Another “Big Green Statement” from Kia
It wouldn’t be the Chicago Auto Show without Kia kicking things off with a rock n’ roll band. This year, as teens from the School of Rock Oak Park belted out Rolling Stones tunes, Kia launched its compact 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid to an audience of sleepy-eyed automotive journalists still drinking coffee.
“We’re here to make a big green statement,” said Kia Motors America chief operating officer Michael Sprague, in reference to the Korean automaker’s aims to improve its fleet mpg by 25 percent over the next five years, going from four to 11 eco models by 2020.
But as the bright red Niro rolled onto the stage, the gathered media greeted the crossover hybrid vehicle with only slight enthusiasm as the exterior styling isn’t particularly sexy, racy or unusual, but looked pretty much like a smaller version of Kia’s Sportage SUV.
The 2017 Kia Niro will Kia’s first dedicated hybrid vehicle platform. It’s directly related to Hyundai’s Ioniq hybrid, which debuted at the Geneva Motor Show. Unlike most crossover utility vehicles (CUVs), Niro initially will be offered only with front-wheel drive and not all-wheel drive. However, we do expect, an AWD model in the future, likely based on the Kia Soul-based Trail’ster concept shown at last year’s Chicago Show.
Since it looks like a CUV, but operates like a hybrid vehicle, Kia refers to the Niro as HUV (hybrid utility vehicle). “The subcompact CUV market continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in the world, and Niro offers a uniquely alluring yet practical package that consumers haven’t seen before,” said Orth Hedrick, Kia’s vice president-product planning.
Kia is targeting an EPA fuel economy rating of 50 mpg combined, an exceptional number for a vehicle with crossover looks and capabilities.
Design And Styling
Kia insists that the Niro’s design shares DNA with crossovers and SUVs, but there’s a lot of hatchback in the styling. And, while it’s a hybrid, it’s a vehicle the automaker says has an “Un-Hybrid”
The 2017 Kia Niro is built on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, which is larger than the subcompact Kia Soul and shorter than the midsize Kia Sportage, but it’s the same as the all-new 2016 Toyota Prius Liftback. Does that make the Niro and Prius competitors?
Niro’s exterior design splits the lines between those of a crossover utility and a conventional hatchback wagon. It is a bit wider and lower than many subcompact CUVs, but a long roofline and short overhangs give an athletic profile.
Things are lead off by the now-familiar Kia signature grille that is flanked by aggressively shaped headlights. Design elements that verify its crossover credentials include muscular wheel arches, rocker cladding, roof rails and a rear skid plate.
Despite the crossover utility shape, Kia says carefully shaped bodywork contributes to a relatively slippery coefficient of drag of .29—low for any sport utility or crossover vehicle.
Inside is a relatively uncluttered look with large clear instruments and black-and-white glossy trim that gives a slight high-tech feel. Seats provide a good view of the road and feature extra padding to reduce fatigue on long drives.
The 2017 Kia Niro will be offered with an extensive list of advanced technology systems, including:
- blind spot detection
- rear cross-traffic alert
- lane-change assist
- advanced smart cruise control
- lane-departure warning
- autonomous emergency braking.
The new hybrid will also feature what Kia calls Eco-DAS driver-assistance system. It’s the company’s first application of “Coasting Guide,” which tells the driver when to coast or brake to maximize efficiency. Predictive Energy Control uses the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate topographical changes on the road ahead and manage energy flow accordingly, determining when it’s best to recharge the battery or to expend stored energy. Kia says the technology is expected to yield as much as a three percent improvement in fuel economy.
As for information and entertainment, like other Kias the Niro will be equipped with the latest UVO3 infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, all operated on a seven-inch touchscreen display.
Ultimately, a hybrid vehicle will be defined by its powertrain, and on paper the Kia Niro’s appears to be a very good one. The task of engine motivation will be borne by an all-new “Kappa” Atkinson Cycle 1.6-liter direct injection four-cylinder rated at 103 horsepower. Kia says the engine is specifically engineered for hybrid vehicles.
Unlike many hybrids, the engine’s power is directed to the front wheels through a newly developed six-speed dual-clutch transmission, rather than a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). On the electric side, a transmission-mounted 43 horsepower electric motor device, called TMED, works with the gas engine to produce a combined output of 146 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque.
Bringing the whole system together is a compact, lightweight 1.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery located under the rear seat. The battery sends energy to the motor to power the Niro—whether by itself or in combination with the engine—as well as storing otherwise wasted energy captured through regenerative braking.
The powertrain isn’t the only clever engineering that will help reduce fuel bills. The Niro was built using 53 percent high-strength steel along with extensive use of aluminum, including an aluminum hood, tailgate, front control arms and front and rear knuckles.
The hybrid specific-platform also allows Kia to follow up with a plug-in hybrid version of the Niro. The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid is expected to arrive at the end of 2016, followed by the plug-in hybrid model in the first half of next year.