Economical Performance Upgrades for 2021 Kia Forte GT (Turbo)

flyingtrain

Newbie
Points
3
Location
Tacoma
Car
2021 Kia Forte GT
Hi everyone,
I am from Washington state, USA. and I recently purchased a brand new 2021 Kia Forte GT. This is my second Turbo equipped car. My first was a 2015 Forte Koup SX.

I have forever dreamed of having a car with enough performance to scare me but have always been too cheap to do anything about it. These two Fortes are as close as I have come. I haven't even really made any meaningful modification to any of my cars (back in 1984 I put a (stock) Chevy SB 283 into my 67 Chev C10 replacing its inline 6 and added dual exhaust... nothing more, ever). So although I have been my own mechanic since I was in my early teens I am a complete noob when it comes to any form of performance upgrades.

Although my new forte has some zip I would like to improve on that, if possible, without placing my warranty at risk. I have looked at some of the ODB2 plugin performance modules (they claim to make performance upgrade mappings that are only available when they're plugged in) but I have a hard time believing they would actually do any good at all.

Does anybody have any 1st person experience with these things? Have any of you put any of them to the test (real test data showing any improvement of any sort or lack thereof)?

Do you all have any advice on cost-effective ways to upgrade the performance of my new car?

The car came from the factory with low-profile, 18" x 8", wheels and tires so I am not looking to replace them any time soon.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I look forward to any wisdom you all see fit to provide to me.
 
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planestrainsandcars

Full member
Points
23
Location
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Car
Stock Kia Forte
There's an unfortunate reason that most of these questions go unanswered, and I'll help you out by going through them with you. The main key reason is because what you are asking isn't feasibly possible.

The first issue is that you are driving a 2021. Brand new cars do not have many aftermarket parts for sale. They don't exist. Many of the parts I will mention below do not exist for 2021 models. Why? Because there is no market for them. Nobody buys them. People modify older cars for track use because it's less of a financial risk. Most people aren't taking brand new cars to the track, and if they are, it isn't a Kia forte. (No offense, I drive one too). Brand new Mustang? You can probably find aftermarket parts. Brand new Kia? No. Older Kia? Yes, they are out there. Tons of aftermarket parts for a 2012-2014 Kia, for example.

without placing my warranty at risk
There is not anything meaningful, in terms of horsepower gains, that you can do to that Kia without voiding the warranty. It's been turbo'd from the factory, which is going to give you a significant amount of horsepower over standard Kia fortes. That's about as good as you are going to get.

Can you eek out a little bit more here and there? Certainly. But that's definitely not something that can be done within warranty. Kia's warranty (and any automaker's warranty) will be specific about what you are not allowed to do, and horsepower gains is definitely in there somewhere! They don't even want you changing transmission fluid, and often make a big deal even when you change your own oil (I've seen them make a big deal and try to deny warranty claims based on that alone, leaving the owner to desperately scramble for oil and filter receipts, which they usually accept once every single one is presented).

I have forever dreamed of having a car with enough performance to scare me
You've got a turbo on the forte, and that's about as far as it's gonna go. The platform is not a muscle car. The forte was originally designed to be an economical commuter car, to get around, go to doctor's appointments, go to the grocery store, and go on short to moderate road trips, not to race.

Kia's taken that to the max by turbo-ing it and making it closer to something you could take to the track for front-wheel drive fun. Maybe. But even a stock GT is not ready for the track.

If it's not scaring you right now, you aren't going to get a whole ton more out of it. Not to mention, you don't really WANT to modify a Kia Forte to make 1000BHP, because the platform can't necessarily handle it well, even if you could hit that number.

Even if the car could make that level of horsepower, what about the rest of the machine? Can the chassis handle it? Not really safely without intense modifications. Are the tires wide enough to create enough friction on the ground? Is the suspension robust enough to handle that kind of takeoff, and safe handling under that kind of power? (it isn't, Kia's suspensions are where they have lagged a bit in proportion to the rest of the car) Can the chassis handle the flex that will come with that kind of power and abuse that it wasn't designed for? (No, it needs reinforcement).

Can you make all these modifications to make the Kia Forte the race car of your dreams? Sure, anything is possible.

