Creating the 2019 Kia Forte

Not only is it Kia’s best-selling vehicle, it is the one that brings people to the brand. So for the third generation of the compact, they’ve elevated their game.

From the point of view of a signature design for its sedans, Kia certainly has something in the 2018 Stinger, a vehicle that was designed to provide nothing short of visual and mechanical appeal. So when the design team (yes, under the ultimate direction of Peter Schreyer) was given the brief to come up with a design for the third-generation 2019 Kia Forte—a compact sedan—it would have undoubtedly been hard not to take some cues from the Stinger. HOWEVER—and, yes, this is a big however—there were a couple of things that they had to take into account. For one, the Forte is a front-wheel-drive car, not an all-wheel or rear-drive package as the Stinger; the Forte may provide segment-oriented performance with its 2.0-liter, 147-hp engine (meaning that this is not something you’re going to be taking to the track but certainly something that doesn’t get in its own way when getting on a freeway), but it is the entry to the Kia brand for many people (yes, there is the Kia Rio that is in the subcompact segment below, but most people who come to Kia do so through the Forte). And second, in its last full year, Kia delivered 117,596 Fortes in the U.S. market and given that that is the best-selling vehicle in the Kia lineup (the Soul came in second at 115,712, which just goes to show that there is a non-trivial number of people who like something funkier than the run-of-the-dealership designs that dominate the market), there was a bit of caution due to the fact that they didn’t want to cause any disaffection among those who are Forte buyers (to say nothing of wanting to attract those who have yet to get into one).

That said, the 2019 has a long hood, with the cowl point moved back five inches, and a short deck, with a trunk not a hatch, and the roofline contributes to a look of a fastback vehicle. Compared with the second-generation model, the 2019 is longer (182 inches vs. 179.5 inches), wider (70.9 inches vs. 70.1 inches) and a smidge higher (56.5 inches vs. 56.3 inches).

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The front fascia, of course, includes the Kia tiger-nose grille. The headlamps are another Stinger-derived cue; the turn signals are located separate from the headlamps, on the front bumper, adjacent to a set of air curtains (and speaking of aero: the Forte has a coefficient of drag of 0.269). The rear of the Kia takes a cue from another vehicle in the brand’s lineup that isn’t a Stinger: the taillights are connected by a horizontal trim piece just below the backlight, an approach used on the Sportage compact crossover. And as on the front, there is a separation of the lighting, with the turn signal and reverse indicator lights being located below the taillights.

The aforementioned 2.0-liter engine runs an Atkinson cycle. It features a cooled EGR system to reduce pumping losses; there are also piston cooling jets used, as well as a high-voltage ignition coil, all targeted at improving fuel efficiency for the vehicle.

The Forte also uses Kia’s first in-house produced continuously variable transmission (CVT), which it designates as an “Intelligent Variable Transmission” (IVT). According to Kia’s Ralph Tjoa, manager, Car Product Planning, the transmission uses a chain-type belt rather than the more commonly used push belt, and consequently, the Forte is said to be the first compact with a transmission with that configuration. The software uses what’s called an “adaptive style shift logic” such that it feels like a step-gear transmission, yet it provides the kind of fuel efficiency characteristic of a CVT, with Tjoa saying that the IVT provides a 4 to 5 percent improvement in fuel efficiency compared with a step-gear transmission.

The vehicle’s structure is 54 percent advanced high-strength steel (AHSS), which Tjoa says is more than is used in the Honda Civic (52 percent) and which contributes to a 26 percent increase in torsional stiffness compared with the second-generation vehicle. Other measures that contribute to a more solid structure are the use of a single stamping for the door frame, as well as 105 meters of structural adhesives used in assembly.

The car is assembled at a plant that Kia opened in 2016 in Monterrey, Mexico. The plant measures 3,339,000-m2, has 2,500 employees and has an annual production capability of 250,000 units, which is 11 percent of Kia’s global capacity. The Kia Rio is also produced in the Monterrey plant.