For a mix of value and quality, it’s hard to match a compact sedan. Today, we compare two excellent choices: the Kia Forte vs the Buick Verano.
Neither the Buick Verano nor the Kia Forte can be accused of being exciting cars. That is unless you’re excited by value and practicality. For those of us who wisely realize that not every excursion calls for an Excursion, there is a lot to appreciate in compact cars. In fact, the segment is full of great cars like the Civic, Mazda3, and the Golf. For this budget buy comparison, we chose the Kia Forte and the Buick Verano.
The Buick Verano was discontinued in 2017, ostensibly since the Encore served the dual purpose of being both small (and therefore affordable) and a crossover. And while the masses seem to have spoken in their preference for all things SUV, the Verano is arguably the better vehicle. A used Kia Forte of the same vintage conveniently run in the same price range as the Verano, anywhere from $10-$15,000. Once mileage has been factored in, roughly 50,000 miles, and trim levels accounted for you can expect to spend roughly $13,000 on a four-year old Verano or Forte. So, which then is the better buy? Let’s dig into the details.
The 2017 Buick Verano offers two engine options. The first is a 2.4L four-cylinder making 180 horsepower and 171 lb.-ft. of torque. The other is a turbocharged version of the same engine offering a robust 250 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft of torque. Both are paired with a six-speed automatic and come in front-wheel drive. The fuel economy is disappointing with the naturally aspirated version offering 21 city and 31 highway mpg while the turbocharged version drops to 20/30 mpg.
The Kia Forte comes in three flavors. The base 2.0L four-cylinder produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. and can be optioned with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual. A tuned version available in the EX trim bumps that up to 164 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. but drops the manual option. The SX trim runs a turbocharged 1.6L engine that reaches 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. Even the thirstiest of these is still far more efficient than the Buick with the 1.6L at 25 city / 30 highway, the EX at 25/33, and the base engine at 25/34 with the manual and an impressive 29/38 with the automatic.
Though the segment offers driver focused cars like the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf, neither the Forte nor the Verano are especially sporty cars. Instead, they trade that agility for comfort and seem the better for it. The Forte’s base motor is decently powered for most in-town driving, and the SX trim’s turbocharged engine will drive up the price of your purchase without adding much appreciable power. The middle choice of the EX trim engine with its 164 horsepower is a good balance of efficiency and punch. Whichever engine you choose, you’ll find the Forte is decent fun to chuck around corners even without the optional sport-tuned suspension upgrade.
The Buick Verano, even with the turbocharged engine, isn’t especially fast on paper. But thanks to its responsive steering and a quick-shifting automatic transmission, the Verano feels faster than it is. The Verano offers better damping than the Forte for a smoother ride quality. In fact, the Forte tends to jar passengers over the same potholes that Verano passengers won’t even notice.
While the Forte has a decent interior for the segment, with a nice soft-touch dash and a functional layout, the Verano stays true to its semi-luxury ethos with a genuinely refined cabin. The Verano sports leather, wood trim, and a stylish layout that make it an especially attractive budget option. The Forte is by no means bad, but the sheer amount of hard plastic and cheaper materials make it clear this is one of Kia’s more budget-oriented offerings. The one sour note for the Verano was the sheer number of buttons on the dash. For as much as we detest housing critical interfaces inside touchscreens, the wall of buttons in the Verano was distracting.
The Verano is also a good deal quieter than the Forte, easily muting road and wind noise. The Forte tends to be louder, especially at highway speeds. The Forte does get the upper hand when it comes to rear seat space with a decent 35.9 inches of leg room compared to the Verano’s 34.7 inches. The trend continues in the way, way back as the Forte wins on trunk space with 14.9 cu.-ft. and a 60/40 splitting folding rear seat to the Verano with 14.2 cu.-ft. and the same 60/configuration. The Forte has the added benefit of a hatchback option that adds still more utility with 23.2 cu.-ft. of cargo room in back and a total of 56.4 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded down.
The 2017 Kia Forte comes in four basic trims, the LX, S, EX, and SX along with hatchback versions of those trims. Of these the SX tend to exceed our $13,000-mark, high mileage examples notwithstanding. Standard features on the 2017 Forte include a USB port, keyless entry, and Bluetooth. Higher trims open up features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cruise control, leather upholstery, and safety tech like blind spot monitoring and lane departure warnings.
The Verano comes in three trims: base, Sport Touring, and Leather (guess which has leather seats). The base offers features like a USB port, push-button start, and cloth seats. The Sport Touring adds heated front seats, remote start, and Bluetooth. The Leather trim adds, yes, leather seats as well as a Bose stereo. The Driver’s Confidence Package includes rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, and forward collision alerts.
From a value standpoint, the Forte and Verano are fairly evenly matched. Both the Verano and Forte received five-star crash test rating from the NHTSA. Both offer lots of modern options and features. And both started life as decent compact cars and now represent great values on the used market.
The real differentiators between the Buick Verano and the Kia Forte are these four items: fuel economy, spaciousness, interior quality, and ride quality. The Forte easily takes the first two by a good margin while the Verano just as easily takes the win when it comes to the latter two. You’ll have to prioritize those factors for yourself. The final decision may come down to reliability. The Kia Forte is by no means bad when it comes to reliability, but the Buick Verano has been stellar. And when buying used, playing the odds on future repairs calls for erring on the side of the car with the better track record.
With all that said, we’d recommend the Kia Forte over the Buick Verano ever so slightly. Frankly, the Verano’s high-quality interior and plush ride just can’t make up for its embarrassing fuel economy. The Forte might not be as refined, but it’s a safe, modern, and affordable car, and that’s what really matters in this match up.