By Frank Aukofer, Motor Matters

Kia is steadily stretching its lineup to cover almost any buyer, from budget-minded folks in the market for an entry-level economy car to comfort-oriented people who have more disposable income.

The Forte is Kia's compact vehicle, available as a four-door sedan, a two-door coupe and now a new turbo hatchback -- Kia's first turbocharged compact model.

The 2014 Forte5 SX should not be confused with its EX sibling, which uses a naturally aspirated, 173-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. Priced at $20,500, it comes with lower level of equipment than the turbo SX, which is equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual operation.

Forte models compete with other compacts like the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota Corolla. But the Forte5 SX turbo is different. It should be thought of as more in the company of the new critically praised Mazda3, and especially the 3s Touring with the more powerful 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

The Forte5 SX is one of those rare cars that delivers instant gratification and entices affection, especially in the tested version with the six-speed manual gearbox. It delivers an involved driver experience with easy clutch action, an effortless shift linkage and rapid responses in performance and handling.

Power moves to the front wheels through the manual or automatic transmission from a 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Power delivery matches throttle inputs, right now, with no turbo lag, making the Turbo5 a delight for stoplight sprints in urban areas.

On the road, the Forte5 SX is tight, planted and secure. Straight line tracking feels locked on, and the electric power steering delivers modest tactile feedback on curving rural roads. The system features three settings for steering effort, which doesn't affect handling. They could easily be eliminated in favor of the normal setting.

At the same time, the cabin is beachside quiet with no wind nose and only minimal mechanical and tire sounds, the better to enjoy a decent sound system that transmits its aural sensations through onboard Bluetooth and other connectivity. This is not the sort of stuff you expect in a car that starts at $20,900 and, with options, checked in at $25,910.

The tested SX came with options that included pushbutton starting, navigation, a motorized sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, 10-way power driver's seat with two memory settings, heated front seats and steering wheel, garage door opener and an auto-dimming inside mirror.

Cabin comfort is first rate for four. As usual in most cars, the center-rear passenger is disrespected. The front seats are supportive for long distance cruising. There's plenty of space in the outboard back seats for people up to about 6 feet tall. The rear seatback is split 60/40. Sections fold down to expand the 23 cubic feet of cargo space under the rear hatch.

The SX delivers substance as well as decent city/highway fuel economy of 21/29 mpg. Standard equipment includes full safety equipment, air conditioning, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth, Kia's UVO connectivity and entertainment system, rear backup camera, LED taillights, 18-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, power folding outside mirrors, adjustable (for effort) electric power steering and seatbacks that fold to expand cargo space.

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 KIA FORTE5 SX

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD compact hatchback

BASE PRICE___________________ $20,900 (as tested: $25,910)

MOTOR TYPE___________________turbocharged 4-cyl. w/GDI

DISPLACEMENT_________________1.6-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 201 at 6000 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)________________ 195 at 1750-4500 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ 6-speed automatic

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 171.3 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___34.8 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,122lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 13.2 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway