Kia is promising to deliver the best of both worlds as it gives European motorists a first look at the new Niro, a battery-based Prius fighter that made its first appearance at the Chicago Auto Show only a few weeks ago.
This time, the Korean carmaker is dropping a few more hints about future plans, however, and the Kia Niro Hybrid on display at the Geneva Motor Show will soon be joined in showrooms by a plug-in version.
“The Kia Niro will offer buyers a compelling blend of crossover practicality with the cool, modern styling for which Kia is famous, and an efficient new hybrid powertrain to keep running costs down,” said Michael Cole, Chief Operating Officer, Kia Motors Europe. “The Niro fills a gap in the market for a crossover with typically low hybrid emissions, and will appeal to a broad range of European buyers.”
(Live from the Geneva Motor Show: Click Here for full coverage.)
While green machines have lost momentum in a U.S. market where fuel prices have plunged to decade-low levels, the situation is quite different in Europe, where gas is still quite expensive. Hybrid sales have doubled over the last five years and, Cole said, should reach 700,000 by 2020.
As in much of the world, the Toyota Prius has been the dominant force in this sector, in part due to the distinctiveness of its design. So, to pose a real challenge, Kia decided to go with a unique platform of its own, but in this case opting for a subcompact SUV design.
First shown in concept form more than two years ago, the production Niro loses such fanciful touches as the scissor-style doors. But it retains a balance between styling, utility, fuel-economy and that elusive fun-to-drive factor.
The 2017 Kia Niro isn’t the Korean maker’s first battery-based model. It first introduced the Optima Hybrid and the Soul EV. And by 2020, the Korean carmaker promises to triple the number of battery-based models it offers.
(Hyundai Ioniq goes from low to no emissions. Click Here to find out how.)
Niro’s exterior design adopts familiar Kia cues, such as the tiger nose grille. The overall shape is a bit lower and wider than many subcompact utes, giving it a bit more of an athletic stance. More traditional details include muscular shoulders, rocker cladding, roof rails and a rear skid plate.
With a 106.3-inch wheelbase and the more upright seating of a utility vehicle, the interior looks less cramped than the Kia Niro’s exterior footprint might suggest. It also helps to have the main lithium-ion powerpack tucked under the floor, rather than gobbling up space in the cargo or passenger compartments.
The interior is a relatively uncluttered affair, with glossy black and white accents giving something of a high-tech feel. The seats give a good view of the road and feature extra padding to reduce fatigue on long drives.
Kia claims it also put an emphasis on reducing the traditional buzzes and whines experienced with many other hybrid-electric models. Among other things, it added special foam and padding under both the floor and the hood.
And that’s where the heart of the 2017 Kia Niro can be found. The drivetrain starts with a new 1.6-liter direct-injected gasoline engine designed specifically for hybrid applications. It makes 103 horsepower while improving efficiency by using the Atkinson Cycle. An exhaust heat recovery system helps further reduce fuel consumption, Kia explains, by quickly warming up the engine.
A transmission-mounted electric motor kicks in another 43 horsepower, the combined hybrid driveline generating 146 hp and 195 pound-feet of torque through the front wheels. The motor draws power from that 1.56-kilowatt lithium-ion polymer battery mounted under the floor.
Kia says it put plenty of engineering emphasis on the blended brake system to give it a more natural feel – an issue many hybrid owners often complain about with earlier models.
While final numbers haven’t been determined, Kia says it is targeting an EPA combined rating of 50 miles per gallon, only slightly less than the recently redesigned Toyota Prius.
The 2017 Kia Niro will offer a wide range of optional safety features, including Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Active Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning with Autonomous Emergency Braking.
Infotainment features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as the extensive telematics services of Kia’s own UVO eServices system. They can be operated on a 7-inch touchscreen display.
Niro also introduces a new technology, dubbed Predictive Energy Control, that uses the car’s navigation system to adjust the operation of its hybrid drive to the terrarin. It’s expected to yield as much as a 3% improvement in fuel economy.
The 2017 Kia Niro will come tomarket at a challenging time. With fuel prices lower than they have been in nearly a decade, demand for battery-based models, even the vaunted Toyota Prius, slipped last year. But demand for small crossovers grew at a record pace. Kia is clearly hoping it can pitch Niro as delivering the best of both worlds: the fuel efficiency of a hybrid but the styling and other attributes that have made the CUV market sizzling hot.
Kia plans to follow up with a more advanced plug-in version of the Niro sometime late in 2016. Expect to see it use a lithium-ion battery pack of somewhere around nine to 10 kilowatt-hours in capacity. The gas engine is likely to remain the same 1.6-liter Kappa GDI package of the Niro hybrid, but the electric motor will likely offer a bit more power, something closer to the 63 hp package being used by sibling Korean brand Hyundai in its new Ioniq plug-in.
In fact, while Niro and Ioniq plug-ins will look significantly different, the underlying powertrains should be quite similar, according to TheDetroitBureau.com sources.
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