Kia isn’t just relying on hockey-rink visibility to boost the brand. The new Forte is roomier inside and sleeker outside, with styling that tips its hat to the Stinger sport sedan.
There’s also more content. The base model, priced at $18,269 with destination charges, includes heated seats and steering wheel, and a 20-centimetre display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
But the sales emphasis is on the $22,969 Forte EX with standard LED headlamps, polished alloy wheels and safety systems such as rearand forward-collision avoidance assist.
Kopke expects 49 per cent of buyers to opt for the EX. Kia is promoting a “total value” approach to woo buyers, rather than surprising them at the showroom with added fees for options.
Cooling sales are hastening the automaker’s move away from low-margin base models across its product line. Kia’s Canadian sales fell 4.6 per cent in 2018 compared with the previous year, according to the Automotive News Data Center. The overall market, meanwhile, declined 1.9 per cent in 2018.
Alan Baum, a Michigan-based industry analyst, said the challenge for Kia and parent company Hyundai is to reduce incentives and fleet sales and earn more per vehicle even as the overall market declines.
“Their whole calling card has been, ‘We’re going to give you more value for the money, including more content, and we’re not going to charge you for it,’” Baum said. “That was, of course, the way they got into the door.
“Well, they’ve succeeded on that. Now they have to fix that as they try to go upmarket.”
More evidence of Kia's upmarket shift will be seen in the utility vehicles in its pipeline, led by the fullsize Telluride that arrives in May with options including Napa leather upholstery.
Meantime, Kia is aiming for a bigger chunk of the compact class with the revised Forte, which features a new continuously variable transmission (CVT). It has a steel-link belt that Kia says is quieter and provides crisper response than competing rubber-belt CVTs. Factor in the updated 2.0-litre four-cylinder, and Kia says the Forte is better on fuel by up to 17 per cent. At the press event, the das display on one EX reported a 4.9 l/10 km at brisk highway speeds.
The Forte’s corporate cousin, the Hyundai Elantra, continues for 2019 with a conventional six-speed automatic.
OBSTACLES TO SALES GROWTH
There’s really nowhere to go but up. According to the Automotive News Data Center, Kia sold 14,399 Fortes in Canada in 2018. That was well short of the Civic (69,005) and Corolla (48,796) and also trailed the Elantra (41,784).
Moving up in a segment where buyers put a big value on reputation is no small task, but Kia is maturing. Consumer Reports rated the brand third for reliability for 2018, behind only Toyota a Lexus.
Despitea more mainstream thrust with the Forte, Kia won’t surrender its carefully cultivated image as the edgier sibling of Hyundai, at least for this car.
Kopke said singles and millennia remain the primary target for the 20 Forte, which went on sale as a sedan late last year at Kia’s 192 Canadian dealerships.
An updated Forte5 hatchback is expected to go on sale in fall as a 202 model, replacing the carryover 2018 five door Forte, while a third performance Forte could also come to North America. Watch for Kia to call it a hat trick.