2017 Kia Niro Preview
By Christian Wardlaw, February 11, 2016
- New, dedicated hybrid crossover SUV
- 146 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque
- Front-wheel drive
- Kia-estimated 50 mpg in combined driving
- 5-passenger seating
- 25.5 cu. ft. of cargo room behind rear seat
- Plug-in version coming soon
With the introduction of the new 2017 Kia Niro at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, it is clear that the automaker understands that hybrid vehicles too often sacrifice appealing design and engaging dynamics in order to deliver maximum gas mileage.
Aiming to deliver 50 mpg, an enjoyable driving character, attractive styling, and the comfort and utility modern car buyers seek from small crossover SUVs, the Kia Niro could teach the auto industry that you can, indeed, build a genuinely desirable hybrid vehicle.
Kia does not want styling to impede consideration of its new Niro, so the company drapes thoughtfully considered design atop its dedicated hybrid architecture.
Sized, proportioned, and detailed like a subcompact crossover SUV, the Niro’s front-drive configuration limits capability in severe winter weather or when traveling off the pavement. A 0.29 coefficient of drag—high for a hybrid vehicle—reflects the price to be paid for the attractive, well-proportioned body work and stylish 17-in. aluminum wheels, though buyers are likely willing to sacrifice a few miles per gallon in favor of style.
Kia characterizes the Niro’s interior as “uncluttered and clean,” and providing “generous cargo room.” Five people fit inside the Niro, though four are likely happier, enjoying seats that Kia says are specifically designed to reduce fatigue on lengthy journeys. Tall seating hip points also make it easy to get into and out of the Niro, Kia says.
In addition to several safety and infotainment upgrades, discussed in greater detail below, the Niro is available with leather seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, memory for the driver’s preferred seating position, and dual-zone automatic climate control with a Clean Air ionization system. Front and rear park-assist sensors are also on the equipment list.
Full details regarding prices, trim level designations, and features will be available closer to the Niro’s arrival in Kia showrooms.
Under the Hood
Engineered from the outset to be a hybrid vehicle, the Kia Niro launches with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain. Kia says that a plug-in version will be offered sometime after the Niro goes on sale.
For now, the Niro has a direct-injection, Atkinson-cycle, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine that uses cooled exhaust gas recirculation and an exhaust heat recovery system to maximize efficiency and reduce emissions when the vehicle is first started. The engine is paired with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission with a manual shift mode, a transmission-mounted 32-kW electric motor, a 42-kW Lithium-ion polymer battery pack, and a regenerative braking system.
Together, these components produce 146 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. Similar to other hybrid vehicles, the torque is available shortly after the driver steps on the accelerator pedal, helping to make the Niro feel more energetic, Kia says.
Kia promises that the Niro will be quick and pleasing to drive, and that engineers focused of providing smooth, natural power delivery combined with consistent and linear brake pedal feel and response.
Constructed using 53% advanced high-strength steel, the Niro’s underlying architecture boasts reinforced windshield pillars, center door pillars, and roof rails in order to provide maximum crash protection. Kia says that it expects the Niro to earn the highest-possible crash-test ratings from the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Should the Niro get into a wreck, the next-generation UVO3 infotainment system provides subscription-free access to an automatic collision-notification service. Parents of teenaged drivers will also appreciate the infotainment system’s speed, curfew, and boundary alerts, as well as its driving score feature.
In addition to its safety features, UVO3 includes a coasting guide that coaches the driver on maximizing fuel economy. Predictive energy control is also a part of the Niro’s UVO3 system, employing the optional navigation system’s GPS in order to predict upcoming topographic changes and route requirements in order to actively manage the drivetrain in the most efficient manner possible.
As far as entertainment is concerned, UVO3 equips the Niro with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-projection technology, transforming the 7-in. dashboard touch screen into something resembling your device. Wi-Fi tethering, as well as access to Pandora and Soundhound, are also planned for the Niro.