But not economically. You need to have the know-how to make these kind of mods (which even most customs and modifications shops don't because most people aren't modifying Kias and they are hard to find data, specs, and modification info for). You also have to have the thousands or 10s of thousands it's going to cost you to make these mods.

But hey, maybe you want to go through with it. Keep in mind, as a beginner you are going to make mistakes in terms of modifying your car, so it's going to cost you even more money, and take even more time, and your car will be out of commission for long lengths while you work on it.

Again adding to the issue of, if you need this car for transportation, what you are asking is pretty much impossible.

You CAN prep a kia forte for the track or more intense use (I would know, I am working on one right now and prepping it for delivery usage) but you would want the following upgrades:

  • Better Brakes and rotors, potentially calipers. This is going to be anywhere from $400 min to $1500. At least better pads.
  • Chassis reinforcement. Evilla motorsports has stuff for the kia forte, but you can't just go adding sway bars wherever you want, things have to be balanced. IF you have no experience with this and don't know what you are doing, you can risk a dangerous setup that can leave you with catastrophic oversteer and understeer events that end up with your car in a ditch. This is easily $1000+ or more.
  • Transmission cooling. If you plan on racing or driving intensely, ESPECIALLY if you are putting more torque through a transmission (unless you have a manual) you need to COOL that transmission, same as the guys with pickups who put more torque and wear on the transmission through towing. This is $300-$500 if you do it yourself. But transmission work is tricky. You can kill one. I would know, I did, and ended up replacing it myself ($2000 job).
  • Engine cooling improvements. Adding an oil cooler would be prudent considering you already have a turbo and the car was not meant for higher HP as designed. This is gonna be about $400 to get a nice Mishimoto oil cooler kit.
  • Better suspension. Koni or KYB sport suspension upgrade. $1000.
These are just the basics. But they cover a decent amount. After upgrading the platform to HANDLE more horsepower, THEN you can add more horsepower, more safely.

But no, you cannot do it cheaply, with very little experience. You need to invest money into this.

People somehow think that upgrading a cheap car would be less expensive than buying a high-end car that comes high-end from the factory. It's not. It's more expensive, often. Because car companies can make a high-end car cheaper than you can. They have huge supply chains, wholesale pricing, manufacture parts in house for many of the parts, and assembly lines to produce things at a lower cost. As opposed to buying many aftermarket parts from many people that are made in small batches, those are going to be expensive.

And this all assumes you are putting in the parts yourself. If you want someone to do this for you, add $10,000 to the cost to install everything above, and install and test it properly. That's a ton of work.

The fact is, it's way cheaper to buy a car with the specs you want. NOT modify it later. Unless you do it slowly, a little at a time, and know what you are doing. Which, you can learn, watching youtube videos, reading books (check out the James Halderman series), and working on cars yourself. But it's a lifestyle. It takes time. It involves having your car on jackstands for weeks (as it would be in the shop, these kind of mods cannot be done overnight, not by anyone, other than, in some cases, actual motorsports teams with the correct resources).

Your absolute, definite best bet is to drive that car. Thankfully you got the GT version so it can satisfy you a bit. And you could learn how to maintain and modify it. But leaning to MAINTAIN (change oil and filter, detail, keep car clean) comes first, THEN learning to modify comes later. You need practice. You need to build a collection of proper tools. It's a lot of money sunk into tools too.

If you can't stand that idea, your other best option is to sell it and buy a more powerful car. That would be SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper and much more practical than going down the road I laid out above, which again, is impossible, largely, because there are little to no aftermarket performance parts for a 2021 Forte. I could be wrong, you can search, but it's definitely hard to find aftermarket parts for a brand new Kia, or any commuter car for that matter.

Now, if you can't accept any of this, you can go off on Google and find all kinds of "economical" upgrades to your car to "gain horsepower" like "race chips" and K&N air filters that don't really do anything without other real modifications. No real horsepower gains are realized, but they sure make you feel like you own a racecar, and make your wallet lighter too!

I hate that the reality is this harsh, my friend, but I had to figure it out myself over the past few years to present you with this information.

