Over the past two decades, Kia Motors has transformed from an inexpensive alternative to the perennial segment leaders, Honda and Toyota, to a legitimate competitor offering the maximum bang for the buck.
Recently at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, the automaker unveiled the latest addition to its North American portfolio, the Niro hybrid crossover. The 2017 Niro HUV (Hybrid Utility Vehicle) is the first car in the company’s model lineup to use an “all-new, dedicated eco-car platform.” The Niro was jointly created at Kia’s North American styling studio in Irvine, California and its design studio in Namyang, Korea.
The boldly designed Kia Niro crossover is the latest step in the manufacturer’s quest to nearly triple its global lineup of green cars by 2020. With the first dedicated hybrid crossover, Kia’s goal is to lure Toyota Prius shoppers into its dealerships.
The platform underpinning the Niro consists of 53% high-strength steel, including reinforcements in the A- and B-pillars and roof rails. It is specifically engineered to house a new gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. Even with its somewhat wide rocker cladding, wheel arches, roof rails, and rear skid plates, the 2017 Kia Niro still manages to achieve a respectable 0.29 coefficient drag. Kia aims to achieve a combined EPA fuel efficiency rating of 50 mpg.
To minimize weight, Kia engineers utilized high-strength steel for seat frames and installed an aluminum hood and tailgate. Aluminum was also used for the brake calipers and several suspension components, including the front lower control arms and front and rear knuckles. Kia claims every component was examined – even the brake pedal is made from fiber reinforced plastic.
The usual 12-volt battery has been replaced with a more powerful lithium-ion polymer battery.
The 2017 Kia Niro is based on a 106.3 inch wheelbase and offers an elevated seating position for improved forward visibility. The lithium-ion battery pack is located beneath the rear seats and does not eat up any precious cargo space. Wind noise is reduced with acoustic glass for the windshield and contoured side mirrors. Additional sound-deadening material in the front structure with expanding foam in A- and B-pillars reduce road and tire noise.
The gasoline engine in the 2017 Kia Niro is a 1.6 L naturally aspirated four-cylinder with 103 horsepower. The Kappa 1.6 L GDI is optimized for efficiency and combines Atkinson-cycle operation with a cooled exhaust-gas re-circulation (EGR) system, direct injection, and long-stroke/narrow bore dimensions.
The electric part of the powertrain centers on a 43 horsepower electric motor integrated with the gearbox.
Electric energy is stored in a lightweight and compact 156 kWh lithium-ion battery, producing a combined output of 146 horsepower and 195 lb.ft. torque. A plug-in hybrid will also be available later in the Niro’s production cycle.
Power is sent to the ground via a new six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Kia claims the transmission provides smooth and speedy gear shifts, and a “natural and spirited feel” that other hybrids cannot match. To enhance brake feel, a major Achilles’ heel for many hybrids, Kia designed the Niro’s regenerative system to “seamlessly blend” with the hydraulic friction braking. This results in deceleration that “feels more consistent and liner,” according to Kia.
The 2017 Kia Niro is also equipped with Eco-DAS (Driver Assistance System), Coasting Guide, and Predictive Energy Control. Coasting Guide is aimed to coach the driver about when to coast or brake to maximize fuel mileage. Predictive Energy Control utilizes the cruise control and navigation systems to “anticipate topographical changes on the road ahead and actively manage energy flow.” This helps determine when conditions are optimal to recharge the battery and/or when it’s more ideal to apply stored energy towards the wheels.
The system works during both uphill and downhill situations.
Safety & Technology Features
Like all Kia models, the Niro will feature the usual list of luxury, safety, and connectivity features including a new UVO 3 infotainment system with 7.0 inch touchscreen. The system features both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with 8 GB of music storage, Wi-Fi tethering, and other useful features.
Driver assistance features include blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, active cruise control, lane-departure warning, and automatic emergency braking.
As of now, Kia has not released any information regarding the Niro’s price or sale date.
*Rahul Raman is the Founder of CARS 360 Mke, an automotive news outlet. He is a regular contributor to Automoblog.net and the author of our First Look series.