The new Kia Niro ushers in yet another acronym to the car market – the hybrid utility vehicle or HUV. Although the Japanese Toyota Prius is never mentioned by the Korean brand, it’s clear this is the car in Kia’s crosshairs – and it’s tackling it by packaging its new hybrid-only model in a more attractive and appealing crossover body.
The Niro is a massively important car for Kia, part of a plan to triple the number of eco-friendly models by 2020 and head towards a total of 22 ‘green’ models for Kia and it’s sister brand Hyundai by that time.
Under what is, in the flesh, an unexciting yet inoffensive and reasonably slippery (drag co-efficient of 0.29) skin, is a new platform especially developed for hybrid tech. It’s the same technology that’s also put to good use in the new Hyundai Ioniq.
It’ll get more use, too, with cars like the next generation Kia Soul likely to come as a full EV or hybrid. There’s also likely to be a plug-in hybrid version of next year’s Nissan Juke-rivalling SUV, while a plug-in version of the impressive new Optima saloon shared the stage with the new Niro at this week’s Chicago Motor Show.
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The Niro’s headline figures of 89g/km and 73.6mpg may be some way off the new Prius’ 70g/km and 94mpg, but then the other important number, price, should be some way below the Toyota’s £23,295 starting figure. Kia is targeting a starting point of around £18,000.
For that money, you get some impressive tech. The Niro uses the very latest Lithium-Ion Polymer battery that is both compact and powerful – so much so that Kia has been able to do away with a 12v battery in the car. It lives under the rear seat so there’s no compromise on boot space and rear room.
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Kia has also developed its Predictive Energy Control system to use navigation data to predict changes to the road ahead (including hills) to maximise the efficiency of the hybrid system.
That hybrid system comprises an all-new, super-efficient 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 102bhp. As well as being thermally very effective, it also uses exhaust gases to speed the warm-up process, improving efficiency in the early stages of a drive. A 42bhp electric motor is mounted on the transmission for a total combined power output of 144bhp with 195 lb ft of torque.
The power goes through a new six-speed dual clutch gearbox, which Kia claims gives a more connected driving experience than other hybrids with CVT continuously variable transmissions (but don’t mention the Prius!).
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Regenerative braking is used to send power back to the battery, but Kia says it’s paid special attention to brake feel, reducing the grabby nature of the brakes in other (still not named) hybrids.
Lots of work has gone into making the car as quiet as possible, too, using special glass, foams in the bodywork and specially shaped door mirrors to reduce noise. There’s even a damper in the steering system to reduce the vibration the driver might feel.
The compact battery and lack of a 12v power pack help to reduce weight, as do special lightweight seats and aluminium used for the bonnet, boot and suspension parts.
However, there will still be plenty of tech features on board including a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus safety features such as Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist; Advanced Smart Cruise Control; Lane Departure Warning; and Autonomous Emergency Braking.
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As with the Hyundai Ioniq, a plug-in hybrid version of the Niro is a possibility, but not for a while – certainly some time after the arrival of the hybrid version, which Kia hopes to have in UK showrooms in time for the September plate change.
However, the brand’s first plug-in, the Optima, should arrive at around the same time with a claimed range of around 600 miles, 27 of which can be completed in full EV mode. It’ll feature tweaked aerodynamics to give it a class best drag coefficient of 0.24cd and it’ll come in one well-equipped trim level expected to cost around £30,000.
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