There’s always an allure to humble-looking sedans with the potential for performance. It’s the very reason the Honda Civic SiR, with its 160hp B16 engine, was such a popular car in the 90s. Today’s modern Honda Civic RS Turbo attempted to rekindle the glory days of the SiR, offering a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine that produces 171 hp and 220 Nm of torque, and for the most part, succeeded. Well, except for that continuously variable transmission. The Honda Civic RS Turbo now sees a direct competitor to the sleeper-sedan throne in the form of the Kia Forte GT, a sports sedan with impressive specs on paper, and the performance to back it up.
Ok, it’s not exactly a pure sleeper in the most traditional sense of the word. It’s decked in a tasteful sporty body kit that hints of its promised performance without heading into obnoxious “ricer” territory. We see red accents with a small “GT” emblem on the grille, a sporty looking lip below the front bumper accenting vents below the fog lamps, side skirts, a rear diffuser, twin exhausts, and a lip spoiler.
Inside though is where you’ll see the Kia Forte GT in all its sports sedan glory. The highly-supportive, side-bolstered leather seats are accented with red stitching and piping, together with the “GT” emblem on the front seats. The red stitching is also present in the flat-bottom steering wheel. You’ll also find hints of red on the door panels and shift knob. Lastly, you’ll find premium-looking metal pedals underneath. But what lies beneath the sporty trim of the Kia Forte GT is actually very sensible. Dual-zone climate controls are handled with knobs instead of buttons, which is what we prefer. An eight-inch touchscreen lies on top of buttons for modes, flanked by two more knobs for volume and tuning, which is another plus. The infotainment system supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – another great feature we love. The rest of the cabin is put together well, with materials that feel great to the touch and a premium build quality devoid of any lose panels or unsightly gaps. The rear seats are angled comfortably for two passengers. Because of the slightly recessed rear seats, there’s a slight bump in the middle for the third rear passenger; but there’s an adequate amount of leg and shoulder room for three adults at the back – more room than the Honda Civic, if you need a comparison. Also unlike the Civic, the Kia Forte GT has air-conditioning vents at the rear.
But if we’re really going to compare the Kia Forte GT to the Honda Civic RS Turbo, it will boil down to performance. On paper, the Kia Forte GT has the Civic readily beaten, with a 1.6-liter turbocharged gasoline direct injection (T-GDI) engine that produces 201 hp and 264 Nm of torque compared to the Civic RS’s 173 horses and 220 Nm of torque. This allows the Kia Forte GT to edge out the Civic RS Turbo by about a second with its 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 7.5 seconds. Mated to the engine is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission which provides seamless shifts throughout the rev range. Unlike other cars equipped with a dual-clutch transmission (even some Kia models) we never felt any form of shift shock, even when shifting from 1st to 2nd gear and vice versa. We’re thankful that Kia went for the more performance-oriented dual clutch transmission over the conventional fuel economy-biased continuously variable transmission because for a performance-oriented sports sedan, there’s really no other way to go (besides using a manual transmission, that is). Even without CVT, our fuel economy figures were great, returning 9.9 km/l on mixed highway and city conditions. On the road, the Kia Forte GT walks its talk, with excellent steering feel at low and high speeds, and a great feeling of composure through tight corners. Body roll is handled well even without the presence of anti-roll bars. Slam on the accelerator and the Forte GT surges forward after a split second of turbo lag, maintaining a constant push to the seats throughout the rev range with a great sport-tuned exhaust note coming from the two pipes.
The Kia Forte GT doesn’t scrimp on features either. It comes with six airbags, front and rear parking sensors with a reverse camera, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, folding side mirrors, and hill-start control. Its luggage capacity of 502 liters is excellent, making it the ultimate mix of performance and practicality. The one downside boils down to its pricing. At P1,650,000, the Kia Forte is P42,000 more expensive than the Honda Civic RS Turbo it directly competes against. And while it can be argued that it out-classes the RS Turbo in almost every way, there’s still the matter of the Honda badge to consider. Then again, we’re looking at a five-year warranty for the Kia, with Honda offering a standard three-year warranty.
Whichever way you look at it, the Kia Forte GT’s sheer peso-per-performance offering is incredibly hard to ignore, combining excellent build quality, peerless performance, and sensible practicality in a solid, well-rounded package.
Text and photos by Chris Van Hoven