I wrote briefly about the redesigned 2014 Forte in the wake of a Kia preview of some of its new products earlier this year. Let's take a closer, longer look now that I've spent a week in the company of this attractive compact sedan.

The new Kia Forte is roomier, quieter, more comfortable, and generally more advanced than its predecessor. But what grabs you initially is the styling. The car was sculpted under the watchful eye of Peter Schreyer, the talented former Audi designer who was hired to enhance the potency of Kia's styling steroids. And it is a looker.

Happily, the exterior design's good vibrations reverberate inside the new Forte. There is nothing too busy or too schmaltzy about this interior. It is a handsome monument to minimalism. Terms like understated and Bauhaus come to mind.

At the moment, the new Forte is available only as a sedan. A five-door hatchback is slated to debut this fall.

The Forte comes in two flavors: the base LX and the more deluxe EX model I checked out. Both are good values. The base LX, powered by a 1.8-liter, 148-horsepower four, starts at $15,900 with the six-speed manual gearbox and $17,400 with an automatic. The more heavily equipped EX, which is fitted with a more powerful, 173-horse, 2-liter engine, and comes only with the automatic, opens at $19,400.

The Forte is quite decently equipped in base form and offers some unexpected premium features in EX form, namely a direct-injected engine and a six-speed automatic, not a four- or five-gear job.

Both the 1.8- and 2.0-liter engines are new for 2014. The 1.8 is borrowed from the Forte's corporate cousin, the Hyundai Elantra. The 2.0 in the EX is a slightly stroked version of that engine with higher compression and direct injection.

A third engine - a 1.6-liter turbo developing 201 horses - will be available in the sporty SX version of the hatchback due this fall.

Reduced ground clearance contributed to the new car's one-inch height loss. Since the new Forte is a tad longer and wider than the old one, the interior's aesthetics are complemented with a tad more room. Someone 6-foot-2 has plenty of legroom in the backseat, and just enough headroom in the two outboard seats. Sit in the mildly raised middle, however, and you are out of luck.

Trunk space, nearly 15 cubic feet, is excellent for a compact.

As pleasant as it was, the Forte EX's interior still reminded one of the often subtle ways manufacturers keep down costs. While the front window sills were soft touch, the rear ones were hard plastic.

The Forte's designers used a lot of high-strength steel to enhance the structural rigidity of the new model, and injected foam between structure and body panels to diminish noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH). The result is a much quieter car.

The increased quietude teams up with enhanced ride comfort, thanks in part to the tweaking of the torsion beam rear suspension.

The EX's 2-liter engine doesn't provide paste-you-back-in-the-seat acceleration, but it's quite adequate for the real world and gets along well with its six-speed playmate. The suspension provides cornering competence as well as ride comfort but, like the engine, isn't going to leave boy racers hyperventilating. That chore probably will be assigned to the turbocharged SX.

The nicely equipped EX sports an appealing price tag in base form. But, like any other car, you can plump up that sticker with optional moves such as powering, leathering, heating, and ventilating the seats. The tester is a case in point, going from $19,400 to $24,715 plus shipping.


2014 Kia Forte EX

Standard equipment: 2-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission, front-drive, safety features like traction and stability control, and amenities like alloy wheels, tilt and telescopic steering, cruise control, and automatic headlights.

Options: A $5,315 gaggle of goodies ranging from navigation to a memory for that forgetful driver's seat.

Fuel economy: 24 city

and 36 highway.

Engine performance: Acceptable.

Styling: Top shelf.

Handling: Competent.

Ride comfort: Good.

Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles

bumper to bumper.

The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; three Bens,

good; two Bens, fair;

one Ben, poor.EndText