Kia Forte gets sharp looks, more vroom

These days, the auto world is awash in compact cars at a time when consumers have switched their allegiance to crossovers and SUVs.

And the numbers show it: Overall, sales of smaller cars were down 6.9% so far this year through the end of August, according to Autodata. But one of Kia’s entry, the compact Forte, bucked the trend. Its sales rose 23.2%.

That’s impressive in a compact-car field dominated by some of the most famous nameplates in the auto business, starting with Honda’s redesigned Civic and Toyota’s sharp Corolla.

So Forte, a name that still doesn’t exactly roll off car-buyers’ tongues, has tried harder to play in the big leagues. Just like those other two models, Forte gets fresh looks. It now appears as modern as any car out there, although it doesn’t particularly stand out. A bad thing? Not really. The looks are likely to stay fresh longer.

Also new in the 2017 Forte is a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower that adds two more horses than the outgoing 1.8-liter engine and three more miles per gallon in city driving.

We found it to be no speedster, but it offered a comfortable amount of power for just about any situation.

The S sport version that we drove — the mid-level trim line — had what Kia said was a sport-tuned suspension and 16-inch alloy wheels. Had we opted for the fanciest EX model, we would have gotten an engine with 164 horsepower. The Forte EX would have come with standard leather seats, LED taillights and other goodies.

With the $1,490 Technology Package, however, the S had some of the nicer touches. Our favorite most involved safety: the automatic braking system for emergencies, forward collision warning and lane-keeping assist. The 7-inch touchscreen is going to work with smartphones through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Just for fun, there are little lights that illuminate the undersides of the door handles at night. We liked that.

So in the end, the Forte is an all-around better car, but it caught in a competitive field where buyers have lots of good choices. Kia knows it, so the brand has taken it traditional route of finding a way of swaying buyers by undercutting the rivals on price. The Forte starts at $17,340, including $850 delivery charges. That’s about $2,000 less than the cheapest Corolla at $19,365, or the Civic at $19,475, both including destination charges.

With its improved looks and solid features, the Kia would make a worthy choice.

What Stands Out

Looks: Sharper

Engine: New and smooth

Price: Cheaper than its two major rivals

2017 Kia Forte

What? A four-door compact car

When? In showrooms now

Where? Made in Monterrey, Mexico

How much? Starts at $17,340, including $850 in destination charges, S version is $20,050

How long? 14.9 feet

What makes it go? A 2-liter four-cylinder engine

How thirsty? Rated at 29 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg overall

Overall? Good car, great price

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