First Drive: 2020 Kia Forte5 Hatchback Review | Forget the Crossovers

Stylish, roomy 5-door that won't break the bank

Model:2020 Forte5 (hatchback)
Trims:X, GT, GT Limited
Availability:Canada-only (sorry US), on sale now
Price (CAD MSRP):$22,245, $27,395, $27,395, respectively
Worthy competitors:Mazda 3 GX Sport, Toyota Corolla S
What we liked most:the overall design, value, and long list of standards at the EX trim level
What we didn’t like:aside from not getting into the 201-hp Forte5 GT, not much

Victoria, B.C. – Hatchbacks just make sense. They provide that low ride height and sportier driving dynamics missing in today’s small crossovers dominating the market, while offering the extra cargo space and accessibility you don’t get with sedans (which definitely are not dominating the market). 

Add long, sleek wagon-like styling to the mix and it’s hard to argue against the benefits of a sporty 5-door compact, especially in today’s CUV-obsessed market. 

Worth noting that hatches make up about 30% of the compact sedan segment with other brands jumping in on the action too, making 5-door versions of their 4-door counterparts, such as the Chevy Cruze, which comes to mind. 

America, no hatch for you

Unfortunately, the next-generation 2020 Forte5 which made its North American debut earlier this year in Montreal is a Canada-only offering, so no firm plans for a Forte hatch in the US. 

As Stephen Larocque, National Manager – Product Planning at Kia, tells us, “Canadians have always loved hatchbacks and we’ve always bought them in higher rates than the US. Utility that comes from open hatch has proven to be useful, even in this age of SUVs hatch is still a great balance between sporty feel and added benefit of added cargo capacity.”

Trims & Pricing: Closer look at the Forte5 EX, GT, GT Limited

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Unlike its Forte sedan sibling (reviewed here), the 2020 Forte5 won’t come in an entry-level LX trim. Trims available include EX, GT, and GT Limited. Seeing as the EX is the hot-seller in sedan form, eliminating the LX entirely from the 5-door makes sense, especially when the EX comes well-equipped straight off the dealer lot. 

2020 Forte5 EX IVT for $22,245: well-equipped out the box

2020 Kia Forte5 hatchback review
Entry-level EX trim is a stripped-down version but still offers value standards including heated front seats & steering wheel. Photo: Amee Reehal / Kia Canada

Our tester was the entry-level EX trim. A more stripped-down version void of navigation, touchscreen, power seats, and all that good stuff. But it still finds a decent list of standards including a capble 2.0L powerplant, LED DRLs, a gloss black chrome coated grille, body-coloured side mirrors and door handles, heated front seats & steering wheel, a rear USB charger, and 8-inch display, along with wireless cell charger, to name a few. 

2020 Forte5 GT DCT for $27,395: Sportier hatch with the 1.6L turbo

Sportier version with the speedy 1.6L turbo under the hood, paired to a 7-speed dual-clutch auto transmission is good for 201-hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Wheels move up to 18-inch from the EX’s 16-inch, while adding some nice styling updates including twin exhaust tips, gloss black side-view mirrors, sunroof, a pair of sport bucket seats, leather steering wheel, and dual zone climate control. 

2020 Forte5 GT Limited DCT for $29,995: Range-topping model with enhanced cabin

The GT Limited isn’t a huge jump from the GT but if you value the 8-inch multimedia nav system, a 4.2-inch LCD cluster, a power driver seat, heated seats for rear passengers and ventilated up front all in synthetic leather all around, then this range-topper is for you. 

Exterior Styling & Design: wagon looks with longer dimensions

If you’re a fan of the wagon look, the Forte5 is worth a look. The long, low design gives it that sporty wagon style. Compared to the sedan version, the differences are pretty obvious past the b-pillar where all the magic happens. 

It simply looks sharp from front to back void of big chunky plastic bits replaced by body-coloured elements like the door handles and side mirrors.

The hatch keeps the height up, sits 130 longer than the 4-door, and the rear quarter glass hits you first. If you plan hauling rear passengers a fair bit, the roofline on the hatch also improves the 2nd row headroom. Plus, the 5-door offers over 3-ft opening for rear cargo access. 

