Making its world debut in Chicago, the all-new 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle is set to open a new chapter in the automaker’s ongoing EcoDynamics saga when it hits showrooms here early next year. Joining the new Optima Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid models also on display in the Windy City, this compact gas-electric crossover complements its unique sense of style, sportiness and advanced features with a projected 50-mpg combined fuel economy rating. The first Kia to be based on a new dedicated eco-car platform, it’s been tapped to play a pivotal role in helping to nearly triple the brand’s global green vehicle line-up by 2020.

Celebrating its un-hybrid character

A cooperative effort between Kia’s design centers in Irvine, California, and Namyang, Korea, the new Niro was intended from the start to aggressively avoid looking like the stereotypical hybrid. Instead, stylists put a bolder and edgy but still aero-efficient (0.29 coefficient of drag) spin on its crossover-like bodywork and exterior detailing. The Niro formula starts with a bespoke take on the automaker’s signature tiger-nose grille that incorporates a drag-cutting active shutter system, relatively short front/rear overhangs and prominent wheel arches. It finishes with a flowing roofline that culminates in a functional spoiler lip, distinctive LED-infused lighting, roof rails and a quasi-functional rear skid plate.

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Beauty extends well below the Niro’s surface, thanks to a strong, rigid core that makes extensive use of Advanced High Strength Steel in critical areas to improve overall passenger protection – Kia anticipates the Niro will earn top ratings from both NHTSA and the IIHS – and ensure an exceptionally stable foundation for its fully independent suspension system. Inside, the spacious cabin features a clean, uncluttered design that gets even more appealing thanks to the extensive sound deadener and other noise abatement efforts. The well-appointed Niro features a 7.0-inch capacitive touchscreen and either come with or offer the latest version of Kia’s UVO3 telematics system. Culled from the 2017 Sportage, it supports both Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay as well as numerous UVO eServices. Further boosting its appeal is the Niro’s impressive 106.3-inch wheelbase, which is identical to the new Honda Civic Sedan. That enviable span provides serious benefits to anyone occupying its adult-accommodating 60/40 split-folding rear seat -- which can be easily dropped to expand this new Kia’s generously-scaled cargo bay.

Crafting a new power play

To help meet its targeted 50-mpg economy stats, Kia fitted this new HUV with a sophisticated gas-electric drivetrain combo which we sampled last fall when driving an early Niro prototype in Korea. The prime mover in this parallel hybrid system is the automaker’s all-new 1.6-liter/103-horsepower Kappa 4-cylinder engine that features efficiency-enhancing Atkinson Cycle technology along with a trick cooled exhaust gas recirculation system. It’s teamed with a 43-horse electric motor – the transmission-mounted electric device, or TMED in Kia speak -- that replaces the conventional torque converter in the Niro’s 6-speed dual-clutch autoshifter. The TMED is energized by a compact 1.62kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery pack that tucks under the rear seat. 

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Collectively, the pair develop 146 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque which gets shipped to the front wheels. To the extent our drive experience was representative, it’s sufficient to give the Niro engagingly sporty acceleration and also provide fairly seamless transitions from hybrid to pure-EV power, battery charge permitting. The Niro features an equally well-sorted regenerative braking system that blends well with the conventional hydraulic binders resulting in a more natural pedal feel. Rounding out the mix is another range-extending tweak, the new Eco-DAS (Driver Assistance System) that includes Kia first application of Coasting Guide and Predictive Energy Control. The former “coaches” the driver on how to most effectively use the throttle and brake while the latter integrates with the navigation and cruise controls to actively manage battery use/charge functions based on road topography in uphill as well as downhill driving situations.

Finally, the 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle also will offer a comprehensive array of active/passive safety features to complement its basic kit. Highlighting the list are Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking. Pricing for the new Kia Niro will be released closer to its official on-sale date. While Kia offered no details on specific timing, it also confirmed that an even more efficient plug-in hybrid version of the Niro will be introduced.

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