Chicago: Kia Niro

Chicago: Kia Niro

Kia has unveiled an all-new compact crossover called Niro at the Chicago auto show. More than just a new model line for Kia, the Niro ushers in an all-new eco car platform for the brand.

The Kia Niro will compete in the subcompact utility vehicle segment against vehicles like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V. However, the Niro has a trick up its sleeve as it uses an efficient gas-electric hybrid powertrain.

The hybrid system in the Niro is built around Kia’s 1.6L Kappa four-cylinder engine. On its own the four-cylinder makes 103 horsepower, but total system output grows to 146 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque when you include the Niro’s transmission-mounted electric device. Kia says it will eventually offer a plug-in hybrid version of the Niro.

Power is routed to the Niro’s front wheels via a second-generation version of Kia’s six-speed dual clutch transmission. Kia says the decision to use a DCT instead of a typical CVT gives the Niro an added dose of driving pleasure. The Niro’s electric drive unit is backed by a 1.56-kWh Lithium Ion Polymer battery located underneath its rear seat.

Obviously the Niro hasn’t been certified by the EPA just yet, but Kia is targeting a 50mpg combined rating for the SUV.

The styling of the Niro is somewhat unique to the Kia brand, but there are clear influences from the larger Sorento in the SUV’s D-pillar area. Up front the Niro features swept-back headlight and a lower bumper with integrated fog lights. Kia’s signature “tiger nose” front grille sits in the middle of the Niro’s face. The rear of the Niro features expressive taillights that appear slightly over-sized.

Kia hasn’t released full technical specifications for the Niro, but it should be rather light. The Niro’s new architecture — which will underpin more eco-friendly Kias in the future — employs aluminum in its hood, tailgate and several suspension components. Kia engineers even ditched the typical 12-volt battery to save weight.

Inside the Niro features a high driving position similar to that of the Kia Soul. Available safety features will include blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic detection, smart cruise control, lane departure warning and autonomous braking. The Niro will come packing Kia’s UVO3 infotainment system with a 7-inch capacitive touchscreen.

In order to boost mileage, the Niro will come outfitted with a new Eco-Driver Assistance System complete with Coasting Guide and Predictive Energy Control. The former boosts economy by coaching a driver when to brake while the latter uses the SUV’s navigation systems to anticipate the road ahead and adjust throttle inputs and braking accordingly.

“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.”

Kia hasn’t announced when the Niro will go on sale, but look for the small SUV to land in dealer showrooms by the end of 2016.

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