I daily-drive a compact sedan with a rather large 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine. The good thing about a motor that size is that at any rpm, I practically have the torque I need to get up to speed. However, the bad thing about a big engine is that, when everything crawls to a standstill, it has a healthy appetite for gas. And because everything crawls to a standstill in Metro Manila—and fuel is expensive these days—sales of these vehicles have slowed down.
This has prompted car manufacturers to explore the use of small engines motivated by turbo power. Surely, the promise of better performance and fuel economy in a tiny package would be attractive to customers, right? The number of horses galloping under the hood of the Kia Forte GT defies common customer notion of what a 1.6-liter engine is capable of, which should probably get the car flying off the showroom floor.
The spec sheet says all 265Nm of torque is available from as low as 1,500rpm. Basically, you don’t need to get the motor wound up before all that turbo goodness goes to work. In practice, it does get in the groove at around 1,500rpm. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission shifts up at the earliest possible opportunity so the revs stay low, but not once did I feel like I had to downshift in order to get the power I needed. A little prodding of the accelerator is all it takes to get that mountain of torque. It’s definitely overkill for our congested roads, but I like an engine that has a lot more grunt than I really need. There is a Sport mode that sharpens the throttle response, enabling the peak output of 201hp to be within easy reach. But best to reserve that for late-night runs in Tanay, as I imagine the Forte GT living out most of its days shuttling the family around town.
Most sedans in this class have done away with hydraulic power steering in exchange for more energy-efficient electric systems. The Forte GT is no different. But what I really appreciate is the weighted feel of the tiller. It’s not heavy, but it’s also not so light that it simply kills the feedback from the front wheels. Plow into a corner and the Forte GT dives in confidently and maintains its composure. I can make minute corrections without upsetting the car’s balance. Part of this agility is down to the MacPherson struts up front and the multilink suspension at the rear, the latter being exclusive to the GT. Body roll is at a surprising minimum with the springs and dampers being on the stiff side.
So this car does tick the performance box. Now, let’s get to fuel economy. I could’ve taken the Forte GT out on a long road trip just to stretch its legs on the expressway. But I knew the car would be efficient when kissing the national speed limit, so I made it crawl in particularly heavy weekend traffic instead. I managed 8.2km/L after 244km of mostly city driving. While that isn’t stellar, my daily-driver’s bigger and less powerful 2.0-liter lump would be lucky to get 7.4km/L in the same conditions. It must be said that the Forte GT’s engine hasn’t been broken in yet, so I expect fuel consumption to improve as the motor gets thousands of kilometers more under its belt.
All the performance is wrapped in a body that doesn’t quite draw much attention to itself. The Forte GT’s profile isn’t too rakish and could come off as a little sedate given the car’s potential. Even the ‘GT’ badges at the front and the rear, the red accents on the gloss-black radiator grille, and the drone of the dual exhaust pipes won’t have pedestrians craning their necks for a second look. The exterior is devoid of chrome, with matte-finish plastics accenting the windows. The subtle black rear lip spoiler does stand out with the white trunk lid, but I suspect that it will end up being hidden especially in the car’s darker hues. Honestly, I like the sleeper look. I appreciate the fact that this is first and foremost a practical family sedan that just happens to have a potent engine. Leave the showing-off to its big brother, the Stinger.
The interior is functional as well. Sure, there are sporty touches like the flat-bottom steering wheel with the cheeky GT badge and the red stitches on the seats. But this is primarily a family-friendly Kia so the cockpit is easy to understand and the controls are logically laid out. Props to the Korean automaker for the generous amounts of soft-touch materials in the cabin.
What isn’t soft, though, is the ride quality. Any comfort from the plush leather seats is negated by the stiff springs and dampers that bounce the cabin around even over the slightest tarmac dimple. What does wonders for the Forte in the handling department doesn’t do the car any good when it comes to the less-than-ideal road conditions in this country. A little bit of compliance from the suspension in lieu of cornering performance would have been a much-appreciated compromise.
So, is the small-displacement turbo engine truly worth going for? I give a resounding yes to that, especially if it is as nicely executed as the Forte GT’s motor. This ride has enough usable power at low revs to economically chug along slow-moving traffic, but has a lot to give at the top end should the roads start opening up. While the days of the naturally aspirated engine aren’t over, a turbocharger is a welcome evolution to the 2.0-liter four-cylinder powerplant commonly found in top-spec compact cars.
KIA FORTE 1.6 TURBO GT AT
|Engine||1.6-liter four-cylinder direct-injection turbo gasoline|
|Power||201hp @ 6,000rpm|
|Torque||265Nm @ 1,500-4,500rpm|
|Dimensions||4,640mm x 1,800mm x 1,450mm|
|Upside||Subtle good looks and impressive pulling power at low revs.|
|Downside||Suspension is a tad stiff for local roads.|