If it were to have listened to conventional wisdom, Kia would have stuck with building bland econoboxes, rather than moving steadily up-market with styling products like the Optima and Sorento. So, perhaps, it’s no surprise the Korean carmaker is again ignoring conventional wisdom with its plans to launch the new 5-door Kia Forte in a market that has traditionally disdained hatchbacks.
The all-new Forte 5-door is making its debut at the Chicago Auto Show and showing off another eye-catching, European-inspired design that is complimented by an all-new 1.6-liter gasoline direct-injected (GDI) turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
The powertrain in the top-of-the-line Forte SX is designed to pump a little passion into the Forte hatchback, pumping out a full 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, making the 5-door the most powerful Forte from KMA to date.
“We received very positive feedback after the all-new Forte sedan made its debut at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, and we expect the all-new Forte 5-door will build upon that success,” said Michael Sprague, executive vice president of marketing for Kia Motors America, which saw its sales top 500,000 units last year, the latest in a string of 18 consecutive years of market share growth.
The conventional wisdom among carmakers operating in the U.S. is that American consumers don’t like hatchbacks. General Motors has nixed plans for bring a hatchback version of the Cruze to the U.S. while Ford turned the Focus hatchback into a hybrid. Chrysler also has shied away for putting a hatchback into its model line.
But there are signs that a new generation of U.S. buyers may be more open to so-called “two-box” designs. The smaller Ford Fiesta hot hatch has been gaining traction. And Volkswagen has been delivering strong sales of the Golf hatchback. Kia felt it could expand its presence in the 5-door segment after testing the waters with a hatchback version of the subcompact Rio.
“The combination of a useful hatchback for carrying cargo and the sportiness of the turbocharged SX trim make the all-new Forte 5-door a dual threat in the segment,” Sprague said.
Sprague said Kia plans to offer an EX and SX version of the Forte. The EX’s 2.0-liter GDI four-cylinder engine putting out a healthy 173 horsepower and 154 lb.-ft. of torque through a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The more performance-oriented SX comes standard with the 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder, a first for the Forte line. The SX also offers buyers the chance to pick their own gears with a standard 6-speed manual transmission, or they may opt for the 6-speed automatic featuring steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
One thing that clearly plays into Kia’s hands is having Peter Schreyer as its new president. The former Audi designer completely rejigged the look of products like the Optima, Sorento and now the Forte, since joining the Korean maker. At the Chicago Auto Show he offered a hint of where things may go in the near future with the unveiling of the up-market Kia Cross GT Concept.
Though not quite as radical, the Kia Fort 5-door is anything but a retreat to traditional small car blandness. The 5-door’s swept headlights stretch deep into the front fenders and the raked windshield and broad shoulders give the front end a sleek, sporty appearance. LED positioning lights add a premium look to the front fascia. Moving around the vehicle, the large 18-inch wheels fill the wheel wells on the SX, and the hatchback profile affords a performance-oriented European personality.
Around back, the rear hatch glass opens to reveal 23.2 cubic feet of usable cargo space.
Inside, the Forte 5-door features premium materials and soft touch points. Large, easy-to-read white-on-black gauges nestle deeply into the instrument cluster.
Chrome accents around the HVAC controls and optional push-button start, along with carbon fiber-like textures on the dash and seats, add a sporty touch. A grippy leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are further evidence of the Forte 5-door’s performance aspirations.
The list of available features on the Forte 5-door includes front and rear heated outboard seats, an air-cooled driver’s seat and driver-selectable electric steering further set the Forte 5-door apart from its competition.
Tags: 2013 chicago auto show, 5-doors, auto news, car news, hatchbacks, kia 5-doors, kia chicago, kia forte 5-door, kia forte hatchback, kia hatchback, kia news, paul a. eisenstein, paul eisenstein, peter schreyer, thedetroitbureau