2020 Kia Forte GT Is The Sport Compact Car You Should Take Seriously

By September 14, 2019Kia
2020 Kia Forte GT

I’ve always loved the sport compact car segment, especially the sedans. And the current automotive landscape offers a good variety of them. There’s the Honda Civic Si, the Volkswagen Jetta GLI and the Hyundai Elantra Sport.

Sport compact sedans offer ample performance and practicality all at an attainable price. And now, there’s a new kid on the block here to crash the party of established nameplates. Yes, it comes from Kia, the least probable carmaker to build a car like this. It’s called the 2020 Kia Forte GT, and it’ s, well damn good. I flew over to Vancouver Island to take it for a spin during its Canadian debut.

Goodbye Schreyer

2020 Kia Forte GTIf you find this Forte, or any other modern Kia attractive, it’s mostly thanks to Peter Schreyer, the German automotive designer who made his teeth over at Audi before he shifted to the Korean brand just over a decade ago. Under his administration, Kias suddenly became attractive and desirable, and the 2020 Kia Forte GT is no exception. It’s a clean, uncluttered and coherent design that makes the Honda Civic look like a toy, and the current Jetta look too immature. If anything, this Kia is the more mature-looking of the entire compact sport sedan segment.2020 Kia Forte GTSchreyer is now moving on to other projects, with Luc Donckerwolke taking over his position, and Montrealer Karim Habib, formerly at Infiniti and BMW, in charge of drawing the next Kias. Let’s hope they’ll carry on the great work Schreyer’s done for the brand.

The Forte got an entirely new generation last year. The GT, along with the Forte 5 five-door hatchback are joining the party this fall. Entry-level Fortes are powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four good for a lukewarm 147 horsepower, and mated to either a six-speed manual or a CVT gearbox on higher trims.2020 Kia Forte GTFor the GT, things become slightly more interesting as Kia promises a genuine pocket rocket. For starters, the car looks the part, with a set of frankly sharp-looking 18-inch wheels, a more aggressive front and rear bumper design, a decklid spoiler, dual exhaust tips and subtle red inserts within the car’s grille and lower-rear section. The interior also gets the red touch on the steering wheel, gear lever and seats, which have been replaced by sporty, more supportive units.  I’ll  get  back to  them  in  a minute.Power comes courtesy of a turbocharged 1.6-liter four cylinder good for a stout 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. An independent rear suspension and beefed up 12-inch discs (versus 11 inches) were added to back up the extra power. The only available gearbox is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic unit. Sadly, there’s no manual here in Canada. Meanwhile, our US friends get the stick.But get this, the fully loaded 2020 Kia Forte GT sells for $28,995. You can even get one as a hatchback (in Canada), under the Forte5 model, for $29,995. This undercuts the Civic Si, the Jetta GLI and the Golf GTI by several thousand dollars.

Feelin’ Good Value

2020 Kia Forte GTAs you know, I’m a big fan of cheap performance, and this Kia is up there among the great cheap quick cars currently on sale. What I love the most about this one, is that it doesn’t punish you for paying less than a Volkswagen or a Honda. If anything, it teaches these cars a lesson.Now, I realize the Forte GT is roughly the same price as that Mazda3 Sport I recently drove, I small car I also adored.  While the Mazda puts the emphasis on styling, comfort and driver engagement, this Forte GT simply gives you more go-fast goodies for your dollar. The Mazda3 lacked an engaging engine. Also, its rear torsion beam led to some unwanted bouncing on uneven ground. The Forte, on the other hand, has proper handling dynamics.One of the reasons is, yes, that independent rear, but also its impeccably solid chassis. Shared with the Hyundai Elantra Sport, and tuned by none other than Albert Biermann; the other German dude in charge of making Kias handle great – also responsible for tuning past BMW M cars, the Kia Stinger and the Genesis G70 -, the 2020 Kia Forte GT is a car I was not expecting to have this much with behind the wheel.There’s immense fluidity in the way the Forte GT attacks a winding road, with quick turn in, and an ability to remain nice and planted to the ground no matter at which speed you’re flinging the car. It feels solid, confidence-inspiring, and, dare I say it, German.

