The newcomer to the Kia range combines the advantages. Attractiveness of a spacious crossover model with a low fuel consumption. The Kia Niro – which was decidedly developed as a hybrid model from the start – features a modern and distinctive design that makes it a striking presence in the hybrid vehicle market alongside its conservatively designed competitors.
Its new platform was designed to be completely independent of those of other Kia models, and is specifically designed to use a variety of next-generation environmentally friendly technologies and powertrains. The Kia Niro's hybrid powertrain includes a 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine, a lithium-ion polymer battery, a 32-kW electric motor and a six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT).
Athletic elegance, balanced proportions, good aerodynamics
With the Kia Niro, Kia is expanding its design-oriented product range to include a model with a completely new shape. The design was developed under the leadership of the Kia design centers in Irvine (California) and Namyang (Korea) and combines the practical benefits and aesthetic appeal of a compact crossover model with a sporty, aerodynamic body and elegantly shaped surfaces. At the same time, the new model with its modern lines is recognizable at first glance as a Kia: by the typical radiator grille ("tiger nose"), which is presented here in its latest incarnation, by the wide C-pillars, which are also characteristic of Kia models, as well as by other eye-catching design features typical of the brand.
The newcomer with the distinctive compact SUV shape boasts sleek, balanced proportions, while the wide track points to the vehicle's high driving stability and low center of gravity. With its relatively long hood, short overhangs, high-positioned front headlights and rising shoulder line, the Kia Niro has an athletic appearance that sets it apart from other hybrid models today. The roofline, which slopes slightly to the rear, is finished off by a discreet rear roof spoiler; other defining elements of the rear view are the high-positioned taillights and the wide, angular rear bumper. In combination with the powerfully flared wheel arches, this design makes the rear look particularly voluminous in the shoulder area.
Aerodynamics played a decisive role in the body design. As a result, the Kia Niro's low aerodynamic drag (cW: 0.29) makes it one of the most aerodynamic vehicles among its hybrid competitors. The long wheelbase (2.70 meters), which results in correspondingly short overhangs at the front (870 mm) and rear (785 mm), enables the generous amount of space in the interior.
The Niro occupies a place of its own in the Kia model range, also in terms of its exterior dimensions. At 4.36 meters long, 1.80 meters wide and 1.54 meters high, it is more compact than the new Kia Sportage, but at the same time larger than the base model of the Kia cee'd compact car. The Kia Niro is offered in Europe in seven body colors and with 16- or 18-inch alloy wheels, depending on the market and version. The modern interior design is emphasized by clearly defined horizontal lines. A wide dashboard emphasizes the spaciousness of the interior. As with other recent new Kia models, the interior of the Kia Niro, with its many soft-touch surfaces. The consistently high material quality tailored to demanding customers.
The horizontal orientation of the design is particularly evident in the dashboard, which is clearly divided into two sections: The upper one houses the instrument cluster and infotainment display, while the lower one houses the various controls, including those for the climate control system and the main driver assistance systems. These elements are easy to operate as the central console is slightly tilted towards the driver, providing good ergonomics. Depending on market and model, the interior of the Kia Niro is available in two color variants (solid black or dark gray) and with seat upholstery in fabric, fabric/leather combination or partial leather.
New hybrid system with many energy-saving improvements
The Kia Niro was developed with one goal in mind from the outset: maximum fuel efficiency. The result is a combined CO2 emission that is 89 grams per kilometer according to the current state of development (based on internal measurements, corresponds to an average consumption of 3.8l/100km). The powertrain of the new hybrid model includes a 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection (GDI) engine from the "Kappa" series that mobilizes 77 kW (105 hp) of power and 147 Nm of torque, a 32-kW electric motor, and a lithium-ion polymer battery with a capacity of 1.56 kilowatt hours. Drive power is transmitted to the front wheels via a six-speed direct shift transmission (DCT). The hybrid system has a total output of 104 kW (141 hp) and a maximum torque of 264 Nm, which is available in first gear and thus enables powerful acceleration when starting off.
In the new combustion engine, Kia combines for the first time the Atkinson cycle – which increases efficiency and leads to a slight reduction in torque, but which is compensated for by the torque of the electric motor – with cooled exhaust gas recirculation, gasoline direct injection and long-stroke, narrow-bore cylinders, which also contribute to increased efficiency. In addition, there is an exhaust system with heat recovery that speeds up the engine's warm-up phase by routing the coolant through a heat exchanger in the exhaust system.
