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Kia K5 vs. Kia Forte

1. Introduction

Other than making my life an unbearable living hell, my boss has taught me only one thing. It's simple, yet incredibly true. He always said to take nothing for granted, and to constantly ask the question "What's in it for me?" If you take a close gander at what he said, it goes without saying that everyone is selfish and always wants what's best for them. Unfortunately, seeking the answer to the question of "What's in it for me" is close to impossible without comparing products. Whether it's the best value meal at a fast food joint or a new car, comparing products is the only way to be sure you are getting the very best. This leads us to the topic of this review: the Kia Forte and how it compares to the Kia K5. Being two different cars, we will investigate any similarities, strong points, weak points, and finally come to a conclusion on what car is the better buy. With a little luck, at the end of this review, I might actually take to heart one of the things my boss showed me, and that's never to take for granted brushing my teeth even once in a year. Being an entry-level compact car, in no manner does the inexpensive Kia Forte resemble the much pricier and stylish midsize Kia K5. However, we are going to investigate both cars side by side and show that in some situations, the Forte may be a better buy, and in other situations, it may just be worth dishing out some extra cash for the K5. [1][2][3] Learn More about: Kia models 2024 in our guide 'Introduction to Kia Model Specific Reviews and Features'

2. Exterior Design

The more chiseled design of the hood and front bumper adds a dash of aggression not commonly seen in this class. Two-tone machine finish wheels are a sharp finishing touch. Size-wise, the Forte rides on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as the outgoing model but is 3.2 inches longer, 0.7 inches taller, and with a widened track. There is a slight ground clearance increase from 5.3 to 5.7 inches. Aerodynamics also improved with a lower drag coefficient of 0.27. The Forte is such an improvement over the previous generation, and it's clear that Kia is trying to bring a sportier image to the compact class.

Kia Forte The Kia Forte is distinguished by a longer hood and shorter rear deck than its predecessor. It continues to offer a more conventional styling approach than the K5. Looking at the front, the Forte has an elongated hood and a more upright tiger nose grille unlike the K5. The more detailed and angular headlamps are a clean look, but the Forte doesn't escape its econobox roots until the higher trims. LED headlamps, daytime running lights, and tail lamps are all available. The most visually striking part of the car is definitely the taillights. Kia's designers did an excellent job of integrating the rear indicators into one wide light.

Two-tone black-and-chrome and red wheel center caps are another premium touch. The K5 has a coefficient of drag as low as 0.27 depending on the model, making it one of the slipperiest cars in its class. Aerodynamically shaped "air through" wheels, underbody covers, and the rear spoiler contribute to this figure. Step up to the GT model and you get a sportier "Nebula" front grille.

The smooth, flowing profile is interrupted by a bold character line which extends from the front quarter panel to the rear, where it meets up with the taillights. The K5 has a longer roofline than the Kia Stinger, a car that it shares a platform with. The result is more rear seat headroom and a spacious 16.0 cubic feet of cargo area in the trunk.

GT-Line and GT models are distinguished by a more aggressive front bumper design with larger air intakes and a lower intake "sharkskin". These models also feature a rear spoiler, unique rear bumper with dual exhaust outlets, and 18- or 19-inch alloy wheels.

Kia K5 An all-new model for 2021, the Kia K5 starts with a classic sports sedan profile - a long hood, a short rear deck, and a sweeping fastback-style roofline. LED headlamps are standard, while premium GT-Line and GT models come with distinctive signature lighting and available LED "heartbeat" daytime running lights.

2.1. Kia K5

The K5 replaces the Optima in the Kia lineup and is the larger of the two vehicles, measuring in at 193.1 inches, an increase of 2 inches. The wheelbase has increased 1.8 inches to 112.2 inches and the vehicle is also wider. The increased proportions make the K5 a more proper rival for vehicles such as the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. The level of sportiness is evident in the K5's stance and proportion with the fastback roofline and short rear decklid giving the vehicle a very aggressive profile. Moving on to the front, the K5 adopts the latest iteration of Kia's tiger nose grill and it is flanked by headlights that look like they could have been designed by Audi. The more aggressive GT line or the full GT model both feature a different front bumper with a larger grill opening helping to differentiate the sporty models from the base version. In profile, the K5 straddles the line between family sedan and sporty four-door coupe well and the sharply creased body panels and blacked-out window trim look good in images. At the rear, the K5 has full-width taillights, a chrome decklid accent, and a subtle decklid spoiler. This will, of course, be available with the full GT model which features a larger integrated trunk lip spoiler. The K5 sits on 16-inch wheels for the base model, 18-inch wheels for the GT line, and the full GT model is equipped with 19-inch wheels. Measures have also been taken in terms of sound deadening with a 4% increase in torsional rigidity thanks to better adhesion materials between steel parts, and 25% more hot stamped parts for improving NVH and keeping occupants safe.

