Kia was somehow slow in order to explore the B segment SUV share of the market, which is up and growing. Don’t count the Soul among them: it is not. It may be called a hatchback and some even classify it as a minivan (how come?), but it is surely not an SUV. Nor a crossover. Kia’s first and true incursion in this segment is called Niro and it has been presented moments ago, at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show.
Besides being Kia’s first B SUV, the Niro is also Kia’s first dedicated hybrid model. Putting it in another way, you can only have a Niro if it is a hybrid, or there is no Niro that is not a hybrid model. At least for now. In countries where there is no demand for hybrids, but there is a huge one for B segment SUVs, Kia will surely find a way to sell the Niro without the hybrid powerplant.
The new SUV has not had all of its technical data released, but we know it presents a 2.70 m wheelbase. That’s way bigger than its Hyundai sibling, known as ix25 or Creta, which present a 2.59 m wheelbase. It could even put the Niro in the C segment, technically speaking, since its bigger brother, the Kia Sportage, has a shorter wheelbase, at 2.67 m. We do not know if this is a mistake or if the Niro is shorter than the Sportage, and we will very likely have to wait for its full data to be released in order to get the bigger picture. Now, it really seems we are missing the point.
Besides having a bigger wheelbase than a vehicle that was supposed to be superior to it, the Niro is equipped with a 1.6 Kappa GDI 4-cylinder petrol engine with Atkinson cycle, what makes it produce only 77 kW. It is helped by a 32 kW electric engine. Kia says they have a total output of 109 kw and 264 Nm, what makes this the first hybrid powertrain to present no losses in the integration of the electric and the internal combustion engine. Although that is not much, it should be more than enough for Niro. And Kia says it has done a lot of effort to keep its weight down.
These efforts include using ultra high strength steel, which Kia and Hyundai call AHSS (Advanced High Strength Steel). Kia has applied this material not only to the structure of Niro (53% of the car is made of AHSS), but also to the seats structure. Kia also uses aluminum in the hood, tailgate and suspension parts, the elimination of the 12V battery, replaced by the same battery that powers the hybrid system, and even the parking brake pedal is built of fiber reinforced plastic in order to save weight. Kia just forgot to tell us how heavy the Niro is. Or has just preferred not to say a word. With a 0.29 drag coefficient, Kia promises that Niro can reach a fuel economy of 4.7 l/100 km.
These figures can be attained with the help of Eco-DAS (Driver Assistance System). This system uses Coasting Guide and Predictive Energy Control. Coasting Guide basically tells the driver when to coast and when to brake in order to save fuel, while Predictive Energy Control uses the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate ascending and descending terrains. With that info, Predictive Energy Control knows when it is better to save the battery and when it should be fully used in order to have more energy efficiency. Kia has even created a system that decides when to capture air from outside in order to reduce drag, a feature that is called Smart Air Intake. It works with Auto Defog, a system that monitor air conditions in order to avoid condensation on the windshield and side glasses of Niro.
Considering what Kia says about the car, it really seems to be a crossover version of the Hyundai Ioniq. They use the same engines. They have the same materials on their structures. They count on the same 1.56-kWh lithium ion polymer battery placed underneath the rear seat. They even use the same 6-speed dual clutch automated transmission. In other words, Niro seems to have a closer relationship to Ioniq than it should have with the ix25/Creta.
Apart from this, the Kia Niro presents a wide range of safety features, such as Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist, Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking. When it refers to the passenger’s comfort, Kia offers UVO3, an infotainment system that comes from the new Sportage. It comes with a 7-inch touchscreen, 8 Gb of memory space for music files and is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
No news were release on prices, but they are expected to emerge when Niro is put for sale in the USA, by the last quarter of the year. Niro should also be presented at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show. Perhaps not only in hybrid guise.