Honestly Good | Kia Forte Koup 1.6 SX

BY Joel Tam

Kia's sportiest drive has been a success on our roads since its launch two years ago. The new face-lifted version sports a new bodykit and a smooth 6-speed gearbox. We drive the 'better' Kia Koup!

Photos: Joel Tam

I must admit. I have been liking the recent Kia models alot. It is partly due to their great value-for-money specced packages, but mainly because of Design Director Peter Schreyer's genius hand in penning, and ultimately producing, really handsome automobiles.

The Kia Forte Koup is one such success. Dashing but not overly sporty, it doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is - an entry-level sports coupe. Before buyers had this option, the only pseudo sports car was another Korean, the Hyundai Tuscani. By no means a bad car, the Tuscani was sleek and low slung. Some even called it 'Korea's Ferrari', as it resembled a Ferrari 456 from certain angles. But that was precisely the problem, it looked 'too good'. The drive simply can't match the way it looks, and thus the Tuscani will always be known to possess beauty that is only skin deep.

Kia has decided that it's cheaper to learn from the mistakes of others. So the Koup is an honest car. Convincingly striking yet subtle with its strong angular lines, it is sultry in a quiet way. Included in the package for the face-lifted version, is the full bodykit you see here. Complete with the chunky front bumper add-ons, side skirts and rear bumper.

From the rear, the new high spoiler actually works well to give the car a more racy attitude. The rear bumper add-ons also intensify the angular lines of the car. This is the unabridged version of the Kia Forte Koup, full-on and uncut.

Step inside and if you've not come from an Audi, you'll be pretty impressed. A great design that is found also in the Cerato sedan, the interior is both functional and fetching. Don't touch anything yet though, just admire the sporty red-stitched leather on the seats and panels, the piano-blacked gloss finishing on the console, the ergonomically designed dash... OK, now you can touch something and be brought immediately back to reality.

It's true, the plastics are hard and the fittings are not perfect. But remember the price tag? Something's got to give. At least it looks the part, and it's not all bad. The overall materials are still hardy and have an unambiguous tactile feel.

Fire the Koup up and you're greeted by an undramatic 4-pot engine growl. First impressions when we moved along in traffic is that the new gearbox is smooth and fuss-free. The added ratios provide you with the right gear to power out of various traffic conditions, be it trundling along the expressways or zipping in tighter traffic.

Select manual mode and you now have control over how much you want to rev the modest 1.6-litre powerplant. Despite being a really new unit (we were given the car with only 30 kms on the clock), the engine revved quite happily and the shifts were surprisingly quick and precise. Double pulls on the left paddle would result in a strong double downshift, allowing us to access the engine's sweet spot constantly. Once you're used to it, it seems the best way to drive this car.

Be realistic though. With only 124 bhp and 156 Nm, you won't be winning any traffic light drag races. But it should keep you happy if you're interested in more 'show' and moderate 'go'. IF you really want more power, buy something else. We wouldn't recommend the 2-litre variant simply because it's not worth the Cat B COE.

Most importantly though, the car handles rather well. The suspension setup is unyielding, it took pretty much everything we threw at it - which was not very much actually considering how 'quick' this car is. That being said, we do test our cars hard, and the Koup performed remarkably well around (ahem!) our local roads. The steering feel could do with more weight and feedback though. I'm really not a fan of lightly-weighted steering, although I can imagine its advantages during slow speeds and parking.

At under $100K, the Kia Forte Koup is really a good deal. In these dark ages of high COEs, you'll be hard pressed to find a car with so much style for the price. Not forgetting the little goodies (eg. electric sunroof, LED wing mirror indicators, USB port, steering wheel control functions, etc.) that make a car complete. If you dare to admit to being Kia-su (everything must have), then this is indeed the Kia for you.