If this week’s tester was on Sesame Street, it would undoubtedly be sponsored by the letter S. And Grover or Big Bird could give other words that start with S, but the only thing that matters is that S stands for sporty. At least as it relates to the 2017 Kia Forte S it does. For this model year, the Forte receives several new features, but none more exciting than the S trim.

There are many other new features for the Forte this year including a bigger engine. Also new is a restyled front end with attractive Xenon headlights. Though this isn’t considered a redesign, the changes are significant and make the Forte S a contender within the segment.

Let’s face it, compact cars are a dime a dozen. And very few inspire much enthusiasm. Kia adding a bigger engine to the Forte is encouraging and does up the excitement. Without a turbo though, sometimes a bigger engine doesn’t mean that much, especially in a smaller car.

EXTERIOR

On looks alone, the Forte S blends in with the crowd. There’s nothing overly distinctive about this trim, although all Fortes in this model year do receive some cosmetic changes including the new headlights and redesigned grille. The Forte is at its best as a hatchback. In that form, it takes on more distinction and a sportier nature. As a sedan, the Forte S is rather bland. The side panels have some styling to them and the back has a nice slope. The tiny C-pillar is conducive to a sleek design. But otherwise, the styling of the Forte is conservative and run of the mill.

POWERTRAIN/PERFORMANCE

For 2017, there’s a new standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. It now makes 147 horsepower. The EX trim gets an optional 2.0-liter engine with even more power while the SX hatchback gets a zippy turbocharged 1.6-liter engine with more than 200 hp. It would’ve been nice if Kia had made this turbo the new standard engine as my tester lacked much excitement. It was fuel efficient, which is the true point of the Forte, but it wasn’t very exciting. The six-automatic transmission performed admirably and better than more modern continuously-variable transmissions.

INTERIOR

Inside, the Forte’s appeal is obvious. For a compact car, there’s ample room, even in the back seat. Two adults can sit comfortably in the back seat with plenty of head room and leg room. Though technically considered a five-passenger vehicle, keep the occupancy to four people for maximum enjoyment. The interior materials are better than most at this same price range. Kia has made vast improvements through the year on interior comfort and technology and it shows with this Forte. A 7-inch touchscreen is clean, and part of a well-organized center stack.

Though the Forte won’t wow you with its interior, it won’t disappoint either. And though it has a low-price tag, the road noise is not overly intrusive. The trunk has 14.9 cubic feet of cargo room which is impressive for its class.

TRIMS/PRICING

The Forte sedan is available in three trims: LX, S, and EX. The S trim is well appointed with 16-inch alloys, a sport-tuned suspension, black cloth upholstered seats with white stitching and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift. The 7-inch touchscreen also is available on the S and EX trims as are LED running lights.

The base model Forte LX has a starting price of $16,600 while the new Forte S has a starting price of $19,200. My tester came with the S Technology Package which has sensor-based technology like blind spot detection, lane keep assist and forward collision warning. Final MSRP of my tester was $21,200.

FUEL ECONOMY

Fuel economy for my tester, with the less powerful 2.0-liter engine is 25 mpg/city and 34 mpg/highway. In a week’s worth of driving, I averaged about 32 mpg. This makes the lack of a turbo worth it as the fuel-sipping Forte S is just sporty enough. This is the most fuel-efficient engine offered in the Forte, and is why Kia made it standard.

Props to Kia for continuing to improve and advance their compact sedan. Whether as a hatch or a sporty sedan, the Forte is hitting its stride. With the addition of the S trim, the Forte earns a superior letter grade in what matters most for a compact sedan.

SPECS

2017 Kia Forte S

Price/As tested price………………………. $19,200/$21,200

Mileage…………………………………… 25 mpg/city; 34 mpg/hwy

Engine……………………………………… 2.0-liter 4-cylinder

Horsepower…………………………… 147 hp/132 lbs./ft.

Transmission…………………………… 6-speed automatic

Drive Wheels………………………… Front-wheel drive

Final Assembly Point………………….. Mexico

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Jimmy Dinsmore

For several years Jimmy Dinsmore has reviewed new vehicles, offering up a unique look and an interesting voice in his weekly column. Jimmy looks at vehicles from the consumer’s point of view. Light on the technical jargon, and lacking the cynicism that pervades many other auto reviews, Driver’s Side treats each vehicle fairly, offering a light-hearted take. Email him at - [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @driversside.

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