Of all the car classes remaining in the marketplace, the most life exists in the compact sedan class.

Recent redesigns from Honda, Toyota, and this week’s Kia Forte illustrate that the Asian automakers are not ready to abandon the vehicles that helped establish them in America. Indeed, the latest Forte is a stylish, handsome four-door that is larger, more comfortable, and more capable than its predecessor.

With Fiat/Chrysler done with its small Dart two years ago, Ford ditching the Focus series, and Chevy closing Cruze production soon, the small-car segment will be dominated by import brands that may or may not build their cars in North America. There will be case studies on how Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai/Kia could build profitable small cars, while the domestic Big Three automakers claimed that they could not.

Using the same stylists and styling emphasis found on its larger Stinger sibling, the latest Forte is three inches longer, wears much more attractive sheet metal, and gains a revised chassis that offers vastly improved suspension compliance and ride quality.

Kia broadened the safety gear offerings in the three trim levels – LX starts at $17,690, sportier S lists at $19,400, plush EX begins at $21,700 – and the interior moves up from staid economy car to respectable, mature adult.

Screens – gotta have screens, right? – include seven-inch units in LX and S. An eight-inch screen is reserved for EX. Android/Apple connectivity is standard, with blind-spot detection, lane-keeping assist, emergency forward braking, and dynamic cruise all available in packages or at trim levels.

Our EX also featured heated and cooled leatherette power seats, dual-zone climate controls, and three-mode (comfort, sport, smart) driving selections for the new CVT automatic transmission. Kia still offers a six-speed manual gearbox for the base LX, while the CVT – with three more miles per gallon – is standard on the S and EX.

EPA ratings peak at 30 to 40 mpg. Our sampled sedan reported 38 mpg when the weather wasn’t showering the surfaces with sleet and snow.

Base power comes from a 147 hp 2.0-liter engine with direct injection. EX trim gets you 17 more hp, with the same motor utilizing Atkinson-cycle technology for greater efficiency and lower emissions, earning super low emissions status.

The CVT mode selector button changes “shift” points as you like, yet the change to a continuously variable automatic transmission reaps more miles per gallon – generally, the point of owning a smaller car.

Kia will add a fourth Forte model later in 2019, with a 201-hp GT version joining the lineup.

Likes here include good outward visibility, comfortable front and rear seating, and the ease with which all the controls work: smart-key ignition (a trend); simple touchscreen; and a split-folding rear seat adds cargo convenience. The improved drive dynamics are notable, and the more expressive styling pleases the eye. LED lighting all around gives the Forte EX good presence.

Gripes are nuanced. It would be good if the Forte’s selected settings remained in place from start to start while you run errands. Instead, you have to reactivate the seat heaters, re-adjust the auto-climate, and re-configure the touchscreen each time you thumb the ignition.

And the Forte’s Kumho Majesty tires were reluctant partners in the snow, lacking the grip and performance that true winter tires would have provided – and that most drivers would expect.

Each compact sedan in the marketplace is a capable small car. From the Corolla, to the Civic, Sentra, Cruze and to the Elantra, these cars are almost as large as former mid-size sedans; they are packed with safety and comfort technology; they drive better than ever before while getting responsible fuel economy.

Only Subaru’s Impreza offers AWD, a feature that explains its popularity in New England. This Forte’s warranty, however – 10 years and 100,000 miles – is an asset unmatched by its rivals.

Looks like a Stinger, floats like a butterfly. This new Forte will keep small-car buyers happy.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.