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Michael Sprague, CEO and Executive Vice President, Kia Motors America, introduces the 2019 Kia Forte on Monday January 15, 2017 at the North American International Auto Show at Cob Center. Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

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Few brands have delivered more surprises — or grown as fast — as Kia in recent years. The smaller sibling of Korean carmaker Hyundai has scored big in the quality and reliability charts and won rave reviews for new offerings like the Stinger, one of the finalists for North American Car of the Year.

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While Kia has moved up-market in recent years with products like the sporty Stinger and the big K900 sedan, the automaker demonstrated it isn’t abandoning its roots with the debut of the third-generation Forte at the Detroit auto show on Monday.

The new 2019 Kia Forte will face a tough challenge, entering a crowded segment of the market even as small car sales take a tumble. More and more buyers are migrating from passenger cars to SUVs, CUVs and other light trucks. Even so, the Forte remains one of the company’s top sellers and Kia is determined to keep it that way.

“The compact sedan segment is highly competitive, but with all the improvements the new Forte brings to market for the 2019 model year, it is more than prepared to take on the toughest the segment has to offer,” said Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning for Kia Motors America.

As with other recent models, Kia is putting a premium on giving the traditionally staid sedan a more enticing look; the 2019 Forte borrows some of the cues found on the new Stinger fastback.

Peter Schreyer, global design chief and vice chairman of both Hyundai and Kia, put a premium on proportions, aiming to give the small car more of a rear-drive look. Among other things, its cowl point has been pushed back about five inches, which gives it a more athletic appearance.

Shown at the North American International Auto Show, the third-generation Forte adopts a more aggressive version of Kia’s familiar “tiger nose” grille, framed by new, Stinger-style headlights and a more muscular front fascia. There are also new intakes that feed the air curtains that curb turbulence around the front wheels, improving overall aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. The rear bumper gets a similar sporty treatment that includes new LED taillights and details reminiscent of the latest Kia Sportage crossover-utility vehicle.

The roofline also shows the Stinger’s influence, opting for a more fastback approach. And, with the overall length of the 2019 model stretched 3.2 inches — to 182.7 inches — Kia engineers were able to improve the small car’s interior space, especially in the rear seat. Cargo capacity also grew to 15.1 cubic feet, making it one of the roomiest cars in its segment.

Kia designers opted for a flowing, horizontal interior layout to give a greater sense of space to an otherwise small car. The look is generally uncluttered, an eight-inch touchscreen topping the center console and taking over the operation of numerous traditional controls. There are also more soft touch points for a bit more of a refined feel.

Along with the bigger touchscreen, the new model adds a variety of updated and new technologies, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and many on the safety and driver-assistance front, including active cruise control, forward collision avoidance assist and blind spot detection. Many of these aren’t normally found in this class.

As for the powertrain, the Forte gets Kia's second-generation 2.0-liter Nu four-cylinder engine. To save fuel, it uses Atkinson Cycle technology and is paired with the Korean marque’s first in-house designed continuously variable transmission. All told, look for combined fuel economy in the 35 mpg range, Kia said.

pavel@aol.com

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