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    Comparing Similar Yet Different Compacts

    By Philip Ruth–

    Much has been made of the march from sedans to crossovers and SUVs. But the humble four-door has improved by leaps and bounds, and it still remains one of the cost-effective ways to slide some new wheels beneath you.

    Compact sedans offer a wide array of substance and style. Sporty number, luxury car, hybrid sipper—all of these milieus can be found for less than $30,000, and potentially for much less, what with crossovers sucking up all of the showroom oxygen these days.

    The latter two styles are represented here by the fancy Kia Forte EX and the “Earth Dreams”-powered Honda Insight. This Kia and Honda seem stamped from similar molds; they ride on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase, and other measurements fall within an inch of the other. The biggest advantage falls to Insight with rear legroom, where it has a nominal 1.7-inch gain over the Forte.

    Price is another big difference, which is inevitable when you compare a conventional gas-powered car with one augmented with electricity. The sticker prices of these two weren’t that far off, though. The Forte starts well below $20,000 for the base Forte FE trim, but unfettered box-checking will drop you into a $26,220 Forte EX like my tester.

    Meanwhile, Insight LX posts at just less than $23,000, and the top Insight Touring hits $29,110. Depending on your hankering for extra features, you could end up paying about the same for either, at least before negotiations commence. With the financial aspect potentially a wash, the Insight becomes the clear choice, for three reasons: efficiency, performance and style.

    Compared with matching Toyota Corollas, the Forte’s 34-mpg EPA overall mileage rating equals the Corolla XSE’s, and the Insight’s 48 mpg notches 4 mpg less than the Corolla Hybrid. So, the Insight isn’t the most parsimonious, but it still handily whomps the tested Forte.

    What’s surprising is the Insight’s sprightlier response, particularly from a stop. The Forte steps off strongly but dips a bit as it gathers steam, while the Insight surges deliberately forth. Handling also gives Insight the edge, with livelier steering and an unflappable demeanor. The Forte is relaxed, while by comparison the Insight feels enlivened.

    Styling is subjective, and the Insight strokes your synapses with points and curves that appear integrated into a graceful whole. The Forte takes a more aggressive approach, with the larger Kia Stinger named as the inspiration. The Stinger is impressive, with a low-slung, Maserati-like stance. The economical Forte does not have that stance, and so the Stinger elements are limited to lighting shapes and trim bits, such as the simulated vent grates affixed to the front bumper’s corners.

    Inside, the Insight offers relief from the tested Forte’s relentlessly coal-black with a tan interior option. Some Fortes offer color accents, and these would lift the flagship EX from feeling like every other Uber you’ve ridden in.

    The Forte and Insight are both fine choices, and between the two I drove, the Insight is finer.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( www.gaycarguy.com ). Check out his automotive staging service at www.carstaging.com