and torque ratings indicate. The pre-programmed virtual gear changes are very convincing. The extra sound insulation around the transmission makes a difference as well as we experienced no unwanted noise or vibration. Other automakers with CVT-equipped vehicles do well to study and imitate Kia’s design.

GT grades will borrow their 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the Hyundai Elantra Sport and Veloster. It will produce 201 horsepower, 195 pound-feet of torque, and pair with the buyer’s choice of a 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Acceleration in this model should mirror that of a similarly equipped Hyundai Veloster Turbo, with a bit of lag from a standing start. Power would come on strongly thereafter. We are confident the automatic transmission won’t suffer from the annoying shudder that plagued other Hyundai and Kia vehicles equipped with it.

Non-GT Forte models handle well enough, with good steering feel and grip in tight corners. Ride quality is a concern, however. Our EX review sample’s firmly sprung suspension made the ride borderline harsh on pockmarked Midwestern roads. This is despite the car having 17-inch wheels on non-low-profile tires. The GT will have 18-inch wheels on an even stiffer suspension. Although we have not yet tested one, our experience with the EX will have us approaching the sportier model with some trepidation.

Will fuel economy improve?

The addition of the turbocharged GT will almost certainly see Forte’s overall fuel-economy ratings take a small hit. While ratings for the 2020 lineup were not available in time for this review, we expect those for the 2.0-liter engine to be the same as they were for 2019.

All models, even the GT, will use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

The ’19 Forte FE rates 27/37/31 mpg with manual transmission and 31/41/35 mpg with the CVT. All other 2.0-liter grades include the CVT and rate 30/40/34 mpg. Our EX review sample averaged 31.8 mpg with most of our test taking place in low-speed, cold-weather, and urban conditions. Expect the GT to rate roughly 22/30/25 mpg with manual transmission and 26/33/29 mpg with the dual-clutch automatic.

2020 Forte GT

Will there be new features?

Yes, for the GT Line and GT. While Kia is focusing a lot of energy on taking its brand upmarket with vehicles such as the Stinger and upcoming Telluride crossover, we’re pleased to see the company has not lost sight of what contributed to its success in the North American market: Well-built vehicles with a lot of content for the money and backed by strong warranty coverage.

Even the base FE has a high level of standard equipment, including automatic headlights, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, 8-inch infotainment screen with CarPlay and Android Auto, and a fair level of driver-assistance features, including autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure alert with automatic steering correction, and drowsy-driver alert.

Moving to the LXS nets aluminum wheels, drive-mode selector, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and upgraded interior trim.

GT Line grades have specific exterior and interior trim, LED daytime running lights, upgraded audio system, keyless access, pushbutton engine start, and blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection.

EX adds leatherette upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, 10-way power driver’s seat, and upgraded infotainment with Kia’s UVO eServices telematics.

Though the GT resides above the EX in Kia’s pecking order, most of its standard equipment builds off the GT Line grade. It has its own specific trim, wheels, and upholstery, sport pedals, steering-wheel paddle shifters (automatic transmission), UVO eServices, and automatic high-beam headlights. Blind-spot alert and rear cross-traffic detection are optional on this model rather than standard, however.

Will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll increase, probably not by much on the FE, LXS, GT Line, and EX, but the GT will likely command a more significant premium. Our base-price estimates include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $925 on the 2019 Forte sedan and $895 on the 2018 Forte5 hatchback.

The FE sedan will likely start at about $19,000 with manual transmission and $19,900 with the automatic. LXS will start at about $20,500, GT Line at about $21,500, and EX at about $23,500. The GT will likely span $25,000-$26,000, depending on transmission selection.

GT Line will likely have an option package containing LED interior lighting, power sunroof, UVO eServices, imbedded navigation, upgraded audio system, extra USB charging port, and wireless smartphone charging. Expect it to cost anywhere between $2,000-$2,500.

The 2019 EX offered a $3,210 Launch Edition Package that included upgraded wheels, LED headlights, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, upgraded audio, imbedded GPS navigation, rear-obstacle detection, sunroof, adaptive radar cruise control, and wireless smartphone charger. These options will return for 2020 but probably under the guise of Premium Package. Its cost will likely remain the same.

Expect most of the EX Launch Edition’s features to be optional on the GT, probably also as part of a Premium Package that will cost roughly the same.

When does it come out?

Expect the 2020 Kia Forte sedan to arrive in the fall of 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]