Consumers don’t really want today’s hybrids — so why do they purchase them? They buy them in order to do their small part to reduce global warming and the nation’s dependence on oil. They buy them in order to save money on gas. And there are people like my brother, as free-market Republican as they come, who bought a plug-in hybrid so that he could make extra money through his corporate mileage reimbursement and get a carpool-lane sticker and chop his Los Angeles commute time in half — no joke.
Debuting at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, the new 2017 Kia Niro could make people actually want to own a hybrid. Designed to resemble a subcompact crossover SUV with the tall ride height and easy entry/exit preferred by modern car buyers, the Niro proves that hybrids need not look like the decidedly odd 2016 Prius. Plus, Kia claims the Niro will get 50 mpg in combined driving. Check, and mate, Toyota.
To achieve that estimated mileage figure, Kia employs a new 1.6-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, a 32 kW electric motor, and a 42 kW lithium-ion polymer battery tucked beneath the Niro’s rear seat. Kia says that a plug-in version of the Niro will be available in the future.
Combined, these components produce 146 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter available shortly after the driver steps on the accelerator pedal. Recognizing that many hybrids aren’t much fun to drive, Kia promises quick acceleration, smooth power delivery, and consistent, linear regenerative braking response.
Front-wheel drive precludes us from calling the Niro a crossover SUV, despite its rugged plastic lower body cladding and simulated rear skid plate. Like most modern Kias, the Niro is handsome and instantly likable. There is a price, however, for appealing design, a crossover stance, and sizable aluminum wheels, and that comes in the form of a 0.29 coefficient of drag, which is high for a hybrid vehicle.
Describing the Niro’s interior as “uncluttered and clean,” Kia says it provides plenty of room for passengers. Seating is specifically designed to reduce fatigue on longer trips, and the Niro can swallow 25.5 cu.-ft. of cargo behind its rear seat.
Next-generation infotainment technology includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection technology, Wi-Fi tethering, and both a coasting guide and predictive energy control that uses the optional navigation system’s GPS to anticipate route and topographic changes in order to maximize efficiency.
Wrapped in lightweight materials, the Niro is constructed around a structure composed largely of advanced high-strength steel with reinforcements designed to deliver maximum crash protection. Options include automatic emergency braking, a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and more.
Pricing will be announced closer to the Niro’s arrival in showrooms, which is yet to be determined. We’d bet that Kia will target the new Prius in terms of window stickers, and we’d bet that people might actually find themselves wanting a 2017 Kia Niro for no other reason than it looks good and promises to supply the comfort and practicality that makes daily life easier.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2017 Kia Niro page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Image Credit: ©2016 Kia Motors America