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The typically boring compact sedan segment has heated up in recent years. While most already have a slightly sporty variant, more four-door economy cars now boast luxury and actual performance figures. Take the 2023 Kia Forte GT, a mini sports sedan with surprising performance and an eye-poppingly low starting MSRP. With everything it presents, the most challenging task seems to be choosing which transmission Kia offers. 

What is the Kia Forte GT?

The GT is the top-of-the-line spec for Kia’s smallest four-door car. And the 2023 Kia Forte GT adds welcome performance enhancements that aren’t just faux carbon fiber tinsel.

Underneath, a multi-link suspension system replaces the rear torsion beam. Kia substituted the heavy steel wheels with lighter aluminum and put bigger brake rotors in the front. There’s also a lower axle ratio compared to the cheaper Forte trim levels. This will probably help the rather noisy highway driving some reviewers have experienced by keeping the revs down at cruising speed.

Subsequently, the GT doesn’t have the lazy handling encountered in nearly all compact sedans. It’s enthusiastic when taken to the limit, surprisingly competent in the bends, and boasts a pretty impressive 60-0-mph braking distance of 122 feet. The Forte GT has two options for shifting gears: a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT) and a six-speed manual. But first, let’s talk about the figurehead of the drivetrain.

How much horsepower does a 2023 Kia Forte GT have?

For anything resembling excitement, potential buyers should forgo the Kia’s base engine. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder doesn’t have any means of forced induction. Therefore, only 147 horsepower and even less in torque run through the front wheels. But the GT is much more exciting.

The range-topping 2023 Kia Forte GT is about as close as one can get to a sports sedan without going too far over the $25,000 mark. Kia replaces the noticeably underpowered but fuel-efficient 2.0-liter with a ready-to-rev 1.6-liter turbo-four. The results are 201 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque.

There are plenty of compact sedans near the 200-horsepower mark. But the exceptional side of the GT’s performance is the torque. Its peak output comes in at just 1,500 rpm, whereas many in the segment reach the 4,000-rpm range with maximum torque numbers. It’s part of the reason why many experience droning engines in highway driving conditions, and the Forte GT seems to have addressed the issue.

But the 2023 Kia Forte GT offers one other hard-to-find characteristic. In an era when manufacturers are shifting to the continuously variable automatic transmission, Kia keeps a stick shift. This is where one of the more challenging issues with picking the “better” GT arises. Both have their strong suits but also their drawbacks.

Pros and cons of the DCT

The 2023 Kia Forte GT is this year's most reliable compact sedan
2023 Kia Forte GT | Kia

Given the torque steer caused by 201 rampaging horsepowers going through the front wheels, it’ll be nice to have both hands on the steering wheel. The paddle-shifted DCT provides a more engaging driving style to ensure the shifting is quicker than the driver can manage. MotorTrend says they clocked their DCT-equipped Forte GT with a 6.4-second 0 to 60 mph time.

The DCT works well when the accelerator is smashed into the firewall, but if one is looking for around-town comfort, the DCT will not provide that. Much like the lamenting over supercars with DCTs in low-speed conditions, the Forte GT will be more clunky than lightning-quick.

Pros and cons of the six-speed manual

If one needs to ask about the benefits of a manual transmission, they probably aren’t going to want one. Yes, pushing a clutch in heavy traffic isn’t ideal, but drivers can at least provide their own discomfort at low speeds over the DCT. Moreover, the six-speed adds a bit of flair to a compact sedan working hard to step out and be taken seriously as a performer. But with all that passion and pizzazz comes a loss measured in straight-line speed.

Car and Driver’s 0 to 60 mph test of the 2023 Kia Forte GT Manual spec came in at 6.7 seconds. The difference may not be much, but it still counts, especially when pitting it against the segment’s sporty offerings. But what’s worse than the 0.3-second time difference is the extra cost.

How much is a 2023 Kia Forte GT?

The 2023 Kia Forte GT has a DCT and six-speed option
2023 Kia Forte GT | Kia

One of the biggest upsides of the DCT is that it’s included in the GT’s $24,390 starting MSRP. Unfortunately, the GT Manual spec is $700 more. For potential buyers on a budget, that may seem like a lot, but wait.

Included in the GT Manual isn’t just a stick-shift transmission but even more amenities. The six-speaker stereo is swapped for a Harman Kardon eight-speaker audio system. There’s red stitching on the seats as opposed to the bland, darkened gray, and even a sunroof, Kia says. It’s a lot for an extra $700, so even if potential buyers don’t know how to row their own gears, learning how is sound financial advice.


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