The flat-bottom steering wheel has a thick, meaty feel to it, and that turbo engine offers plenty of mid-range punch all while sounding alright along the way. Its best aural quality is during mid to high range throttle inputs where it emits a nice raspy bark through the cabin, almost sounding atmospheric. The dual-clutch unit is also lightening quick.I was also quite pleased by this car’s interior. While yes, you will find some cheap hard plastics on the lower sections of the dashboard, revealing its cost-cutting tricks, build quality is superb, with a stylish, clean design, and one of the easiest infotainment systems in the business. Also: physical handbrake!Seating position, however, isn’t the Forte GT’s best asset. At least, not for tall people. Compared to the standard Forte, the GT’s sports seats, while plenty supportive during hard driving, are bolted high in the cabin, leading to a sensation of rubbing your head on the headliner. The steering wheel, while reactive, feels numb compared to the standard car, which doesn’t exactly make sense for a performance-oriented sedan.  I would  have  preferred  more  feedback  here.Finally, while the GT puts the power down surprisingly well for a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the lack of a limited-slip differential means it won’t claw its way out of a corner as gracefully as a Golf GTI or a Civic Si. It’s a bit more of a hooligan, this one, where you’ll need to be a tad more patient before putting the power down. That said, Kia has somehow managed to do a lot with what it had  to  work  with.And that’s really what shines through with the 2020 Kia Forte GT. Kia tried to build a fun little car without having to develop mechanical components to get there. Yes, this is a mashup of Hyundai and Kia parts bin components, but its a clear example that when talented people get together to build the car they want to drive, the end product is nothing short of excellent. The 2020 Kia Forte GT is cheaper than all of its rivals, but will still stick to their tales on a twisty winding road. I say that’s mission accomplished for a carmaker who’s entire business model is based on value.

Clavey's Verdict

Review of the 2020 Kia Forte GT by William Clavey
Sport Compact Cars

  • A lot of performance for the price
  • Solid handing and chassis tuning
  • Quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic
  • No manual gearbox
  • Lack of a limited-slip differential
  • High seating position

8 / 10

Clavey’s Corner is located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Prices and trim levels discussed in this article reflect the Canadian car market.

Special thanks: Kia Canada

Photography: William Clavey

Contact the author: [email protected]

William Clavey

About William Clavey

AJAC-certified Automotive Journalist from Canada. Active collaborator at RPM, Wheels.ca, AutoTrader.ca, Jalopnik and The Drive.

9 Comments

  • JERRY SUMMERS says:

    6 speed manual is available now. Not sure why people feel compelled to interact with a clutch and shifting gears when you have a nice DCT and 7 gears. Even gas mileage is better with the auto. When you’ve been driving as long as I have, the novelty of manuals has worn off long time ago.

  • Bruce Joseph Bolduc says:

    How would you compare this to an Elantra sport? Same mechanical parts but appears to have a higher trim in some areas

    • It’s really the same car mechanically, except for the absence of a manual gearbox in Canada. The Kia is a tad more upscale, since it’s sold as the top-tier trim level within the Forte lineup.

    • Chuck Eng says:

      I just bought forte gt blue one as shown i am stoked this car is on point no complaints and i get lots of looks n commits

  • Paulo Oliveira says:

    Great article! Totally agree with pretty much everything you mentioned.

    I drove both the Elantra Sport and the Kia Forte GT Sedan (and also the New Corolla XSE and Mazda3 GT). Although same cars mechanically, the GT felt a bit sharper around the corners compared to the Hyundai, and also the interior was a bit more upscale (as the author mentioned above). The Elantra just has a lot of hard plastic in the cabin, especially on the doors (I believe the Ultimate trim level is better).

    The New Corolla powertrain surprised me a bit with the new Direct-shift CVT. By just avoiding CVT transmissions at any cost, maybe I had my expectations set so low that the implementation of a 1st “real” gear gave me the impression of a quicker car. The steering wheel was not that sharper when compared to the Forte GT, but less laggy than the new Mazda (more below). The Corolla’s interior is okay, the dashboard design is nice but is so cheap in terms of materials (and that screen looks so ugly, and also the immense frame it has around).

    Last, there was the Mazda: having done my homework and read lots about the all-new Gen 4 Mazda3, I was expecting a way better handling (and dynamics) and I feel like I got tricked. Don’t get me wrong: the Mazda3 still drives nice, but maybe with this new generation Mazda just went the ride quality way (w/ a silent cabin and a quite soft ride, not to mention the luxurious interior). I was expecting some sharp handling but instead, I got a laggy feeling at the wheel every time I tried some corners.

    In order to help with my decision, I created a comparison table for all models I was testing and the qualities that were important to me: design, powertrain, features, interior, handling/dynamics, ride quality and sound system. For all these 7 aspects, the Mazda3 GT got a total of 62 points. The Forte GT: a close 61.

    In the end, I purchased the Forte GT. The Harman Kardon sound system is not that behind when compared to the Bose in the Mazda3. Also, the sharp handling, powertrain (turbo + DCT) and features (5 years of complimentary UVO services w/ remote start, the rear back vents, ventilated front seats, wireless charger etc) stood out from what I was getting in the Mazda (it outdid the Kia only in ride quality, sound system and interior). Last, the dealership: Mazda did so little to get me buying their car, and Kia on the other hand just did everything they could in terms of incentives and some extras (from oil changes for life to a trip to Vegas, not to mention a few other perks).

  • Rob Tristani says:

    You mentioned that the Forte GT isnt good for tall people. I am 6-foot 8-inches and am comfortable in the drivers seat.

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