The transmission – the latest version of the six-speed DCT – is based on the architecture of the new 7-speed DCT developed by Kia itself, which is used in the revised Kia cee'd and other Kia models. The six-speed variant of the Kia Niro has been further developed specifically for this hybrid application and offers more direct and faster feedback – and thus more driving pleasure – than the continuously variable transmissions widely used in the hybrid segment. With the Kia Niro's direct-shift gearbox, the driver can choose between the comfortable automatic mode and the sport mode, in which the gearbox is shifted manually, providing a very dynamic driving experience.
To make the direct-shift gearbox lighter and more compact, the layout has been changed and the gearing revised. In addition, new low-friction bearings and a low-viscosity transmission oil help reduce mechanical friction – and thus shorten reaction times – as well as mechanical noise.
To achieve maximum efficiency when the DCT and hybrid powertrain work together, Kia has developed a new "transmission-mounted electric device" (TMED). This electric motor integrated into the transmission housing allows the DCT to transmit the full power of the combustion engine and electric motor in parallel, so that only minimal energy losses occur. In this respect, the TMED concept differs from the power-split system, in which – as the name suggests – the power is branched off in an electrical and mechanical way. This uses part of the power of the combustion engine to generate electrical energy, which in turn is used to power the electric motor. This conversion results in a loss of energy that is typical for a hybrid system with continuously variable transmission. In addition, the new TMED allows the hybrid system to access battery power directly at higher speeds, making the Kia Niro more responsive under acceleration.
The lithium-ion polymer battery, with a capacity of 1.56 kWh, is the most efficient and lightest battery relative to performance that Kia has used to date. The battery, which weighs just 33 kilograms, outperforms the batteries of the main competitors by up to 50 percent in energy density and by up to 13 percent in energy efficiency. Combined with a modern power relay, the battery is able to store recovered braking energy. The newly developed platform of the Kia Niro is improved in both ride comfort and handling. Meeting high demands in terms of driving stability. The independent front suspension uses MacPherson struts and is designed for optimal straight-line stability, quick steering feedback and stable handling at high speeds. The rear wheels, which are also individually suspended, use a multi-link concept with double wishbones. This rear axle ensures a comfortable ride in all road conditions, as the wheels can respond independently to bumps or jolts. What's more, this rear suspension offers great agility and stability – not least because the tire contact area is larger during cornering than with a conventional twist-beam axle, which is widely used on compact crossover models and in the hybrid segment.
An important goal in the development of this special hybrid platform was to give the driver a consistent braking sensation, independent of the various braking functions. Extensive experience from the development of the first generation has been incorporated here. The second generation of the Kia Optima Hybrid and the Kia Soul EV electric vehicle have been incorporated into the new platform. The result is seamless cooperation between recuperative braking and hydraulic friction braking – giving a smoother deceleration feel than many other hybrid vehicles.
Quiet interior – both in electric and hybrid mode
For the sophistication and driving comfort of a vehicle with a parallel hybrid system, it is particularly important to ensure low noise and vibration levels not only in electric mode, but also when the combustion engine is operating. That's why a number of precautions have been taken on the Kia Niro to minimize the intrusion of engine noise into the interior of the car. This includes specially designed asymmetrical engine mounts that reduce powertrain vibration in all areas of the front subframe. In addition, there is particularly high-density insulation under the hood and sound-absorbing acoustic shielding with a special support structure that ensures a more pleasant engine noise when accelerating in the most frequently used speed ranges.
For a quiet interior, the reduction and insulation of road and wind noise is also very important. To reduce road noise to a consistently low level regardless of the road surface, the Kia Niro uses particularly rigid, highly insulating bushings in the front subframe, for example. Additional insulation is also found at the base of the A- and B-pillars. And the rear wheel arches have been braced with high-strength steel to reduce the transmission of road noise and vibration from the rear end. Wind noise, especially at higher speeds, is reduced by special insulating glass for the windshield, and a cover over the windshield wipers also reduces air turbulence at the base of the windshield. And to minimize drone and whistling noises, the exterior mirrors have been given a special profile and the openings in the roof rails – which are used to attach cross-members – have been covered.
Comfortable seating, large luggage compartment, optional trailer hitch
Despite its compact dimensions, the Kia Niro has a spacious interior with comprehensive comfort and high practical utility value. Occupants enjoy plenty of legroom in both the front and rear seats (front: 1.117 mm; rear: 950 mm) and shoulder clearance (front: 1.423 mm; rear: 1.402 mm). And when it comes to headroom, the crossover hybrid model with 1.049 millimeters at the front and 993 millimeters at the rear, which is even higher than most compact SUVs.
The Kia Niro's appearance as a self-confident crossover model is combined with a slightly higher seating position and greater ground clearance than its hybrid and compact car competitors. This makes getting in and out of the car very convenient for all occupants and results in a very relaxed and comfortable seating position for the driver.
