(Contributing Editor: George Straton)

What small family cars have traditionally excelled  at is moving small families around affordably and filling up the cheap seats at car rental facilities.

With the shift of tastes away from flavor sedan to crossover SUV,  carmakers who are remaining in the fight need up their compact family sedan game.

Now back in its 3rd guise since replacing the econo box Spectra, the 2019 Kia Forte’s greatest accomplishment could well be shedding a Hyundai Elantra hand-me-down, local car rental lot weekend special image. 

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WHAT: 2019 Kia Forte EX w/ Launch Package Mk.3 BD (Hyundai AD platform) compact family sedan. Also called Kia Cerato/ Ceed in other markets. Uses 54% high strength steel. Replaces Mk. 2 YD Kia Forte.

Standard Power: transverse 2.0 L DOHC 16V SFI gas I-4 = 147 hp/ 132 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm + continuously variable transaxle (CVT); 3 [throttle, shift] Drive Modes  = Smart, Normal, Sport.

WHAT (A) DIFFERENCE(S):

Peter Schreyer and Co. prudently pruned the formerly bloated double kidney grille to a thin honeycombed wafer of its former self. This version of the brand’s current “Tiger Nose” includes thinner wrap-around LED lighting with captivating X-array DRLs. Front and rear directionals are boldly  relocated to lower corner darkened simulated brake duct / diffusers.

Also high in contrast are similarly dark trapezoidal lower front air dam and rear valance, the former integrating fog lamps. Hood valley creases are flex more muscle and the rocker panel creases rise to the curved rear quarters.

The rear sloping roof suggests Kia Stinger grand touring fastback, enhanced by a trunk lid integrated lip. Thinner wrap around LED taillamps are also joined in Stinger Style with a matching reflector bar.

WHY: Team Schreyer Sharpens Compact Sedan Silhouette

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since autumn 2018

WHERE: Kia new car dealers

WHERE MADE: Pesqueria, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

HOW STRONG: Out goes direct injection from the 2.0L DOHC gas I-4, and hence the higher tune, until a 201 hp turbo 1.6L GT-Line version appears for 2020 MY. The multi-port injected powerplant, with a slightly higher compression ratio, sloughs off 26 horsepower and 7 lb-ft..  A new 7-step torque converter Continuously Variable transaxle, engages and winds out the motor, without immediate acceleration as has been come to be expected from a CVT; Improved cabin insulation mute the tinny Gamma engine soundtrack and road noise. Now about that errant dashboard center stack rattle….

HOW LIMBER: Quixotically quick acting steering is matched to an electric assistance muting road feel. Dry road grip rewards a faster pace but ultimately betrays understeer. The rear torsion beam copes with rather than controls body movement, dishing up compliance with less quiver than of yore. Four-wheel disc binders return confident pedal feel.

HOW FAR: Exceeding Kia’s promise to the U.S. EPA, expect a return of 34 miles per gallon combined fuel economy; Nearly 520 highway miles on a tankful of 87 octane gas.

HOW BIG: Roomy and low cowl airy front occupant space; Extensive seat to body-type adjustability; Rear occupant knee and headroom near top of the segment, bordering mid-size;

HOW LITTLE: 4-Door sloped coupe roof tests taller noggins on entry, also necessitating a low rear seat cushion.

HOW USEFUL: Spacious, wide aperture trunk fits 2 full size and two carry-on cases; 60/40% split folding rear seat backs, trunk cable releases;  Generously deep wireless device tray w/ connectivity and inductive charging at lower center stack; 8 bottle & large cupholders;  -1 Door pocket length; -1 Wide front center armrest bin intruded upon by handbrake lever.

HOW SAFE: earns coveted IIHS 2019 Top Pick Plus status: 8 airbags, 58% torsionally stronger high tensile steel used in strategic points;

Driver assist technology: Rear camera w/ park gridlines, Blind spot warning, Lane departure warning, Lane keep assist; Forward collision warning & avoidance; Pedestrian avoidance braking; Adaptive cruise control; Rear Cross traffic warning; Automatic high beam LED headlamps.

HOW FRIENDLY: Somewhat hugging, slightly thin cushioned, front bucket seats; Heated & cooled front seats, 10-way power driver’s; Front passenger’s height adjustable seat; Auto de-fog, 2-Zone automatic climate control; Generously tilting & telescoping leather-wrapped helm;  Traditional twin analog black on white dial gauges;

Cool Gizmo(s): X-array LED daytime running lights;

Details Done Right: Fully padded and contrast stitched layered twin-cowl dashboard; Piano gloss black bezeled large functionally grouped switches ; Serrated metallic, function distinctive, steering wheel spoke redundant media switches;.

Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Red night switch illumination; -1 Sunwash prone gauges; -1 Upper middle dashboard rattle.

HOW “APP” -LICABLE:  Pod-style mid dash-top 8.0″-inch capacitive touch LCD UVO 3 infotainment screen; +1 Large menu icons; Voice learning hands-free communications; Mobile powered Android Auto/ Apple Car Play application & navigation overlays; +1 Easy to switch between smart device overlay and native navigation; UVO 3 Apps; 8-speaker, 325 Watt Harman Kardon Clari-Fi streaming & HD radio audio offers greater depth if not crispness over the base 4-speaker set-up.

Subscription based: Sirius XM & Sirius XM TravelLink (90 days included trial); (3 years included)

USB x 3, 12V x 1; +1 Deep lower center stack mobile device pocket;  Qi wireless charging;

+/- SMS finally included, only displays new messages, limited predefined responses.

HOW MUCH: $26,990 = 2019 Kia Forte EX w/ Launch Package list price.

WHAT’S MISSING: Some steering road feel; More pleasant engine sound.

ANY COMPETITION: Honda Civic: +1 Melodic engine sounds, chassis tune; front seats; , Hyundai Elantra: +1 Slightly plusher ride, insideMazda 3: +1 Handling, cabin materials; Toyota Corolla: +1 Reliability; new progressive design on deck;  Volkswagen Jetta: +1 solid new MQB platform, virtual gauge cluster.