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Test Drive: 2010 Kia Forte Koup SX review

Cute, cost-conscious Kia Forte Koup

Jim Mateja

March 18, 2010

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With a nip here, a tuck there, Kia transformed its staid Spectra into a larger sedan catering to older motorists looking for fashionable styling and a roomy, comfortable cabin that they can slip into without taking a deep breath.

The creation: the 2010 Kia Forte.

A success, which as we know breeds a coupe: smaller, fewer doors and sporty, with an attractive honeycomb grille and a low, wide stance that looks ready for action.

The creation: the 2010 Forte Koup, a first from Kia of South Korea.

The major difference between sedan and Koup is the target audience. That the Koup is aimed at a younger crowd is obvious when you slip behind the wheel and spot the iPod, USB and auxiliary plugs in the lower dash to please the sound gods.

Couple gripes, however, one being the use of the word Koup rather than the traditional word. It's meant to be cute, but in a world in which motorists can barely pronounce Mitsubishi and more than half those who own an Infiniti spell it Infinity, Koup doesn't make for warm and fuzzy feelings.

The other is size. The two-door is built on the same compact, 104.3-inch wheelbase as the sedan, but is 2 inches shorter in length, 2.4 inches lower in height and a half-inch narrower in width, numbers that translate into less cabin room and, therefore, less comfort. The Koup offers 6.1 cubic feet less interior space and 2 cubic feet less cargo room than the sedan.

That means your melon dances against the roof and rear window, and your knees are not welcome in the back seat. Front seats slide (manually) forward to create a very small aisle to squeeze in back.

The small dimensions also put stowage space at a premium. Even the glove box is small, as is the room under the center armrest and the tray in the front console.

Despite the downsizing, the trunk seems more than adequate for gear or groceries, providing nothing's too tall, as the opening isn't very high. But the split rear seatbacks do fold to hold more stuff.

The front-wheel-drive Koup comes in EX and sportier SX versions. The EX is powered by a 2-liter, 156-horsepower 4-cylinder teamed with 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic; the SX a 2.4-liter, 173-hp 4 with a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. We tested the SX with automatic, the sports version that complements the higher-output 4-cylinder with a sports suspension and larger 17-inch radials.

Kia boasts that its Koup is livelier in sprinting from the light than its Honda Civic, Ford Focus or Chevrolet Cobalt coupe rivals. While blessed with enough energy to take off, pass or merge, you can leave the stopwatch and race gloves at home. It doesn't sizzle.

Ride is jostle-free. Wide and well-cushioned front seats contribute to the smoothness. Handling is good. The sport-tuned suspension and 17-inch radials keep it on target; no wandering. Stability and traction control are standard to ensure excellent road manners.

Koup's claim to fame is providing low-cost, high-mileage transportation for those who can't or refuse to spend lots of dough for an attractive vehicle that doesn't advertise cheapness. It's an econocoupe posing as a sports model.

The 2-liter 4 is rated at a pleasing 25 mpg city/34 highway with manual or automatic, while the 2.4-liter 4 is still thrifty at 22/32 mpg with manual and 23/31 with automatic. Either engine promises to take you more than 400 miles between fills.

The Koup EX starts at $16,595 ($17,595 automatic); the SX automatic at $18,500 ($17,695 with manual). Add $1,000 for heated leather seats and $700 for a power moonroof, plus a $695 freight charge, and the sticker just tops $20,000.

Not bad for a car that comes with a wealth of goodies: air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/locks (with keyless entry), cruise control, side-curtain air bags, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio, Bluetooth connectivity, digital clock and sporty metal pedals.

Neat features include rich-looking grained dash and door trim, easy-to-see-and-use controls in the center stack and a pair of power plugs in the center console flanking the iPod/USB/auxiliary ports. Like the cost-conscious Forte sedan, there's no navi system or backup camera. Get a map and use the rearview mirror.

Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at transportation@tribune.com.