Non-fans of five-door compacts, take note, the Kia Forte Hatchback may change your mind
To Hatch and To Hold The Forte Hatchback is not only elegant to behold, but it also delivers a more than competent performance -- PHOTO: TERENCE TAN

Hatchbacks do not usually do well in Singapore. Car buyers here are still predominantly a conservative lot and have a predilection for sedans.

Perhaps they feel that with the ransom they have to part with for a car, it should be a 'complete' carriage, with a proper backside.

There have been exceptions, of course, but of late, most of these are European models.

So for Kia of South Korea to revisit the five-door compact segment with its imaginatively named Forte Hatchback, it must be really brave - or supremely confident.

I mean, why rock the boat when the sedan and coupe versions of the car are already faring decently?

I took a test car out to find out and was swept off my feet.

The Kia hatchback is one of the most well-sorted, most refined and most competent cars in its class.

Its body feels more solid and rigid than the Cerato Forte sedan's, and is even tauter than the Kia Koup's. Slide inside, pull the hefty doors shut and you will discover a level of insulation that is more commonly associated with luxury brands.

The cabin's vault-like integrity remains largely intact even when the engine is called upon to pile on the revs, which is occasionally necessary.

What is equally impressive is the modest 1.6-litre power plant's unburstable demeanour. Even when extended past 5,000rpm, it does not protest.

Paired with a six-speed autobox with sensibly spaced cogs, the normally aspirated four-cylinder makes better use of its 120-odd horses than some multi-pot engines do with twice the output.

Even though the official specs state that the hatch has the same performance limits as the sedan and the coupe, it feels more responsive and more willing to stretch.

The car has ample torque to give it a pleasant breeziness in the low end, too.

The Forte Hatchback shares a common chassis with its two siblings, but with a rear overhang that is 19cm shorter.

Visually, this lends the Hatchback a sportier and more planted stance.

But it may have also enhanced the car's ride and handling characteristics. The latest Kia goes over humps like a Citroen and tackles the twisties like an Alfa.

Its relatively simple suspension system of MacPherson struts up front and coupled torsion beam axle at the back works exceedingly well. Together with a steering that is almost Lotus-like in its precision and communicativeness, this unassuming car makes day-to-day driving a joy.

Its drivability would have been peerless if not for a wider-than-expected turning circle.

For a car in its price range, it is decently equipped. It has disc brakes all round (front ventilated), electronic stability control, steering-mounted paddle shifters, climate control, keyless access and ignition, automatic headlamps, Bluetooth capability and connectivity for all the common types of mobile devices.

Like its two- and four-door brethren, its centre console and instrumentation would not be out of place in a premium car.

If you look really hard, you might still uncover some plasticky bits here and there, but on the whole, there is hardly anything worth faulting.

Last but not least, the car is not bad- looking either. As with all latter-day Kias styled under the supervision of former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, the Hatchback has an elegant and purposeful profile - with a dash of sportiness. On the flipside, it gets a slightly diminished boot.

Never considered a Korean hatch? Now is a good time to change your mind.