As a bonus, let me show you a video of what is possible for your own inspiration. Here is the modification of a Kia Forte into a drift car. Keep in mind, these guys have a full shop with a lift, endless amounts of tools, decades of experience, basically a whole machine shop (you can see they are CNCing parts in the video) and they know how to weld, tune engines, and make modifications with messing it up!

THIS is how you properly mod a Kia forte. And no, it's not cheap, at all, you need several $100,000s worth of tools and several $10,000s to get the mods done!


Best of luck on your journey, enjoy the car as it is.

Any perhaps, in 5-7 years, if you take care of it (detail it, change oil, etc) you can begin finding aftermarket parts and modifying it. Still not a cheap hobby! And you're not any closer by taking it to the dealership for oil changes. You can start by learning to do that (the most basic of car maintenance) on your own. OEM Warranties and modifications do NOT go hand in hand.

People spend decades getting the knowledge, funds, and experience to where something like this can be done. If you want to get there, you have to start putting in that work now. It's not something that happens cheap, easy, or overnight.
 
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flyingtrain

Newbie
Points
3
Location
Tacoma
Car
2021 Kia Forte GT
Let's try this again. 3rd time should work, right?

Thank you for such an in-depth response. I simply didn't expect that.

I fully expected all of this to be the case. I had always figured A performance intake would have more of an effect on gas millage than on HP. And that the ODB2 plug-in devices were a scam but I had to ask as you never know, right?

BTW, I have been a shade tree mechanics since I was ~8 (1974?) starting with brake jobs and Oil changes. Since then I have tackled all levels of mechanical (engine and body) work from tune-ups/DMs to half-shaft replacement to crank shaft position sensor replacement and all areas between. I have even done 1 complete rebuild of a SB Chev.

In addition to this I worked for a very short time as a mechanic and for ~3 years as a body man. So I have many tools and plenty of experience.
Just no machining or performance work.

Thanks again for the info.
 

planestrainsandcars

Full member
Points
23
Location
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Car
Stock Kia Forte
I apologize flying train, I skipped over your post pretty quickly and didn't catch too many of the details about your experience.

One thing that's possible with a brand new vehicle is ECU tuning. You can program/tune an engine control unit to meet your desired needs, whether you want better MPG over stock, better power, quicker pickup, etc. It takes learning how to do it to get good at it though like anything, one place that has a few decent courses on the subject is Hp Academy, costs to take the classes of course, but in a short amount of time you can begin to pick up the subject.

A J2534 interface, aka a Jbox/passthru, and a windows laptop is the bare minimum to get started.

Typically though this is something that requires a dyno, and a power supply is often needed as well, but there are all kinds of communities out there with people trading "tune" files that can be uploaded into the vehicle's ECU, though of course it won't be as good/accurate as a tune of the actual vehicle you have on a dyno with it's own personal tune.

I know there's a turbo kit floating around for the Kia Forte. I asked a while back at turbokits.com if their kit was compatible with 2nd gen fortes (2014-2018) and they couldn't confirm, and given that your's is a third-gen, no promises of course either. If you're looking to go down that road, I know it's possible but it's not as easy without a proper kit on a more popularly turbo'd car. Uncharted waters, to a degree.

Other ways to gain smaller HP gains here and there, porting and polishing (quite a job but if you have a die grinder, patience, time, and a steady hand, doable). Saw a great video on YouTube on how to do so, but it takes time and patience, all for maybe a 20-40HP gain.

Basically what I've discovered is there's not a lot of people tuning and modifying Kia's, but the possibility is there. But the degree of difficulty is heightened due to it not being as popular of a car as say, the Honda Civic and not having as many aftermarket parts, or as much of a modification community surrounding them either. It can be done, I'm sure, but someone has to be the first to head down that road and share it with the rest of us, because I know that there are people out there doing it, but it's certainly few and far between! Hope that helps.
 

obi_waynne

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1,157
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Deal, Kent UK
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A3 1.4 TFSI 150 COD
There are a lot of people that want mods, judging by our traffic and mailboxes, so hopefully supply will catch up with the demand.

Kia have come a long way in a short time, and finally they are making proper drivers cars, the remap is one of the most cost effective and noticeable power upgrades for any turbo engine.

I also think you can do much to improve the handling on these with a decent suspension kit, it's just a matter of waiting for someone to release one.
 
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