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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A popular Kia Forte for sale, a gray 2024 Kia Forte GT, is shown driving on a highway.

Shopping for Your First Manual Car? Don’t Overlook the Kia Forte GT

Learning how to drive a stick shift can feel intimidating. While many automotive enthusiasts sing the gospel of the manual transmission and the extra control it gives you as you get your kicks on the open road, the majority of drivers these days have only ever driven automatic. Being curious about learning to drive stick is easy, but knowing where to start can be hard. For one thing, you need to find a vehicle (only about 1% of new cars, trucks, and SUVs are made with manual transmissions), and you need to find one that you can afford that’s both learner-friendly and fun to drive.

For our money, if you’re looking to get into driving stick shift for the first time, you should seek out a Kia Forte for sale near you. Among the slate of manual vehicles you can buy this year, the 2024 Forte GT stands out for being highly affordable while still offering plenty of horsepower, style, and desirable features. Don’t let the non-GT Forte’s reputation as a less-than-exciting commuter vehicle fool you: the sporty GT is fun to drive and offers first-time manual owners a great entry-level model. Let’s dig into why and see where the Forte GT fits into the wider manual market.

Why Drive a Manual Transmission?

As automatic transmissions have improved over the years, most drivers have drifted away from vehicles with manual transmissions. There are still a few practical benefits left, like the simpler setup being easier to maintain and repair, but many advantages of yore aren’t around anymore. Manual transmissions used to be cheaper, more fuel-efficient, and smoother on the road. But as more attention has been focused on improving automatics, they’ve become less clunky, less heavy, and less expensive.

The biggest thing that manual transmissions continue to bring to the table is a more involved driver experience. While a commuter sitting in traffic may not want to think about the mechanics of driving any more than they have to, an enthusiast out on a joyride wants to feel fully in control of their action and highly connected to their vehicle. A manual transmission can make acceleration feel peppier and give you a higher degree of control over handling. Once you get over the learning curve, you’ll be able to enjoy driving at a whole new level.

What Models Still Get a Manual Transmission?

Because driving enthusiasts are basically the last demographic still interested in a manual vehicle in the US, it makes sense that most of the models that still offer a stick shift here in the States are performance vehicles. New cars still available with a manual include the likes of the BMW M2, the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing, and the Porsche 911. These cars are easy to drool over but not so easy to finance. Even if you can afford one, you likely don’t want to cut your teeth behind the wheel of your dream car since the risk of causing a bit of damage as you learn is fairly significant. Luckily, there are some affordable options out there as well.

A close up shows the passenger side taillight on a silver  2023 Kia Forte GT.

Affordable Manual Cars

If you want to stay under $30k, you’ll have a harder time finding a good manual car, but you’ll still have a few options to choose from. The least expensive option out there is the 2024 Nissan Versa, a subcompact sedan with an MSRP of just $16,390. But the manual transmission is only available on the base S trim, so you’ll be missing out on a lot of the comfort and convenience features that make a car livable for day-to-day driving. Plus, it’s no hotrod, with an anemic 1.6L four-cylinder engine that produces a mere 122 hp.

The Honda Civic Si is an option that’s got better street cred, delivering a solid 200 hp with its 1.5L turbocharged engine. It’s not a base trim, so it offers more desirable features, like wireless smartphone connectivity and a power moonroof. But for a starting price of $29,100, it’s a shame that it doesn’t feature basic creature comforts like heated front seats.

The VW Jetta GLI can be had for just a hair cheaper, with an MSRP of $28,085 for the 40th Anniversary Edition. It’s also more powerful, cranking out 228 hp from a 2.0L turbocharged engine. It does give you heated front seats, but you’ll have to upgrade to the more expensive Autobahn trim at $31,785 to get a sunroof. However, Kia gives you everything you want at a lower price with the Forte GT.

What Makes the Kia Forte GT Stand Out?

The Kia Forte GT is definitely one of the more affordable options out there, with an MSRP of $25,390 for the manual version. But while it’s almost $4k cheaper than the Civic Si, it’s also a hair more powerful, with a turbocharged 1.6L engine that delivers 201 hp. Since the Forte is priced low across the board, the GT is actually the top-tier trim in the lineup, featuring unique style and lots of comfort and convenience features. From the outside, it looks sporty and smart. It’s a good size and has an aerodynamic shape, bold red accents, and athletic touches like a rear spoiler and dual exhaust tips. While it’s certainly affordable, it doesn’t look cheap.

Inside, there are more red accents placed against black SynTex upholstery, and the sporty touches continue with a flat-bottom steering wheel. There are also premium features like standard heated seats, a power sunroof, and dual-zone climate control to prevent arguments with your passenger over how high the AC should be set. While there are some high-tech features, including a sizable 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation and a wireless charging pad, Kia is smart enough to include some “lower tech” features that many manual drivers actually prefer.

Instead of the electronic parking brake that comes standard on the Forte GT if you choose the automatic transmission, the GT Manual gets a mechanical handbrake. The instrument display behind the wheel is also the best of both worlds: a digital screen in the middle and analog gauges on either side (the large analog tachometer is particularly useful when learning to drive stick). There are also plenty of physical buttons, knobs, and dials throughout that are easy to incorporate into your muscle memory so you can adjust the vehicle’s settings without taking your attention off the road.

While many manual cars, such as the Toyota GR86 or Mazda MX-5 Miata, focus more on performance than everyday livability, the Forte GT is pretty solidly practical. It has an adult-sized back seat and an impressively large trunk. The manual transmission itself is also forgiving, letting a beginner learn as they go without turning early drives into a trial by fire. Once you know what you’re doing, you’ll find that you can get some serious thrills behind the wheel. The Forte GT is well-tuned for cornering and has a well-weighted steering wheel. It even has a unique multi-link rear suspension to keep the ride smooth and bigger front disc brakes than non-GT Forte trims, so you can stop at a moment’s notice.

A white 2024 Kia Forte GT is shown driving on a highway.

Putting It Together

Narrow things down to a single attribute, and it’s easy to find modern manual vehicles that beat the Forte GT in a showdown. There are cheaper options, there are more powerful options, there are more stylish options, and there are more comfortable options. But put all of those factors together, and you see the real strength of the Forte GT: it’s extremely well-rounded. A beginner looking for something affordable that doesn’t sacrifice performance or livability would be smart to have the Forte on their radar. It packs plenty of value into a sporty package.

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