Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A blue 2020 Kia Forte is shown from the front in a dark garage.

A Tale of Two Great Sedans: 2020 Kia Forte vs 2020 Kia Optima

The first big decision a car buyer often faces is: what vehicle body style do I want? And these days, the sedan can sometimes be overshadowed by the wildly popular crossover SUV. Small SUVs and crossovers indeed provide extras that appeal to consumers-like added cargo space-but the classic four-door sedan body style remains one of the most popular vehicle styles. Why? For starters, sedans are generally smaller, easier to maneuver, and more fuel-efficient than their larger SUV counterparts. Also, some buyers just prefer the curb appeal of a sleek, low profile sedan. Once a buyer has chosen to go with a sedan, the decision-making process is far from over; even the options within a single manufacturer’s product line can be hard to choose from because, at first glance, they seem very similar. One example of this can be seen in comparing the 2020 Kia Forte vs 2020 Kia Optima. These two amazing Kia sedans are packed full of innovation, great design, and tons of standard features that make either one a great option, but how are they different?

The Forte and the Optima are side-by-side in Kia’s sedan lineup, and it’s true that they share many similarities, but, in fact, they’re actually quite different. Characteristics like size, powertrain, and available options distinguish them from one another, allowing buyers to truly compare and hone in on the exact Kia sedan that meets their needs. Today’s buyer is well-informed and comes prepared with a very specific list of essentials. Often, once they reach the dealer’s lot, buyers have narrowed their choices down to just a few criteria, but they still need to explore different models to be sure. When a small to midsize sedan is on that must-have list, Kia offers a tough decision with these two models, and while it may not seem like it on the surface, dig a little deeper, and the differences between these two sedans are pretty significant.

All About Size

A red 2020 Kia Optima is parked on tan tiles and shown from above.

Overall, Kia created its dynamic line of sedans to offer buyers a wide range of options in the most critical areas, and size is no exception. The 2020 Kia Forte comes in at an overall length of 182.7-inches, while the 2020 Optima sits at 191.1-inches. Wheelbase-the area between tires that dictates the interior cabin’s size-is different as well, with the Forte at 106.3-inches and the Optima at 110.4-inches. These dimensions may seem similar, but the Optima is clearly better for buyers who are looking for a little bit more space. In addition, the Forte provides 15.3 cu.ft. of cargo, while the Optima edges it out with a slightly higher 15.9 cu.ft. of cargo. Generally speaking, the Optima has more to offer in space.

Different Powertrains

Another place these two sedans differ is in powertrain configurations. The Forte FE, LXS, GT-Line, and EX models come standard with Kia’s 2.0 Liter, inline 4-cylinder engine, delivering 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. The Forte GT and GT Manual trims offer a turbocharged 1.6 Liter, inline 4-cylinder engine that produces 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The base FE comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission and an available Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) with Sportmatic, Kia’s version of automated manual driving mode. The IVT is standard on the Forte LXS, GT-Line, and EX models. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT) and a 6-speed manual transmission are offered on the GT and GT manual, respectively.

The Optima’s 185 hp 2.4 Liter, 4-cylinder engine comes standard on the LX, S, and Special Edition trims, while the EX Premium bumps up performance with the same 1.6 Liter turbocharged engine found on the Forte GT. The top-of-the Line SX boasts a 245 hp 2.0 Liter, inline 4-cylinder engine, making it the most powerful in the Optima lineup. A 6-speed automatic transmission comes standard on the LX, S, Special Edition, and SX, while the EX and EX Premium offer the same DCT – dual-clutch transmission – with Sportmatic found on some Forte trims. Overall, the Optima at the high end of its trim lineup edges out the Forte on performance with greater horsepower.

MSRP and Trims

A very significant difference between the 2020 Forte and the 2020 Optima sedans is the price. The base Forte FE starts at an MSRP of $17,890, whereas the base Optima comes in at $23,390 for its base LX model. At the high end, the Forte’s top-of-the-line GT sits at $22,490, and the fully-loaded Optima SX is priced at $32,190.

Both models feature multiple trims, but there are big differences at the upper end of each model’s lineup. For example, one of the biggest standouts on the 2020 Forte, when compared with the Optima’s trim lineup, is the Forte’s performance-oriented GT line. Starting with its turbocharged engine and sport-tuned suspension, the sporty GT offers an edgy ride, differentiating itself from the rest of the Forte line with performance-oriented features, including 18-inch alloy wheels, flat-bottomed steering wheel, and aggressive GT exterior styling. While the Optima answers in the EX, EX Premium, and SX with its own 245 horsepower 2.0 Liter turbocharged engine, the Forte takes it a step further with its more aggressive exterior styling.

The 2020 Optima also comes in several different trims, but unique to the Optima is its available hybrid and fully electric plug-in hybrid models, which offer buyers two highly efficient and environmentally-friendly sedan options. Starting at an MSRP of $29,310, the Optima Hybrid EX offers unparalleled fuel economy without sacrificing performance. Kia achieves this by combining a lightweight lithium polymer battery with a 2.0 Liter inline 4-cylinder engine, delivering a staggering combined fuel economy of 42 MPG. Optima’s $36,090, Optima Plug-In Hybrid, is Kia’s electric vehicle (EV) option, offering a whopping 101 MPGe. Currently, the Forte line does not include a hybrid or electric vehicle (EV) option.

A silver 2020 Kia Forte is driving around a city corner during the 2020 Kia Forte vs 2020 Kia Optima comparison.

Safety and Technology

Kia’s base Forte FE is an excellent option because, although it sits at the beginning of the Forte lineup, it’s loaded with many standard safety and tech features that today’s buyers demand. Included are an 8.0-inch touchscreen display, rear camera with parking guidance, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for seamless smartphone integration, automatic headlights, and cruise control.

Standard safety features on all Forte trims are plentiful. They include several driver-assist systems, including driver attention warning and forward collision warning, which are designed to minimize the risk of accidents. Also included are lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist. Depending on the trim, other safety features are also either standard or available, such as blind-spot collision warning (BCW), which compensates for common blind-spots by signaling the driver when objects appear on the side and rear areas of the vehicle.

On the Optima, these safety features and more are standard. One great feature is the standard forward collision-avoidance assistance with pedestrian detection (FCA-Ped. This technology detects pedestrians on the road via the use of sensors and a camera and can automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision. This feature is standard on all Optimas but is only available as an option on the Forte GT. Overall, the 2020 Kia Optima packs in more standard safety features, however, most are available as options on the Forte too.

The Forte and Optima are Different

It’s clear that the differences between the 2020 Kia Forte and the 2020 Kia Optima are existent, but that is because Kia has thoughtfully designed its lineup of vehicle models and trims to provide a variety of options that today’s highly selective buyers demand. Whether shopping for value, performance, luxury, or something in-between, Kia’s dynamic Forte and Optima models are sure to capture the interest of sedan buyers everywhere.