2.2. Kia Forte

The Forte's revisited design is sportier and more elegant than its predecessor, although the brand's latest styling was met with mixed reviews from the viewing public. The Forte's latest build includes a low and wide stance to give the car a more aggressive look. This is further accentuated by the long hood and short deck, pushing the cabin towards the rear of the vehicle. As with the K5, the Forte's wheelbase has been extended a lot. This feature is key in not only providing a sportier stance, but also offering safer and more comfortable driving characteristics. The increased wheelbase provided additional legroom and a wider trunk, the latter of which is now larger to offer more cargo space for the compact. Notably, the Forte's roofline is a standard 4-door style rather than the coupe look found on both the K5 and its first generation predecessor. This is where the durability meets the elegance and as a whole, the Forte offers its consumers a more luxurious feel than previous years. The new design is an improvement on the older model; however, some believe that the Forte's new design and the K5 are far too similar in appearance and sequential release of the two models may hinder the Forte's sales. [4][5][6][7][8][9][10]

3. Interior Features

Also, the K5 boasts impressive interior quality. This car is capable of satisfying the tastes of the driver who aspires to possess an entry-level luxury vehicle. The dashboard and gauges are very well laid out and the simulated metallic plastic trim looks every bit as convincing as real metal. The quality of materials used in the interior is very high and the plastics used in producing various trim pieces are all of a soft touch, which is uncommon in vehicles with such a reasonable price tag. These features serve to both improve the tactile sense of the interior and also the aesthetic view of the various textures and colors used. This degree of interior quality is a rare find in the mid-size sedan market and is likely to appeal to future consumers.

Once inside the Kia K5, there are several interior features that will definitely stand out as a result of consumer-oriented design and high-quality materials. The K5, also known as "Magentis," "Optima" or "Lotze" in other markets, is a four-door, front-wheel drive sedan first introduced in South Korea in 2000. As of 2005, this vehicle is in its second generation, which has brought about many improvements. This car is definitely bigger than its predecessor and this is perhaps most noticed in its interior space. Not only is there plenty of leg room, but the front and rear head room is also ample. Another key feature of the K5 is the competitive level of standard and optional equipment. Power windows, power door locks and an AM/FM CD player are all standard. Many optional features are also available, which include a six-speaker Infinity audio system, power sunroof, and power driver's seat. Also available are leather seats, automatic climate control, and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls.

3.1. Kia K5

The new styling of the K5 makes it look like a fastback sedan. Styling is highly subjective, but the "endurance run" angle of the d-pillar moving into the deck lid is a highly sought-after thing. Interior space is massive with substantial head and legroom all around. Kia has targeted the so-called "tweener" sizes in the segment, and the proof is in the efficiency: The all-important second measurement shows a full 38 inches of rear legroom. That's 1.6 inches more than an Accord, 3.5 inches more than a Camry, and 8/10ths of an inch larger than the Sonata. Kia's own Optima has only 35.6 inches of that same dimension; a number that was considered quite good when the car first came out. This packaging improvement is fronted by an attractive cabin with good materials quality. High-quality textures and fabrics are used throughout the space. An 8-inch touchscreen is standard with an available 10.25-inch unit on higher-level trims. Every K5 also comes with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a 6-speaker audio system. Many popular luxury features are optional, such as a power driver and passenger seat, Bose stereo, a distinct ambient lighting system, wireless phone charging, and a panoramic sunroof. The K5 still maintains decent interior value with the LX model starting at $24,455, including destination. Higher-level trims, though, do approach near-luxury territory. A commitment to passenger comfort can be seen throughout the vehicle. The suspension is well-insulated, and passengers are treated to a very serene cabin experience, particularly over broken pavement. A spacious cabin and trunk mean versatility is made possible as there are a variety of gadgets and storage solutions throughout the vehicle. A dual-compartment glovebox and storage in the doors are fine for the usual set of items. Most trims get an electronic parking brake and a push-button. All-wheel drive is now available on all but the base model. The vehicle's adoption of the N3 platform has helped push NHTSA crash ratings. High take rates on the K5 expect that safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane-keeping assist will be well-utilized. It's a safe, sensible, and comfortable approach that should appeal to many.

