PHOENIX, Ariz. (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) —  I recently had a chance to spend a day driving two of Kia’s new vehicles, the compact Forte and the midsize crossover Sorento through the desert country outside of Phoenix and both cars made a spectacular first impression on me as well as the assembled media.

Kia's 2014 Forte Sedan-Photo Credit Vinnie Richichi

Kia’s 2014 Forte Sedan-Photo Credit Vinnie Richichi

First a long ride in Kia ‘s new compact Forte. This one runs in the Corolla/Sentra class and is the third generation of the model.

From the front, it has a clean design with the trademark Kia grille work flanked by the now got-to-have-it LED eyebrow over the headlamp. Wheel wells are athletic and lead into a signature sweeping line running along the lower side of the car, offset by a chrome line running along the belt line. It is a very attractive and distinct look. Kia gets more glass on the side by way of a small front window in front of the “A” pillar that helps improve visibility.

Inside, the Forte has comfortable seats with good support, legroom and a wide berth for a small car. There is also a cooled driver’s seat on some models. The dashboard layout is simple and follows the Optima, controls and the larger info screen is skewed a bit toward the driver. Materials feel good with use of soft plastics and a faux carbon fiber pattern to give the Forte a more expensive look. Rear seat room is better than average.

Kia is now going to offer their improved UVO-e connect system free of charge for 100,000 miles or 10 years. Most of these type of systems cost a monthly subscription fee.

The Forte EX I drove had the larger 173-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder engine and a six speed automatic which was crisper to the shift than previous Fortes I have driven. On the highway, the Forte jumped up to 70 miles per hour from a standstill with ease as well as having plenty left in the tank for passing power on the open highway. The Forte also was surprisingly quiet at highway cruise, although my passenger and I did spend a bit of time cranking up the Infiniti sound system.

Improved suspension components gave the Forte solid handling characteristics approaching best in class. The ride was firm but not bone jarring and the car handled nicely through the curves. The adjustable mode steering that has been on some of the Hyundai products is in the Forte giving you a heavier more substantial road feel in sport mode.

No price information is available as of this writing, but I would think it should come in around $18,000 fairly well equipped. It will be available in both EX and LX models and a five-door hatch back is reportedly on the way. EPA Mileage figures were not available but I am thinking a high 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

The Kia Forte is a well equipped high-value compact. With the resale stigma disappearing from the Kia brand there is no reason that you shouldn’t be shopping a Forte when you are looking at this type of car. It is solid, reliable, comfortable, good bang for the buck and transportation that actually comes off as a fun to drive sedan.

As far as the redesigned Sorento midsize crossover goes, this has always been one of my favorite vehicles in its class. It is hard to pick up all of the improvements from the outside as they look to be cosmetic, but Kia says 80 percent of the Sorento is new for 2014.

2014 Kia Sorento-Photo Credit Vinnie Richichi

2014 Kia Sorento-Photo Credit Vinnie Richichi

A new larger engine in the premium models delivers 290 horse power from a 3-liter aluminum block. Married up to the 6-speed automatic the Sorento had plenty of gumption when it came time to move around some less than nimble Winnebago’s sampling the fine cactus and strip mine scenery. The engine was responsive and impressive in its quietness. Base models get the 2.4 liter 194hp engine.

Suspension and structural improvements were evident in the way the Sorento handled through some pretty curvy mountain roads. I had a solid in command feel of the vehicle without any of the top heavy lean you can experience in a CUV — much more car than truck.

Inside the Sorento gets a number of interior improvements including cooled seats, Nappa Leather, the new UVO-e infotainment system, a redesigned panoramic sunroof with a one piece power-operated shade, integrated 2nd row sliding sunshades, a 115-volt power inverter, and illuminated door handle pockets. Safety wise the Sorento gets a blind spot detection system and with the platform improvements Kia expects to get a Five Star Safety Rating. Oh and the Sorento gets a programmable power lift gate which it sorely needed.

Prices for the several trim levels of the Sorento will go from a low of $24,100 for the base LX to $39,700 for the maxed out SX-L.

Again, another impressive vehicle for Kia. Both the Forte and Sorento stand tire to tire with the competition in quality and in some cases blow past them in value. Again these are first impressions of both vehicles but what do they say — you only get one chance to make a good first impression and both of these Kias did just that.

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Reviews, news about cars and the people who drive them, interviews and tips on how to get more out of your driving experience all on Drivetime with Vinnie Richichi and Rob Pratte Saturday mornings 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Newsradio 1020 KDKA. Also listen to Vinnie on The Vinnie and Cook Show Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sportsradio 93-7 The Fan.