For a long time, the C-segment has been dominated by the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, with models like the Mazda3 and Ford Focus presenting a challenge in recent times. This competitive segment has been the ‘battlefield? for the Japanese and Europeans and the Koreans have watched closely to see what they can come up with to really take on the established models. The earlier efforts have attempted to draw customers on price but at the end of the day, quality and engineering still matter to customers a lot.
The new Naza-Kia Forte ? which comes in 1.6EX, 1.6SX and 2.0SX versions -? launched this evening represents the new generation of Korean cars which will present a more serious challenge in what is arguably the most competitive market segment. The product of extensive market surveys, it departs from the conventional in many ways and narrows the gap with the incumbents in a significant way.
Regarded as Kia?s best design to date, the Forte styling was conceived by Peter Schreyer, the former Audi designer who joined Kia as its design chief. In developing the Forte form, Schreyer had this to say: ?Design gives a soul to the product, hence the future of Kia products lies in balance, clarity and purpose. Our all-new Forte embodies that philosophy. Breaking away from traditional forms, the new Forte is a design that notches up the visual standards of C-segment cars. Without any extraneous features, its crisp, clean exterior styling conveys a powerful and dynamic image that exudes speed.?
From front to rear, the Forte has very clean lines with a crispness that provides dynamism to the looks. Featuring some visual elements from the Optima and Soul urban crossover, the Forte has what is called the ‘Schreyer Line? radiator grille; the grille symbolises a roaring tiger?s expression and blends seamlessly into the 4-light, black bezel headlamps. The rear view accentuates the sporty image with a short bootlid that has a hint of a spoiler and flanked by lighting units that incorporate a bamboo-like lens composition.
Buyers can choose from 6 colour choices – two non-metallic (Clear White and Ebony Black) and four metallic (Bright Silver, Metal Bronze and Titanium Silver). There?s also a Spicy Red finish which is available only available with the Forte SX.
Two all-aluminium 4-cylinder petrol engine options are available for the Forte (which is assembled at the Naza plant in Kedah) and both have DOHC 16-valve cylinder heads with CVVT (continuously variable valve timing).
The larger Forte uses Kia?s 2-litre Theta II engine which has features such as a highly durable but quiet timing chain, single ‘serpentine? rubber belt to run all the ancillary components, a catalytic converter integrated into the exhaust system and redesigned exhaust ports that lower exhaust gas temperature for improved fuel efficiency at high speeds. Power output is156 ps at 6200 rpm with 194.2 Nm at 4300 rpm. Kia claims that acceleration from 0 – 100 km/h is 9.3 seconds and there is a top speed capability of 200 km/h.
The other Forte has a 1.6-litre Gamma engine which produces 124 ps at 6300 rpm and peak torque of 156 Nm at 4200 rpm. This smaller engine is said to take a second longer to get to 100 km/h compared to the 2-litre version and has a top speed of 190 km/h.
Power delivery to the front wheels goes through a 4-speed automatic transmission equipped with a lightweight ‘flat-type? compact torque converter. This is the H-Matic transmission with the Shiftronic feature that allows the driver to have greater involvement by using a Sports mode for clutch-less sequential manual gear changes.
For some time now, Kia has done a lot of model development in Europe in order to endow its products with the European feel that is often preferred. It?s a good move since the engineers need to be immersed in the European environment with its high-speed autobahns to be able to understand how to tune a chassis properly. Doing it from a R&D centre in Korea just won?t be the same and this was apparent in the older models.
The Forte benefits from the European influence and is said to offer ride/handling balance that ensures a smooth ride, and fun-to-drive characteristics with precise and rewarding responses to driver inputs. Mounted on a lightweight hydroformed subframe, the front suspension employs MacPherson struts with wide ‘L?-shaped lower-arms for enhanced high-speed stability. The geometry has been carefully set? for greater self-centring and a sharper steering feel at low speeds.
