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Chicago show: Kia reveals Niro

Emperor Niro: Kia's new Niro production SUV is not a new compact crossover as expected, but a larger high-riding hybrid to sit higher up in the range.

Kia SUV steals Niro nameplate from sub-compact concept


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12 Feb 2016

KIA will have to wait a little longer for a contender in the booming compact-SUV segment, with the production Niro that was revealed at the Chicago motor show not related to the diminutive Niro concept that first coined the name in 2013.

Instead of a baby crossover that would bump gloves with the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V, the surprise unveiling delivered a production SUV that could potentially sit above the Kia Sportage with a 2700mm wheelbase – 30mm longer than the Sportage – and proportions to match.

Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) media and corporate communications manager Kevin Hepworth confirmed that the vehicle unveiled in Chicago was not the model that Australia is eagerly anticipating.

“This is not a derivative of the Niro Concept which was a small urban SUV,” he said. “This is a somewhat larger car, I think it's a little larger than Sportage so I'm not quite sure where it's going to fit.”

Mr Hepworth told GoAuto that while the revealed Niro was not out of the question for the Australian line-up, it was not as attractive as “a sub-compact SUV” which is still “under development”.

“There's no indication that car (Niro) is a right-hand drive at the moment and also it is hybrid only, there's no internal combustion option for it, which makes it more difficult with us. We certainly don't discount these things because the way the industry changes, it's worth having a look.”

With the application of the Niro nameplate to a different class of vehicle, the functioning name of the forthcoming compact SUV is now uncertain.

Kia Australia has historically approached hybrid-powered models with less enthusiasm than competitors such as Toyota and Mr Hepworth said the company was considering the Optima Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid – which were also revealed at the show – with the same healthy scepticism.

“It's still under consideration but the market has to justify it,” he said. “We can't support cars that won’t sell.”

The Niro's hybrid powertrain combines a 76kW 1.6-litre Atkinson Cycle petrol engine with a 32kW electric motor and 1.6kWh lithium-ion battery for a total output of 108kW and 264Nm of torque. Fuel use is rated at 4.7 litres per 100km, according to Kia.

Power is dealt with by a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but the car-maker has not detailed whether the Niro will have genuine all-terrain ability and four-wheel drive, or more fuel-efficient front drive.

Kia describes both the Niro's styling and driving experience as “un-hybrid” with special attention paid to regenerative brake pedal feel, “fun” handling, acceleration and styling.

“The Niro demonstrates that owners don’t have to sacrifice emotionally engaging design or functional utility in the name of efficiency,” it said in a release.

Particular attention was also applied to noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels, with “copious insulation” throughout, acoustic windscreen glass, low-turbulence door mirrors, special engine mounts, equal length driveshafts and even a steering wheel dampener to reduce felt and heard vibrations and noise.

Extensive use of high-strength steel improves structural stiffness and safety without adding unnecessary weight, while more weight is saved through the use of a fibreglass brake pedal, aluminium panels and suspension components.

Where many hybrids have a conventional heavy lead-acid 12-volt battery in addition to the main drive battery, the Niro uses the lithium-ion unit for all electrical functions, further reducing kerb weight.

Kia is also showcasing a selection of electronic technology in the Niro such as a Coasting Guide, which saves fuel by coaching the driver with fuel saving driving instruction, and Predictive Energy Control that uses navigation information to make the best use of the various drivetrain modes.

According to Kia, its system is the first to monitor and adjust power allocation on both ascending and descending roads.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, UVO eServices, 8GB of music storage, applications such as Pandora and Soundhound applications and Wi-Fi tethering keep occupants entertained via a 7.0-inch touchscreen.

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