I finished graduate school and realized I really needed a western road-trip vacation. We rented a car from Budget for the trip and when we went down to pick it up our choices were the 2010 Kia Forte or a Pontiac. Despite our previous horrid experiences with Kia products (see my review of the Rio) felt the Kia Forte was a just a bit more roomy inside than the Pontiac. We headed out for what would become a 2 week torture test of this car. We drove it over swamps, deserts, high altitudes, mountain ranges city streets, back streets, expressways, low and high plains, night, day, dusk and dawn. Our trip took us from Homestead, FL to Arizona. From Arizona north to the Canadian border. Across the northern US on I94 to the Great Lakes and then down the Appalachians via Pennsylvania, Kentucky, TN, NC, etc 25 states in two weeks.
The GOOD First: The Forte handles fine in cities and I suppose it was intended for this mission and not the heavy interstate driving we used it for. Kia seems to have improved their quality control from the earlier Rio that we had owned. The fuel usage seemed to be plugged at 28 miles per gallon with the AC on. While in Utah, Montana, North Dakota, etc we were able to turn the AC off and realized a substantial 38 miles per gallon. On the interstates I often was driving the speed of traffic and that is usually 85+ miles per hour and the Forte seemed to have no problem with this. The trunk was roomy and took more stuff than we imagined it would. The front seats pulled all the way back so at least my 5'10 frame was able to get in and out with ease. One of our unplanned trips in Yellowstone NP took us on about 30 miles of muddy unpaved roads and this car came through like a champ.
The BAD now: The forte had insistent heat issues that we felt were caused by the design. Heat would radiate up from the central transmission hump that would make that hump uncomfortably warm. The rental car places we went to said that is just the deal with this model. I could not decide if this was the transmission or exhaust system heating up but the car ran very hot inside the cabin and the trunk contents were often blazing hot. There are substantial blind spots in the rear of the car the prevent the driver from getting even close to a clear vision of where they are reversing into. This was a major problem for use that lead to several near crashes. With the AC on or on inclined roads the Kia Forte had the pick-up of a sick elderly goat. That is to say next to nill. It would eventually get up to speed but it was often maddening to enter interstates with this car. The lack of heat gages (next to an idiot light) was unnerving with the car heating up. The TPMS light went off in Florida on the first day. We checked the tire pressure and all were in spec. The rental agency said these cars tend to have bad or faulty TPMS sensors that trigger false readings. On this car the TPMS went off all the time with no rhyme or reason. The dashboard controls were good with one exception and that was the radio control on the steering wheel. This only allowed you to scroll pre-selected stations instead of the whole spectrum. This lead to the driver leaning over to select radio stations while blazing down the interstate. Bad plan. The gear shift was just plain weird that followed an unnatural plan. The gear shift became very annoying in time to use.
The CONCLUSION: We pushed this car to the maximum. Over 10,000 miles in two weeks. A bunch of weirs issues popped up that might be unique to the car we rented (bad sensors, heat issues) or might be endemic to the design (no meters, blind spots). In the end we felt this car was a massive leap forward over the Kia we owned in the past. The quality was better and it held up to most of the, frankly hard driving we asked of it. I reckon it is Kia's answer to the Toyota Corolla and to that end think they will do good making inroads into that market. On the other hand one should be aware of the serious issues we encountered and keep an eye on these. We found with out past experiences with Kia that the issues do not resolve themselves and the dealers we dealt with were kindly described as thieves when you try to get the car repaired under warranty. Perhaps they have fixed the dealers thieving ways but, well, be wary!
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