Under the rear end is a coupled torsion beam axle, a less complex and cheaper layout that a multi-link set-up. The shock absorbers and coil springs are mounted separately, keeping the system compact for maximum cabin and cargo space by minimising suspension intrusion. An additional benefit of the rear suspension layout is that its more robust structure gives the underseat 52-litre fuel tank added protection in a rear impact.
Steering is by a speed-sensitive hydraulically power-assisted rack-and-pinion system with high gearing (2.89 turns lock-to-lock).? The front suspension design allows a turning circle of 10.32 metres (10.78 metres when 17-inch alloy wheels are fitted instead of the 15-inch ones).
On the Forte 2.0SX, electric power-assisted steering is standard. This system reduces the lock-to-lock steering wheel turns marginally and also gives a claimed 2 – 3% saving in fuel consumption as there is less load on the engine from a conventional power steering energizer unit.
The new styling DNA introduced by Schreyer has also been adopted inside the Forte although in some areas, there still seems to be that some remnants of the Korean persistence on being ‘different? (when there is no real need to be). But the dashboard presentation is attractive, with generous proportions and a two-tier design, discreet metal-finish accents and a ‘high-tech? feel. The long wheelbase and wide bodyshell ensures that roominess is a strong point and for the driver, the most comfortable and correct seating position can be obtained with the multi-adjustable seat and the tilt/reach steering column. For the SX version, starting and stopping the engine is done with the push of a button, a feature that is rare in this segment.
The ‘3-cylinder? instrument cluster, with the large speedometer in the middle, is called the ‘Super Vision? cluster and has very clear graphics (it?s good to have 110 km/h, the maximum national speed limit exactly at the 12 o-clock position) for easy reading under all lighting conditions. A ‘message centre? digital information display is situated at the bottom of the cluster and keeps the driver informed about the fuel remaining in the tank, coolant temperature, door/boot open alerts and fuel consumption. When the RPAS (Rear Parking Assist System) is fitted and reverse gear is engaged, the message centre also displays a plan-view graphic showing the car in relation to any obstructions.
The centre stack is designed to appear to ‘float? above the dashboard and presents heating, ventilation, audio and auxiliary controls in logical horizontal bands, with detailing that gives a premium feel. The stack features ‘Negative LCD? illumination which brings a reddish glow to the cabin interior.
The EX version has a 4-speaker audio system while the SX versions have 6 speakers. radio/CD players (in-dash 6CD Changer on the 2.0 SX) and mp3/iPod USB connectivity (SX Grades).? Remote controls for the audio system are mounted on the steering wheel.
Active safety technologies for the Forte include (with the SX versions) Electronic Stability Control, several systems to boost braking performance and a system to help avoid contact with pedestrians and other vehicles when reversing (RPAS).
The bodyshell is said to have been engineered to achieve a full 5-Star rating in the USA?s current official NHTSA crash tests and a ‘Good? rating (again the top-score) in IIHS tests for both frontal and side impacts. These claims are based on Kia?s own tests conducted using identical procedures to those of the NHTSA and IIHS.
The Forte 2.0SX gets 6 airbags as standard, tow more than the 1.6EX and 2.0SX. The 2.0SX has dual front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags (linked to rollover sensors as well as impact sensors) offering head protection to all occupants. Another standard feature is ‘active? head restraints for both front seats. These move forward during a rear impact to minimise movement of the occupants heads and protect against whiplash injuries.
The Forte is a refreshing new entry into the market and is the first of several new models to come from Naza-Kia over the next 12 months. The company is looking at selling 6,000 units during 2010, which means around 11% of the anticipated volume of the B/C segments comprising non-national brands. In total, Naza-Kia is aiming for 26,000 units next year.
PRICES (inclusive of insurance and roadtax in Peninsular Malaysia)
Forte 1.6EX ? RM75,800 | Forte 1.6SX ? RM81,800 | Forte 2.0SX ? RM93,800
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