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Compared to the outgoing 2019 Forte5, the 2020 model is 4% longer and has a length advantage over the competitors.

2020 Kia Forte5 hatchback review
Kia’s styling is perhaps the best in the segment – stylish, sleek, and no big black plastic chunks found on competitors. Photo: Amee Reehal / Kia Canada

Overall, Kia is knocking it out of the park on the design front, and the handsome next-generation hatch version of their compact car is no exception. It simply looks sharp from front to back void of big chunky plastic bits replaced by body-coloured elements like the door handles and side mirrors. We know the GT version with the enhanced styling will look even sharper than our EX tester. 

Interior: inside the entry-level model 

Again, our entry-level EX trim didn’t find the bells and whistles found in the higher GT models. But the fit and finish and overall design and layout are on point. Cloths seats replace leather and the 8-inch display isn’t a touchscreen as in the GT Limited. 

Up front and in front of the shifter is a spacious little storage area with a few ports including one USB; above this sits the wireless charging pad for phones, doubling as an additional little storage spot. 

2020 Kia Forte5 hatchback review
Clean, simple layout that just works, the 2020 Forte5 hatch cabin behind the shifter includes a spacious little storage area with a few ports including one USB. Photo: Amee Reehal / Kia Canada

Above this are 3 large dials for HVAC duties, with the 8-inch display (touchscreen in GT Limited) up top. 

The overall layout is clean, smart, with everything where it should be for easy reach and access. There’s not much to complain about here, to be honest. 

Premium upgrades included

In true Kia fashion, you still get the goods at no extra cost. So expect a wireless cell charger pad, heated steering wheel, leather steering wheel and shift knob, rearview camara, and lane keep assist, to name a few things, thrown in at the EX price point.  

Performance & Handling: Forte hatcback on the road

If performance is a major factor here, the GT’s 1.6L turbo engine matted to the 7-speed IVT transmission, paddle shifters, rear multi-link suspension, and sport-tuned springs and dampers for a more spirited drive, will be on your list. 

At the EX level, however, you’re getting the 2.0L designed more for maximum fuel economy. Kia managed to improve the new Forte’s fuel economy by 17-percent out of the new 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, compared to the 2018 Forte models.

2020 Kia Forte5 hatchback review
The Forte5 EX seen here gets a 2.0L engine making 147-hp. For more power, the Forte5 GT trim’s 1.6L turbo puts down 201-hp. Photo: Amee Reehal / Kia Canada

The CVT transmission is a new design with greater control of intake camshaft in mind. If you’re not a fan of the CVT transmission, then you won’t be a fan of this either. On the road however, similar to the 2019 Forte sedan we drove last year (with which this Forte5 shares the same 2.0L engine) we didn’t really notice the rubber-band-like feel often associated with CVTs; nor was it loud as is usually the case. The Forte5 provided smooth and linear acceleration when needed. And for a compact hatch, that’s all we could really ask for here.

Takeaway: should you buy Kia’s newest 5-door compact hatch?

If a sedan is out of the questions and you’re willing to abandon the crossover bandwagon, Kia wants you to seriously consider a hatchback. And by a hatchback we mean their redesigned 2020 Forte5. 

The new model looks sharp with its long sleek looks, offers plenty of standard features even at the sub-$23K EX price point, offers a fuel efficient 2.0L engine under the hood, all while providing the cargo space today’s consumers expect, even out of compact vehicles. 

Frankly, even at the $29,995 marker for the Forte5 GT Limited, we think Kia’s offering tremendous value. But then again, that’s what they’ve been doing for the past 10 years now. 

Learn more about the Kia Forte5 here.

Check out the rest of our hatch and wagon reviews here.

Photos: 2020 Forte5 EX

Photos: Amee Reehal / Kia Canada

Amee Reehal
Shooting cars professionally since film was a thing, Amee's work has appeared in various outlets including NBC Sports, Chicago Tribune, SuperStreet, GlobeDrive, MotorTrend, and others. He's the managing editor & founder of Find him travelling, spending time with his kids and family. Or golfing, poorly.