Watch Out Prius!
By Ron Amadon
DAMASUS, MD – A very interesting and attractive small sport utility hybrid was unveiled by Kia at the Chicago Auto Show, one that is targeted to deliver 50 mpg and not be a slug to drive.
The Kia Niro rides on a 106.3 inch wheelbase that makes it, plus or minus a fraction of an inch, about the same size as the Toyota Prius. Kia said the design “doesn’t shout hybrid.”
It is the first Kia to use a new dedicated eco-car platform, another step in the company’s goal of nearly tripling its green car line-up by 2020. A plug-in hybrid powertrain is due to be added to the car’s line-up later.
Power comes from a new 1.6-liter four with 103 horsepower with the first combination of the Atkinson Cycle, and cooled exhaust recirculation. It speeds engine warm-up by routing coolant to a heat exchanger in the exhaust system. This is no small thing as here in auto writer’s land we are looking at a -5 degree wind chill tonight, and our friends in New England are looking at North Pole like chills. (Think -30)
A 43-hp tractive motor, otherwise known as the “transmission-mounted electric device”, works in tandem with the gas engine to produce 146 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. They hook up with a six speed dual clutch transmission. A 1.56-kWh Lithium Ion Polymer battery is located beneath the rear seat to round out this power lineup. The Niro will be front wheel drive and, so far, there have been no promises of an all-wheel drive model.
Something called a “Coasting Guide” aims at maximizing fuel economy by coaching the driver on when to coast and brake.
Predictive Energy Control, uses the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate topographical changes on the road ahead and actively manage energy flow. Kia maintains this is the first of its kind to adjust for both ascending and descending scenarios.
Look for Niro to go on sale next year.
Inside, it offers an elevated seating position much like the Soul, and even with the battery under the rear seat, Kia said there will be a flat load floor. Kia took several steps to reduce interior noise such as the use of acoustic windshield glass and expanding foam inside the A-and-B pillars among other things.
There will be all the usual safety devices and Kia expects the Niro to earn top safety honors from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration due its use of high strength steel, reinforced roof pillars, and steps taken to increase torsional rigidity and structural integrity.
Price and performance figures will come out later.
So where does Niro fit given the fact that even a government agency predicts that gas prices will remain below $2 a gallon this year and consumer demand for hybrids, as a result, are on the wane? Of course if that prediction is wrong, then the Niro looks even better.
The yang in all this is that the Niro will enter one of the hottest segments of the auto industry, that for compact sport utility vehicles. And, we should not forget that low gas prices or not, auto makers are still facing mandatory fleet average gas mileage standards of 54.5 mpg by model year 2025. So the mandate is to make these vehicles as appealing as possible to consumers.
We await the first road tests!