Kia Forte Review

Imagine you're Toyota or Honda...secure in the knowledge that you build high-quality small cars, that even if you slip a bit, it will take a long time before the perception diminishes after 30 years of performance.

About three years ago, though, you see a tiny dot in your rearview mirror. Long way back...don't worry.

But the dot gets closer and bigger faster than you could imagine. Now it's on your bumper. If you're Toyota, recent recalls, controversies and suspension of production and sales could erase the narrowing lead.

The dot is the 2010 Kia Forte. Base price 2 grand lower than Corolla and Civic. Base horsepower higher. EPA mileage estimates a virtual draw.

But what puts Kia into tailgating territory is a quantum leap in exterior styling and interior quality. Kias have always been not quite there when it comes to the details. In the Forte, they're there. There's not a hint of cheapness or corners cut.

Victory? A new champ? Well, the Forte is certainly deserving of notice, but in terms of winning the hearts and minds of compact buyers, there's that perception issue we mentioned. It will take Kia a while to convince millions of compact car buyers that they have something to offer beyond price...and that "resale value" and "Kia" are not mutually exclusive terms.

Once that happens, though, watch out.