The front seats of the Kia Niro have been completely redesigned. The stiffer seat frames made of high-strength steel. The firmer cushions significantly reduce vibrations in the seats. Redesigned suspensions and cushions provide more lateral support as well as better thigh and hip support. As a result, the new seats also prevent fatigue on longer journeys. In addition, the design helps to save weight and thus energy: The new front seats are each 1.3 kilograms lighter than the previous Kia seats.
The new platform was also developed with the aim of not compromising on luggage space despite the hybrid powertrain. The battery is therefore located under the rear seat – next to the 45-liter fuel tank -. Does not affect the capacity of the 421-liter luggage compartment. It also offers, from its size and shape, the possibility of stowing a full-size spare wheel under the luggage compartment floor (depending on the market). As one of the few vehicles in the hybrid segment, the Kia Niro can also be used as a towing vehicle: Starting in the fourth quarter of 2016, an optional tow hitch for up to 1.300-kilogram trailer (braked) available.
Latest infotainment technologies, wireless charging of smartphones
The Kia Niro features the latest infotainment technologies. In the center of the dashboard is the touchscreen of the map navigation system (size: 7 or 8 inches, depending on model and market), which includes Bluetooth hands-free calling, digital radio reception (DAB/DAB+) and a six-speaker audio system, among other features. In addition, a JBL premium sound system with 320 watts of power, eight speakers and external power amplifier.
Like all recent Kia models, the Kia Niro also offers the new Kia Connected Services multimedia service along with its navigation system. The service is provided by navigation specialist TomTom and includes, among other things, real-time traffic information, regional information search and weather reports. In Europe, this service is available to buyers of the Kia Niro free of charge for seven years. The driver's smartphone is used for the Internet connection (smartphone with data plan required to activate the service).
As one of the first Kia models, the Niro is also equipped with the Android Auto™ communication system, which is available for smartphones with Android operating systems (from version 5.0, Lollipop) has been designed and will be available from the model launch onwards. The system connects the driver's compatible cell phone to the car's infotainment system. Smartphone apps and functions that can thus be operated via the infotainment system include, for example, navigation via Google Maps using voice control, hands-free phone calls, and text and voice recognition. In addition, Android Auto™ allows streaming of music through Google Play Music™. When integrating the system into the Kia Niro, the focus was on minimizing driver distraction and ensuring that drivers can keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road at all times.
Kia takes into account the increasing importance of smartphones in everyday life with another new system: a factory-installed inductive charging station. As soon as a compatible smartphone is placed on the charging pad at the bottom of the central console and the vehicle is ready to drive, the charging function starts automatically (with a maximum charging power of 5 watts). The system displays the charging status of the device, is equipped with overheating protection and warns the driver when he wants to leave the vehicle without removing the smartphone from the charging station.
"5-star" level safety, including autonomous emergency brake assist
Kia is known for the high safety level of its vehicles, which is underlined, among other things, by numerous "5 star" results in Euro NCAP. These standards also apply to the Kia Niro: the development team has set itself the goal of achieving the highest possible ratings in the authoritative international safety tests. In addition to the stable body and effective restraint systems, the many state-of-the-art active safety technologies and assistance systems will also contribute to this.
More than 53 percent of the body of the Kia Niro is made of ultra-high-strength steel (AHSS), the use of which makes it possible to achieve extreme stability while at the same time saving weight. In addition, various aluminum components reduce vehicle weight, from the hood to the front bumper beams and tailgate suspensions to various chassis elements such as the front steering knuckles, front lower control arms and brake calipers. Even the parking brake pedal, which is made of fiber-reinforced plastic, contributes to weight reduction.
The body of the new hybrid model also makes greater use of the modern hot stamping process, particularly in the production of the A- and B-pillars, the roof rails and the wheel arches. These materials contribute significantly to the high torsional rigidity of the body and can effectively dissipate impact forces, thereby protecting the occupants.
The Kia Niro comes standard with seven airbags: Front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, a knee airbag for the driver, and full-length curtain airbags. ISOFIX mounts for child seats on the outer rear seats are also standard.
Kia expects the Niro to perform very well in the important Euro NCAP "Safety Assist" test category, which evaluates the effectiveness of a vehicle's crash avoidance technologies. Among other things, the VSM (Vehicle Stability Management) counter-steering assistance system is standard equipment on the crossover hybrid model. It ensures optimum coordination of the electronic stability program (ESC) with the electronically assisted power steering, thus increasing stability when braking in curves. If VSM registers decreasing traction of one or more wheels, it helps the driver control the vehicle.