Monday, December 21, 2015


 Big things at times come wrapped in little bundles. The declaration from Kia that it will be conveying its initially committed half breed to the United States is a critical one, yet the vehicle itself - the Kia Niro - sails into the reduced utility vehicle section riding on a humbly measured stage combined with just as traditionalist styling. Try not to let the Niro's suburbanite cordial looks trick you: Kia has put in the most recent three years packing the tall-riding hatchback with the most recent and most noteworthy crossover innovations in an offer to at any rate get the consideration of would-be class-driving Toyota Prius purchasers. 

In the wake of spending the evening in the driver's seat of the Kia Niro on streets encompassing the automaker's Namyang innovative work focus on the edges of Seoul, Korea, it's unmistakable that Kia is paying more than lip administration to its Prius-poaching objective. On the off chance that estimated right, the Niro's hybrid like reasonableness, remarkable guaranteed fuel mileage, and SUV looks can possibly cut out a cut of the minimized half and half market to the detriment of its Toyota target.                                                                                                                                                         Although Kia has offered a hybrid version of its Optima sedan for the past several years, the Niro is the first vehicle from the brand to be developed from the ground-up as a dedicated hybrid. This means that the Kia Niro sports it own unique platform, and one that the automaker's engineers assured me won't be appropriated for any other automobiles in the future. By developing every aspect of the Niro to maximize its potential as a hybrid vehicle, Kia was able to achieve advances in efficiency, drivetrain smoothness, and packaging. It also indicates just how much of an investment the company was willing to make in its battery-assisted future by pouring big dollars into a single-use platform intended to go head-to-head with the hybrid segment's 800 lb wale: the Toyota Prius.                                               Despite being intended to snipe away at Prius customers, Kia wisely decided not to make the Niro a simple clone of the best-selling hybrid. Instead, the Kia Niro approaches the gasoline/electric compact question from an entirely different angle that draws heavily from the seemingly endless public thirst for small crossover vehicles. Although shorter than both the Prius, the Niro shares the same wheelbase, which means passenger room is comparable. More importantly, the Kia is wider and taller than even the plus-size Prius V, which gives it a more imposing presence on the road. It's interesting to note than the Niro actually posts a slightly longer wheelbase than the brand's Sportage SUV, which in my mind makes it a potential replacement for the automaker's now-departed Rondo compact people mover.                                                                                                                                                                                           Instead of introduce an off-the-rack half breed framework, Kia has given the Niro a novel setup all its own. The little utility vehicle is persuaded by a 1.6-liter, direct fuel infusion four-barrel motor that is combined with a solitary electric engine. Still in the model stage, Kia wasn't willing to focus on an aggregate framework strength number, yet the designing group behind the Niro did uncover that the 1.6-liter pushes out a little more than 100 pull and around 110 lb-ft of torque, and that the electric engine further includes around 50 extra horses. Considering drivetrain misfortune, a figure of 140 consolidated pull felt about right amid my time out and about in the Niro, with speeding up coming slowly yet absolutely no pokier than correspondingly spec'd crossovers. Entwining everything is a 1.56 kWh lithium-particle battery pack that encourages constrained electric-just operation at low speeds                                                                                                                                          The secret sauce soaked into the Kia Niro's bespoke hybrid system is a dual-clutch automated manual transmission, a design that's almost unheard of in the affordable eco-car segment and another first for Kia. Moving to a DCT instead of the ubiquitous continuously-variable automatic gearbox design offered with most hybrid cars allowed Kia to take advantage of the mechanical efficiencies inherent in a dual-clutch setup, and it also served to improve the drivability of the vehicle. Rather than a hazy mist of power delivery the Niro offers smooth, distinct gear changes with the pedal to the floor, which goes a long way towards making the car feel a lot more like a normal, gas-only crossover than a true hybrid while commuting. There's even a shift-it-yourself feature built into the console-mounted gear selector, but it's more of a novelty than anything else (especially since the Niro doesn't come with a tachometer).                                                                                                                       Remember earlier when I said that Kia's investment in a dedicated hybrid platform would maximize the Niro's efficiency potential? The numbers add up: although official EPA certification is pending, Kia is aiming for better than 50-mpg in combined driving from its utility hybrid, a figure that seems completely attainable given the Niro's specifications. This would push the car past the Ford C-Max Hybrid hatchback and put it on par with the Prius, giving it the technical ammunition it needs to impress the subset of buyers who make all their purchasing decisions based entirely on fuel consumption figures. One caveat: Kia has had issues in the past with real-world fuel efficiency not matching the official line, although with the emergence of the new Optima Hybrid.                                                                                                         A big part of Kia's recent identity has been a focus on styling, and in particular on being able to deliver interesting-looking cars at very affordable prices. Before the camouflage went on for our extremely public drive, and after our cameras and mobile phones were confiscated by worried-looking Koreans, the Kia Niro was showed off to us in its birthday suit. It's hard to characterize anything memorable about the hatchback's sheet metal, which is surprising given that it will be sitting in showrooms alongside eye-catching members of the Kia family like the Soul and the Optima. The most attitude on offer from the Niro is up front where it features the angled grille opening that has become a Kia trademark, as well as the just-for-show ground clearance (there's no AWD available, although it's technically feasible for future editions).

The rest of the car is well-proportioned and certainly not ugly, but that's faint praise in face of Kia's traditional design chops. Of course, compared to the recently-redesigned, over-the-top Prius, the Niro looks like it's wearing a well-tailored Brooks Brothers suit, so maybe the reassuring familiarity of the vehicle's utility-focused shape is entirely the point.                                    Overall it's hard to fault the Kia Niro from a driving dynamics standpoint. Its handling is well in keeping with similarly-sized hatchbacks, which means confident cornering and good stability on rough roads (of which the industrial corner of Korea that served as our test route had in abundance). Despite its prototype status, the Niro also surprised with a relatively quiet cabin, which was largely free from both road noise and the rattles and shakes that so often accompany pre-production test mules. 

Interior trim throughout the Kia was in keeping with what one would expect from a reasonably priced compact, and aside from its hybrid-specific instrument cluster the Niro's dash could have been lifted from almost any member of the brand's line-up. Sitting in the second row didn't crush my legs up against my chest, and in the absence of official numbers I'll have to gauge the hatchback's cargo space as 'sufficient,' although the version I drove did not yet offer a flat load floor. In short, the Niro has been well-packaged to prioritize utility, and I have no doubt that it could step in for a small SUV and satisfy the needs of young family buyers.   As competitive as the Kia Niro's fuel mileage would seem to be, and as comfortable as the compact utility hybrid was to drive, it's going to take more than just parity with existing battery-assisted options for it to make a splash. Turning customers away from the segment-defining Toyota Prius will require that it be sold at a price point low enough to encourage hybrid fans to switch allegiances. It will certainly help that Kia has one of the best warranty programs in the business, as battery lifespan has always been a chief concern of those new to the electric car category, but an even greater assist would come in the form of a starting price that sits between $22,000 and $23,000 buck's.

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