SOUTH BEACH, Fla. -- Bumper-to-bumper traffic inches along Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami's capital of glitz. To the right on the beach side of the street there's a palm-fringed promenade sprinkled with bikini-bare strollers and speed-streaking skaters, while to the left on the urban side the latte and Campari crowds loll in sidewalk cafes and Art Deco hotels coated in pastel paints.
And lining the curbs along this narrow boulevard are more than a few gorgeous and glamorous automobiles, some vintage to fit the neighborhood's Deco decor, others bearing uber-pricy labels like Porsche and Lamborghini.
In the midst of this over-the-top scene on Ocean Drive comes the five-door hatchback wagon of this drive test packing an economical four-cylinder powertrain and a rather modest (sub $20K) price tag.
It's the Forte 5-Door by Kia of South Korea.
Tagged as a 2011 model, the Forte 5-Door in long-roof hatchback format spins off Kia's Forte 4-door notchback sedan of compact size.
Forte 5-Door shows sporty aerodynamic elements, offers a choice of two respectable powerplants, stocks noteworthy safety systems as standard equipment and carries value-packed price points honed to a competitive edge.
Trim nomenclature for Kia's new hatch consists of the deluxe EX edition with luxury gear aboard and top-tier SX stocking a more powerful engine and sport-tuned hardware.
Each Forte 5-Door model features a simplistically smooth and sleek package design featuring a prominent new prow design, edgy contours on the hood and body plus wheelwell flares which turn into sculpted shoulders.
Forward sections of the hatchback mirror the frontward stance of the sedan but the arching roof extends further rearward on the hatch to expand the capacity of the aft cargo compartment with a top-hinged hatchback rear door added to make that fifth portal in 5-door nomenclature.
Body styling for the 5-Door begins with a thick and smooth fascia tinted to the body color -- it protrudes like a fat lip ahead of a chrome-rimmed grille which tucks horizontally between narrow headlamp clusters shimmering like jewels from multiple round lenses.
Two distinct creases at top edges of the headlamps attract the eye and lead up the hood to define front fenders accentuated further by arching swells wrapping around frontal rims of the wheelwells.
The flared rims sweep rearward across flanks to form sloping shoulders set below a broad expanse of windows in side doors with center pillars fading to black to simulate the 2-door look of a sporty coupe.
At the trailing edge of the roof the hatchback door curves down to the uncluttered wrap-round fascia with bold and angled taillamps posted high on back corners.
The wheelbase length for Forte 5-Door stretches 104.3 inches long while the width of the body extends to 69.9 inches and the distance from the prow up front to the back bumper tallies to 170.9 inches -- more than 14 feet long.
These spatial hard points translate to a passenger compartment of surprising scale -- 97.5 cubic feet of room for riders with headroom up to 40.0 inches, legroom to 43.3 inches up front and 35.0 inches in back, shoulder room to 55.7 inches and hip room of 55.3 inches.
Riders in front do not feel so squeezed together in a modest compartment like you might in some compacts, due to a tall wrap of windows and larger seats.
Driver sits in a form-fitting bucket which adjusts six ways to fit even a large frame, with seat height in tall stance to set up excellent visibility through large windows.
The controls -- handy in positions either left on the door, right on the console or ahead on the instrument panel -- set in logical positions and operate easily.
The driver faces a molded steering wheel and the dashboard instrument group with big round analog gauges including a tachometer.
Decor for the cabin consists of subdued colors with fabric upholstery on seats and soft-touch synthetic material for hard-case surfaces such as the dashboard and console or map pockets on side doors.
Measures for passenger safety in the cabin extend from the sturdy safety-cage construction to front seatbelts with load-limiting and pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with anchors to mount a child's seat, smart multi-stage frontal air bags and side air bags for the front seats along with curtain-style air bags tucked in the ceiling for outboard seats on two rows.
Forte also stocks active safety systems including a rack and pinion steering system and an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with brake assist system (BAS) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), plus a traction control system (TCS) and an anti-skid device via the electronic stability control (ESC) system.
Popping the hood reveals that Kia's treatment for the front-wheel-drive Forte 5-Door encompasses an impressive and powerful base engine, along with engineering innovations which combine to make the car quiet and easy to drive.
The EX edition employs an in-line four-cylinder aluminum engine which displaces 2.0 liters and has dual overhead cams with continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) for high-tech metering of the fuel burn.
The plant produces 156 hp at 6200 rpm plus 144 lb-ft of torque at 4300 rpm.
A six-speed manual transmission works with this engine, but a new six-speed electronic automatic is also available.
The SX edition scores a 2.4-liter four-in-line aluminum engine which also has twin-cams and CVVT valve controls.
Output rises to 173 hp at 6000 rpm with torque of 168 hp at 4000 rpm.
The SX engine also links to a six-speed manual transmission or the optional six-speed electronic automatic rigged with sporty paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
Both EX and SX issues stock luxe gear like power controls for windows and door locks and exterior mirrors, a remote keyless entry system, air conditioning, audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3 and six speakers plus door-mounted tweeters.
Sporty SX edition adds a telescopic steering column and leather-wrapped steering wheel, metal-finish pedals and trim elements, Supervision gauges and black cloth fabric covering seats with red stitching.
Kia tweaks the MSRP chart low for Forte 5-Door -- starting at $16,895 for the EX with manual shift.