3.2. Kia Forte

Perhaps a little less fanciful when it comes to interior materials, the Kia Forte might not stack up in terms of room, but it fares well against the K5 in other respects. One area in which the Forte handily tops the larger car is in feature content. Though some of the K5's features aren't available on the Forte, a fully loaded Forte can include more gear and high tech widgets than the K5 at the same price point. This is mostly down to the age of the current Optima, with features such as a panoramic roof, a heads-up display, adjustable ambient lighting and a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat just not an option for the K5. Add in a few Forte-specific features such as wireless phone charging, there's a good chance you might be more comfortable in the smaller car. Step on up to K5 GT-Line and GT trims and the delta between Forte and K5 feature content lessens, but the smaller car should still hold an advantage in actual equipment given both cars at similar option packages. And while Kia's investigation of dual-clutch transmissions is largely a tale of frustration and disappointment, it does put the Forte arguably on par or even ahead of the K5 in terms of evident shift quality. Although the base Forte LX carries on with a humdrum CVT, other trims feature Kia's new IVT, a transmission that features a physical chain design and more traditional shift logic. It emulates the feeling of a conventional automatic better than some others with stepped gears, although it's still predisposed to high rev drone when more power is summoned. And for the GT, Kia has settled on a 7-speed DCT which is reportedly improved compared to similar units utilized on other Kias and Hyundais, although reliability is still an unknown factor. The weight of the DCT over the fairly polarizing CVT of the K5 may ultimately give the Forte a lighter, more enjoyable driving experience. [3][11][12][13][14]

3.3. Comparison

At about 0.9" longer, 0.2 inches wider, and 0.8 inches taller than the next-down Optima, Kia's K5 is obviously a good bit bigger than a compact like the Forte; that shows up primarily in back-seat space, which is quite good—on par with many mid-size sedans—including the Camry and Altima. But with the redesigned Optima pushing the upper limits of interior volume and the mid-size boundaries of the EPA, the K5 actually splits the difference between the compact and mid-size classes. With trunk space of just over 15 cubic feet, the K5 isn't a standout, but it's on par with the class.

The Kia K5 offers a larger trunk with the rear seats up or down and has more leg, head, and shoulder room in the back seat compared to the smaller and more confined Kia Forte. When looking at the interior features of the K5 and Forte, both have some standard features such as power windows, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and an outside temperature display on all the trims. Then there are some features that the K5 has that the Forte does not have as an option, such as Bluetooth, a remote vehicle start (no need to rush outside to start the car on very cold or hot days), remote power locks, a trunk release on the key fob, and an optional sunroof.

4. Performance and Engine Options

Though it is not common for anyone who owns a Kia to take it to a track day or time attack event, both cars are very capable of doing so. The Forte GT would be the better performing vehicle on the circuit, but only by a small margin. Overall, the performance and engine options for both cars are very well geared towards customer satisfaction for driving experience. This is a very important aspect for new cars in this new age of motoring, as cars are becoming more economy-based or having the entire focus around technology and autonomous driving, and becoming less fun to drive. Both the K5 and Forte GT stick to the traditional way of expressive driving and will give any potential buyer an enjoyable experience.

A small disadvantage for both cars and experiencing the Australian market would be the requirement to use only 95RON premium unleaded fuel. As many users who would purchase this car would usually fill it with 91-95RON fuel for cost efficiency, which then limits the engine performance. This is not recommended as it can output various engine knocking and also can damage the engine. So, it would be best to fill the tank with 95RON fuel.

Also, having a higher output and lower weight can more quickly wear out the front wheels from too much torque to the point of wheel spin. So, the Forte GT has better traction and handling, but for some, it may feel more stable and understeer too much. A set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires, where cornering and high performance is its main focus, would be an ideal upgrade with these cars as it is more focused for the driver enthusiast.

The K5 has a front-wheel-drive system only, where the Forte GT has the same system but an added-on limited-slip differential to better distribute torque between the front wheels to achieve more grip on acceleration and also a smoother distribution of torque when the road is slippery. Both cars also have the same amount of drive modes with comfort, sport, and smart, and a custom setting. But the K5 has hill start assist and a drive mode called "traction mode" for more control in off/on-road conditions.

