Car Review: 2021 Kia Forte5 GT
Hatchback’s new six-speed manual transmission makes it a rare bird among the flock
Rara avis , literally “rare bird,” is a Latin term describing something uncommon or unusual. It’s a fitting description for the third-generation Kia Forte5 GT.
Already in shorter supply due to the fact it’s a hatchback, which, although an eminently practical body style, and one that was once very popular in this country, is now less common these days as consumers flock to crossovers. It was also not really accepted by our neighbours to the south; indeed, the car hasn’t been sold in the States since 2018.
And now the Forte5 ups its rara avis quotient for 2021 by adding a six-speed manual transmission to the GT trim line. Considering the rapidly decreasing take rate for the stick shift, this could be seen as flying in the face of common sense.
If not hot, then definitely warm-ish, with enough sporting bona fides to make things entertaining for those also seeking a practical, affordable (less than $26K to start) mode of transport. And as someone who has owned hot hatchbacks (and a couple of very un-cool pedestrian hatches as well) and still prefers a stick, the 5 GT is worthy of further exploration.
There are good bones to start with; the 5 GT is decidedly bold, with an aggressive rake to the roofline, plus front and rear aero treatments, dual exhaust tips and a rather attractive set of alloy rims mounted on P225/40R18 Kumho performance rubber. Parked side-by-side in the driveway, my wife’s similarly sized Subaru Impreza hatchback looks lumpy by comparison.
All Forte5s have the same powertrain setup as found in the Forte sedan: The base engine is a 147-horsepower, 2.0-litre four-cylinder mated with a continuously variable transmission. The GT is decidedly sportier, powered by a 201-hp, 1.6L turbo four hooked up to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission or — now — a six-speed row-your-own. The engine is a willing little unit, with almost imperceptible turbo lag. Its 195 pound-feet of torque, available at a low 1,500 rpm, ensures solid low-end and mid-range acceleration — zero to 100 km/h takes a titch less than seven seconds. It’s a small mill, though, so the turbo four is not particularly quiet when pushed into the higher rev range. Throw in a little wind noise and more noticeable road/tire thrum and, at highway speeds, the din in the cabin can get rather tiresome on longer drives.
There’s a certain expectation (or at least there should be) when attaching the GT designation to a car. When it comes to manual transmissions, there should be short, precise throws to each shift, almost like the bolt action on a rifle. My Miata has such a transmission, my Chevy Cruze does not. The Forte5’s actuation is somewhere in between, with a longish throw but still with a positive snick as each gear is selected. Would the hatchback offer a better driving experience with the seven-speed DCT? Possibly quicker, but it would be at the expense of a more intimate, seat-of-the-pants connection with the GT.
The car’s handling is reasonably sporty, with a light, slightly remote touch to the electric power steering. The ride is skewed toward firm, with some clomping over sharper bumps, the 5 employing a rear multi-link setup, with tuned springs and dampers. The upside is that the hatch corners with minimal body roll in sweepers.