Competes with: Toyota Prius, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Ford C-Max Hybrid
Looks like: The face of a Kia Forte mounted on the body of a Dodge Caliber
Drivetrain: 103-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a 43-hp electric motor; six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission
Hits dealerships: TBD
Heading into the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, we thought the 2017 Kia Niro would be a concept vehicle, but it looks like Kia is ready to move forward with the production of this hybrid SUV.
Kia calls the Niro a “hybrid utility vehicle” but says it competes with subcompact SUVs – a segment that currently lacks an electrified option. The Niro rides on a new platform that will be used only for the automaker’s hybrid or electric vehicles.
Kia insists that the Niro shares more DNA with a crossover or SUV, but there’s a lot of hatchback in its styling. Sort of like the Subaru Outback, the Niro doesn’t really fit in either body-style category. The wheelbase is 106.3 inches long, which is the same as the 2016 Prius and makes the two close competitors.
In front, Kia’s signature grille leads the way. It is flanked by sharp headlight clusters that angle back to sit partially atop the front fenders.
The Niro will offer Kia’s latest UVO3 infotainment system that comes with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. It also offers UVO eServices telematics, 8 gigabytes of music storage and a 7-inch touch-screen.
A new Smart Air Intake system is available. It controls the amount of air taken in from outside for the climate control system to maximize aerodynamics and fuel economy. It also offers an Auto Defog feature that monitors cabin air conditions and cycles the air-conditioning compressor to prevent condensation from forming on the windows.
Under the Hood
In addition to a new platform, the Niro also uses a new gas engine. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder makes 103 horsepower. It works with a 43-hp electric motor that is powered by the 1.56-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery located beneath the rear seats. This gives the Niro total output of 146 hp and a robust 195 pounds-feet of torque. The setup pairs with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Kia also has eliminated the standard 12-volt battery to save weight and uses the lithium-ion battery pack for starting up.
Kia says it’s targeting a combined EPA rating of 50 mpg with the Niro, an impressive figure for a vehicle that also offers SUV-like utility. At that rating, it would slide in behind the new 2016 Prius and its 52 combined mpg. To do this, it leverages some new technology, including an ECO driver’s assist system that offers Coasting Guide and Predictive Energy Control. The Coasting Guide will tell the driver when to coast or brake to maximize efficiency, while Predictive Energy Control combines with the cruise control and navigation systems to manage the best times to recharge the battery (for example, when going downhill) or to expend extra energy to maintain speed most efficiently.
Kia says the Niro will offer pretty much all of the brand’s available safety features. Blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and autonomous emergency braking all will be offered.
There is no word on a release date for the 2017 Niro. Kia also said to expect later a plug-in hybrid version that will offer some electric-only range.