In saying this, the K5 is now no longer offered in Australia due to the newly developed Optima. So, Australia is unable to test the K5, but we can speculate how it will perform based on the engine and the weight of the car. However, both engines are mated to the same 7-speed DCT automatic gearbox and not a manual to ensure fast gear changes and smoothness in shifting. Sometimes, having such a fast automatic gear change can feel quite jerky and too aggressive, especially when downshifting to overtake. But also, paired with the N performance-based car tuning, it can really enhance the driving experience.

The Kia K5 and Forte GT have two different engines, even though both are 1.6L 4cyl engines. The difference between the two cars is that the K5 has a turbocharged 1.6L 4cyl engine which outputs 195bhp and a max torque of 264Nm, whereas the Forte GT has a turbocharged 1.6L 4cyl engine which outputs 201bhp and a max torque of 265Nm. Despite the K5 having a larger body, it is only slightly heavier than the Forte GT. Therefore, the performance difference between the two cars is smaller than expected. This results in the K5 having better fuel economy because it has less power output, but for most people, it is not a big deal.

4.1. Kia K5

The gasoline engine in the K5 GT still outperforms SUVs with 300 horsepower and the K5 GT achieves a 5.8s 0-60 MPH time, costing approximately 26K dollars. This makes the GT Line and GT models the most competitive options in terms of value and performance compared to compact and mid-size SUVs.

Then comes the K5 with a 2.5L inline 4 engine that produces 191 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. This engine is also paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, but is available with an optional AWD system. The most powerful option is the K5 GT with a 2.5L turbocharged inline 4 engine which produces 290 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired with an 8-speed wet dual clutch transmission and AWD system.

Kia K5 is a mid-size sedan that has three types of powertrain options. There is Kia K5 with a 1.6L turbocharged inline 4 engine which produces 180 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. The engine is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission and FWD system. Though the K5 base model makes less power compared to the 2.5L model, the K5 with a 1.6L turbocharged inline 4 still achieves a 7.6s 0-60 MPH time.

4.2. Kia Forte

The Kia Forte has always been known as a decent, reliable form of transport for long distance commutes and city travel, and has been perfectly adequate in its previous generations. However, Kia has shown serious intent with the Forte GT, which is a major departure from the previous formula. With a 1.6L turbocharged inline-4 that makes 201 hp and 195 lb ft of torque, the GT offers a spirited driving experience not found in previous Fortes, and better resources for the aggressive driver looking for a stylish form of transport. While it does not match up to the K5 GT with the same engine, it's certainly a step in the right direction, and much better than the previous generations. This newfound performance focus for certain Forte models suggests that it will be getting a sportier image in the future. The base engine is still the 2.0L inline-4 with 147 hp and 132 lb ft of torque, and the LXS and EX still use the same engine, with the IVT gearbox being optional for the EX. Though the GT trim offers a more powerful and fun experience, the newfound performance image throughout the range is quite evident. Step One customers don't lose anything that they expected from a Forte, but now it comes with extra zip. All Forte models have a torsion beam rear suspension, and while some of the handling characteristics may have been altered with the new GT, it's the GT that really shines with an independent rear suspension setup that Kia says delivers a "more nimble and agile handling experience". Additionally, while the base FE uses a standard braking system with rear drums, all other trims get a braking setup using four discs, providing greater stopping power, something found in more performance-oriented vehicles. Overall, with all trims, the Forte still offers the control and comfortable ride that has been expected from the model in the past, but with emphasis on certain trims that cater to different audiences.

4.3. Comparison

Both the front-wheel-drive K5 and the forthcoming Forte GT are powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder matched with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Though both cars share an engine, the similarities end there. The K5 is available with an all-wheel-drive powertrain and rides on the N3 platform, a fancy way of saying it can be optioned with the more powerful engines from the outgoing Optima. Additionally, the K5 has a longer wheelbase which not only increases ride quality, but also passenger space. The Forte, on the other hand, steers driving enthusiasts toward the Elantra N Line. Despite the similar engine, the Forte exhibits sportier handling and has the N Line suspension tune option, which, even if driving dynamics are not the focus, is a nice plus. In short, the K5 hits a larger market with its engine choice and flexibility and can better accommodate those looking for more oomph from a sedan, while the Forte is more targeted towards buyers looking for the sport sedan feel and handling. Learn more by reading our guide: K5 model comparisons and features.


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