Mountain Wheels: Import econoboxes go upscale with Kia’s Forte and Toyota Yaris |

Mountain Wheels: Import econoboxes go upscale with Kia’s Forte and Toyota Yaris

By Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels
The 2020 Kia Forte GT. Power is provided by a breezy but capable 2.0-liter four-cylinder providing 147 horsepower, a setup that offered entirely capable and confident freeway cruising.
Courtesy Kia Motors

This week, back to basics, with a couple of grown-up versions of vehicles now perfectly suited for budget-minded drivers — each uniquely involved from its more rudimentary roots.

First up, the 2019 Kia Forte sedan, which retails for just under $22,000 and came to $26,220 with an all-boxes-checked-off list of options. And yes, sharp-eyed readers, the Forte’s Australian cousin the Cerato does not actually look like a gigantic Toyota Land Cruiser, as we may have implied in last week’s column. Sorry, mate. That Land Cruiser is still the most macho vehicle I have ever seen.

But Forte, in fact, is a pretty sexy little vehicle. Sure, you might have overlooked it in the past, but for 2019, it’s a very different automobile, reborn and redesigned in a fashion like the new Toyota Corolla.

It’s even stronger in Forte’s case, with the sedan transformed with a design aesthetic that makes it look like a light version of Kia’s surprisingly high-end Stinger sports sedan. That means a longish and heavily dimpled hood with massive headlight clusters and an attitude-heavy face, plus attractive 17-inch graphite-finish alloy wheels and a rear spoiler. A 2020 GT-line trim model will also be on sale this summer, with even punchier looks.

Power is provided by a breezy but capable 2.0-liter four-cylinder providing 147 horsepower, a setup that offered entirely capable and confident freeway cruising. Click it into sport mode and it gets a little more buzzy, but the overall feel was relaxed and enjoyable. The fact that it got 41 MPG without really trying was also quite pleasant.

Forte definitely feels like it now blurs the compact/mid-size category, more spacious and, true to form with Kia, abundant options that might cost you as much as the car’s base price to add to a German import. 

My extra extras on the EX Launch Edition included Harman Kardan audio, the upgraded navigation system and an 8-inch touchscreen, a handy wireless phone charging pad, LED headlamps and forward collision avoidance and smart cruise control systems, all for $3,210. 

Lots of plastic? Sure, but the Soul-like touches and plenty of piano black surfaces plus perforated and stitched leather seat trim all made it quite pleasant. 

Equally eye-opening is Toyota’s relatively new Yaris sedan, which is one of the few vehicles I’ve had in years that was under $20,000, but was still totally decent for basic transportation — maybe a first car for your college-bound kid. In a world where college-bound kids do not get Tahoes as their first cars. Call me romantic, I guess.

I got to ride in the current 2018 model but a considerably redesigned 2020 based on the Mazda2 is looming on the horizon, so let me take care of what I actually drove. 

What exactly do you get for $19,470, approximately half of the average new vehicle transaction price in the United States? It’s basic, but pleasant, and certainly a step up from its even more austere beginnings. Like, it now has power windows, which my friend’s 2007 Yaris does not. 

Power is indeed on the austere side, with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder producing just 106 horsepower, but get it on the flatlands of a Front Range college and you’ll get way more than 40 MPG every day of the week. If your kid asks for a lot of gas money, that cash is going somewhere else. A five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic both add to the efficiency.

An impossibly basic rendition of the car earns 15-inch wheels, but my XLE got 16s that helped provide a not-terrible ride and handling that seemed very pleasant for entry-level motoring. The whole car is just 2,300-plus pounds, so power and performance reflect the total basics.

A synthetic leatherette interior gets spiced up a bit with leather on the wheel, shift knob and parking brake. You also get LED headlamps and a 7-inch color touchscreen display; navigation is extra, as you might expect.  

As a great gag for April Fool’s Day this year, Toyota announced it was releasing a Subaru Brat-styled micro pickup version of the 2020 model. Apparently you are going to need to take a metal saw to your own Yaris if you want that to see the light of day, cool as it sounds.

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