2021 Mazda3 vs. Kia Forte: You Get What You Pay For

In the market for a compact car? You might be eyeing this year’s Mazda3 and Kia Forte, which start around $20,000. But while similarly priced, these compact four-doors offer differing key features that could make the difference between which one you choose. Let’s compare.

The 2021 Kia Forte

RELATED: The 2021 Kia Forte Is the Least Expensive Compact Sedan

Starting at $18,855, the Kia Forte is the less expensive of the two cars. It’s also less aesthetically pleasing than the Mazda3. It’s not that the Forte is poorly designed — it’s just rather plain. But neither its exterior nor its price means this compact is low-quality.


The standard Kia Forte comes with a 2.0-liter inline-four engine that produces 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. It has a six-speed manual transmission. The fuel economy is 27 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway, MotorTrend reports. These aren’t spectacular numbers, but you can get better performance from higher trims. For example, with a 1.6-liter turbo-four, the T trim line produces 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The GT comes with a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission to power its 17-inch alloy wheels.


The base-model Forte has an 8.0-inch touchscreen, four-speaker sound system, Bluetooth capability, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. It boasts a good deal of standard safety features, including lane-keeping assistance and forward collision mitigation. And the Forte’s interior and trunk are relatively spacious. The upgraded GT comes with even more interior features, such as a six-speaker sound system, wireless charging, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and split-folding seats.

The GT with an automatic transmission starts at $23,655. Lower-level trims are, of course, less expensive but also boast robust new features. For instance, the EX trim also comes with wireless charging, a power sunroof, and a telematics system to control the cabin’s temperature through a smartphone app.


Though definitely the Kia Forte’s least flashy feature, its 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty is impressive. Few automakers offer a warranty for this length of time, which covers transmission and engine repairs. The Forte also has a five-year limited anti-perforation warranty covering body damage from corrosion and perforation.


The Kia Forte’s safety ratings aren’t as impressive as the Mazda3’s. The Forte earned good scores in its Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests and is a Top Safety Pick, but it didn’t receive the highest designation. Further, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Forte 4 out of 5 stars and flagged this safety concern:

“Side Barrier Rear Passenger: Due to the intrusion of the left rear door during the side impact test, the interior door panel struck the torso of the rear passenger dummy, causing a high lower spine acceleration. High lower spine accelerations, in excess of 82 g’s, indicate a higher likelihood of thoracic injury.”


The 2021 Mazda3

The 2021 Mazda3 starts at $21,445 and comes in a sedan or hatchback body style. It’s well-designed with an attractive exterior. However, that design also introduces blind spots.


But this compact sedan’s handling is superb, whether you’re driving the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder model (with an automatic transmission and front-wheel drive) or the 2.5-liter turbo (with all-wheel-drive). You’ll get 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque from the base model. Fuel efficiency is 25 to 27 mpg in the city and 35 to 36 mpg on the highway, MotorTrend reports.


The base Mazda3 has an 8.8-inch infotainment system that, surprisingly, doesn’t come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. However, the interior is relatively spacious. The 2.5 Turbo trim fills its equally roomy cabin with heated front seats. Plus, the infotainment system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Even higher trims, such as the 2.5 S Premium, include a 12-speaker sound system, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and built-in navigation. However, the cabin doesn’t effectively filter out wind and road noise, so you’ll have to crank up the volume.


The Mazda3’s warranty can’t compete with the Forte’s. According to Mazda, its compact car comes with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.


But the Mazda3 is a safe car. In fact, it earned better safety ratings than the Kia Forte. The Mazda earned the highest rating in six IIHS crashworthiness tests. And the IIHS named the Mazda3 a Top Safety Pick+, an honor validated by a perfect 5-star NHTSA safety rating.

So, which compact car is better?

Both the Mazda3 and Kia Forte are reliable, affordable sedans, and chances are you’ll be largely satisfied with either. But whether you opt for a Forte or a Mazda3 will depend on your priorities.

If you’re a budget-conscious shopper looking for a reliable vehicle you intend to drive for a long time, opt for the Kia Forte. Its lower starting price and best-in-class warranty can keep your costs down for the life of your vehicle.

But if you’re looking for something a more upscale and feature-rich compact, the couple extra thousand you’ll spend on the Mazda3 is entirely worth it. Plus, you’ll get a safer car with better handling.