Update: This variant has been superseded by a new variant with six-speed automatic transmission, launched on March 3, 2011.
REMEMBER the Kia cars from the days of yore? They were bland structures on wheels and, well, weren't exactly top scorers when it came to the design or looks.
Thankfully, the Kia cars these days are a far cry from that. Some even look so good you'd think they're European, like the Kia Forte.
This stylish-looking and aesthetically pleasing model is both a head-turner and quite the attention grabber.
The Forte is a dramatic departure from your traditional C-segment cars. It's bold, aggressive and dynamic, conveying a sense of sportiness via its prominent exterior lines while showcasing a family-sedan look.
It's not surprising to note that the Forte owes its looks to Kia's own head of design, Peter Schreyer, who was responsible for designing the Audi TT and Volkswagen Concept-R when he was with those respective companies.
When you're standing next to one, especially for the first time, you just can't help but take a step back and admire the Forte's bold, futuristic and exterior design.
Sitting in the 1.6-litre Kia Forte SX, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the engine start/stop smart key system - i.e. you only need to push a button to start or switch off the engine. A nifty feature for a machine that costs RM81,800 (on-the-road with insurance).
The Forte SX is also generous when it comes to safety. You've got electronic stability control, anti-lock braking system, cornering brake control and traction control. The interior of this variant also comes with dual-front passenger airbags.
The Forte's three-pod instrument cluster is bathed in a sporty reddish tone with white-lit graphics forming the backdrop.
The centre console is symmetrically laid out for ease of use, with a clear and legible display flanked by classy chrome coating.
The Forte's six-speaker audio system comes with an in-dash six-CD changer with MP3, USB and iPOD support and a sporty leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
The interior is pretty spacious, and passengers above average in height had no qualms about sitting in the back seat.
The air-conditioning is an enhanced climate control system which includes full automatic air conditioning with optimum control.
The car’s three-pod instrument cluster is bathed in a sporty reddish tone.
For increased air conditioning efficiency, the SX variant's windshield and windows are coated with protective ultra violet tints to filter out harmful rays of the sun.
One thing that I did notice immediately with the Forte is that it's a rather large vehicle, and parking can be a bit of a challenge.
It also doesn't help that off the shoulder and rear visibility for the driver is limited due to the thick C-pillars and rising waistline. As the rear screen provides the driver with an upward view, backing this car into a tight spot can get testy.
Thank God for the car's rear parking assist system which displays a view graphic of the car to any obstructions it could bump into at the dashboard message centre.
Powered by a 1.6-litre Gamma DOHC engine with CVVT (continuous variable valve timing), mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, the Forte can accelerate from zero to 100kph in 12 seconds.
The engine with 124bhp and torque of 156Nm is an eager unit that is keen to deliver commendable performance for a block of its size.
Hitting the gas to the max has the tendency of turning the engine's otherwise silent purr into a louder whine.
However, the noise is mostly muffled in the passenger cabin, thanks to good interior sound insulation.
In terms of fuel consumption, this variant can provide up to 100km of driving using 7 litres of fuel — definitely ideal daily urban usage.
Our test unit had 17-inch wheels, which gave us a firm but not overly hard ride. The plus point is that larger tyres did accord us more grip around fast corners.
As for power output, there were moments where I did wished the car had more acceleration and pulling ability.
But then again, there is the more powerful 2.0-litre SX variant that costs RM12,000 more, which is up your alley if you are the go-faster type.
So maybe this 1.6 SX variant may not be built for performance, but those who simply want a stylish, well equipped family saloon with generous safety features would certainly love it.