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Kia Niro 2017

During the 2016 Chicago Auto Show KIA announced their global debut of the all-new 2017 Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle (HUV). Niro falls under Kia Motors EcoDynamics an offshoot brand of sorts focusing on environmentally friendly ”eco” vehicles like the Optima Hybrid and Soul EV. Kia states that Niro is differentiated by the fact that it’s the first Kia to use of an all-new, dedicated eco-car platform.

Wagon’s ho. Automakers take great pains and spew reams of paper trying to convince journalists and consumers alike that a wagon is an SUV or CUV and now an HUV. Well it’s still a wagon, but I have to say a good-looking wagon. The Kia Niro sports wide and low proportions with a long roofline and abrupt overhangs. The Kia ‘nose” is present and features aggressively shaped headlights that draw back into the fender tops. Contours that reminded this writer of the Audi A3.

Inside, it’s all light and bright with glossy white or black accents, an uncluttered and clean instrument panel design and all the right gauges and controls populate the rest of the dash. I didn’t spend any time in the car during the press reveal but it appears that four adults can transport in relative comfort.  Niro features an elevated seating position for a commanding view of the road. The battery pack is under the rear seats so cabin and cargo space does not suffer and permits a flat cargo floor.

The heart of this “HUV” is an all-new Kappa 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder engine, developed specifically for hybrid applications. The new engine makes 103 horsepower, and Kia states that it marks the first combination of the Atkinson Cycle, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), GDI and a long-stroke-narrow-bore specification to maximize efficiency. A 43-hp tractive motor, known as the transmission-mounted electric device (TMED), works in tandem with the gasoline engine to produce a combined 146 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.

kia niro road

Power is transferred to the front wheels through a newly developed, second-generation six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which Kia indicates boosts efficiency and is a key factor to boosting the driving experience –haven’t had a chance to sample so we’ll see.

With the combination of the lightweight TMED, GDI and Atkinson Cycle technology in the internal combustion engine, along with the DCT transmission Kia is targeting a combined fuel efficiency rating of 50 mpg.

Niro’s platform has been specifically engineered to accommodate the unique gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, using 53 percent of Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS), including reinforcement in the A- and B-pillars as well as the roof rails; Kia engineers are targeting the Niro to earn top honors from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS).

“The Niro hits the sweet spot by offering the best combination of outstanding mpg, an engaging driving experience, utility, and most importantly, a stunning design that doesn’t shout ‘hybrid,’” said Orth Hedrick, vice president product planning KMA. “The subcompact CUV market continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in the world, and the Niro offers a uniquely alluring yet practical package that consumers haven’t seen before.”

During the press conference Kia announced that Niro will be offered with a suite of advanced driver assistance and convenience technologies. Familiar features that will be available on the HUV include Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist; Advanced Smart Cruise Control; Lane Departure Warning; and Autonomous Emergency Braking.

An interesting new wrinkle is the Eco-DAS1 (Driver Assistance System) featuring Kia’s first application of Coasting Guide and Predictive Energy Control. The Coasting Guide aims at maximizing fuel economy by essentially coaching the driver on when to coast and brake-something hyper-milers do. Predictive Energy Control, meanwhile, uses the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate topographical changes on the road ahead and actively manage energy flow, seamlessly determining when its best to recharge the battery and when its best to expend stored energy to optimize overall efficiency. This technology has been used on expensive luxury car, but Kia is bringing this tech to the value priced segment. Kia’s system is the first in the industry to monitor and adjust for both ascending and descending scenarios. Other notable features include Smart Air Intake, which reduces drag by carefully managing the intake of outside air for the HVAC system, and also an accompanying Auto Defog system that prevents condensation from building on the glass by monitoring cabin air conditions to manage the cycling of the A/C compressor. It will be interesting to see if these electronics can keep up with the weather/passenger expectations.

Kia has not provided any pricing information on the 2017 Niro during the Chicago Auto Show.

Ultimately, Kia is looking to nearly triple the brand’s global green car line-up by 2020.  Future Niro plans include a plug-in hybrid powertrain to join the Niro line-up later in the vehicle’s life-cycle.