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Kia Niro (16-) preview

  • Doesn’t look like a hybrid
  • Packed with tech
  • Promises low CO2 output
  • Doesn’t look like a hybrid
  • Packed with tech
  • Promises low CO2 output

Unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show on January 11, the Kia Niro is a crucial new car for the Korean firm. It’s a small hybrid SUV which slots neatly into the range between Soul and Sportage.

It’s the first car from the brand to use a specially designed eco platform and represents another step in Kia’s drive towards tripling its global green car line-up by 2020.

There aren’t many obvious rivals for this car, but the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid seems most closely matched in terms of concept – we only know the wheelbase dimensions of the Niro, but it’s almost identical. The Kia will also have to fight for eco-car honours against the VW Golf GTE and SUV rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar. Volkswagen has also hinted at a Tiguan GTE that would be a close rival.

It doesn’t look like a hybrid, though

Exactly. This is a car that has been built with no compromises, according to Kia. Clever packaging of the batteries, situated under the rear seats, means the possibility of a spacious cabin with an SUV-like high driving position and a decent-sized boot. There’s no indication at this point how big exactly the latter feature is, but we’re promised a practical flat floor at the very least.

The Niro’s styling is that of an SUV rather than a dedicated ‘eco’ model, but cleverly Kia has managed to ensure its aerodynamic performance is top-drawer too, which allows its powertrain to work as efficiently as possible.

So what’s the Niro powered by?

With ‘hybrid’ the operative word here, this vehicle uses a 102bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and an electric motor (with the equivalent of 42bhp) mounted on the casing of the six-speed twin-clutch gearbox. Most hybrid cars use Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) –type gearboxes, which hold engine revs very high without providing much propulsion, and so are widely regarded as inferior to drive. A twin-clutch gearbox, on the other hand, is usually super-slick in operation while making the car faster and more efficient than an equivalent manual model. In this regard the Niro is one step ahead of the competition.

The powertrain has a total power output of 144bhp and torque of 264Nm, but more importantly, low running costs. A claimed CO2 output figure of 89g/km is being bandied around, which would translate to free VED tax at time of publication and benefit-in-kind tax payable at 13 percent for the 2015/16 tax year, rising to 15 percent the year after.

It’s fair to say you can expect fuel economy above 70mpg on the combined cycle, but we’ll have to wait for our first drive to see just how realistic that figure is during real-world driving.

Fuel-saving driver assistance technology

There are some neat features on Kia’s new hybrid SUV that help the driver save fuel. There’s a ‘coasting guide’ that tells you when you can coast and save engine power, while the Predictive Energy Control system uses the sat-nav and cruise control to manage the drivetrain’s power output based on the topographical features such as hills and valleys. It can tell the car to charge the batteries when travelling quickly downhill, for example, or to use electric power for low-speed driving in the city.

Other technology expected on the Niro includes a suite of driver-assistance systems seen on most new vehicles nowadays, such as adaptive cruise control, automatic low-speed braking, lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection.

The ubiquitous touchscreen infotainment system also makes an appearance, with the capability to connect to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with Wi-Fi tethering and an 8GB hard drive.

There are no indications of pricing or individual specifications at this point, but we should learn more in the coming weeks as Kia prepares to display the Niro in Europe for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show in March.

To find out what this new SUV drives like, keep an eye out for the full Kia Niro review coming soon on Parkers.

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