(Contributing Editor: Tomasz Paluch)
Recently Roadblazing.com’s blog site ChicagoNow.com “Drive..He Said” evaluated the 4th generation of the “Godfather of Green” cars, the re-designed 2017 Toyota Prius.
Noting that while the latest Prius still merits the respect of the growing ranks of competitors, both a polarizing design & timid driving experience conspire to put off potential gas-electric hybrid converts.
If there is such a thing, the all-new for 2018 Kia Niro sub-compact crossover utility vehicle badly wants to be the “conventional” urban hybrid alternative to Prius’ unconventionalism.
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WHAT: All-new 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Touring gasoline electric hybrid sub-compact urban crossover utility vehicle, sharing platform with all-new Hyundai Ioniq hybrid/ BEV sportback.
Standard Power: 1591 cc Atkinson cycle, dual VVT-i DOHC 16V I-4 cylinder gasoline engine: 104 hp/ 109 lb-ft; 104 kW (139 hp) net hybrid
parallel to: 1 x 240V synchronous AC traction / regenerative charging motor: 32 kW, 1 x 240V synchronous AC Hybrid Starter Generator: 8 kW
electric supply battery: 64 Lithium Ion Polymer cells, 240V, 6.5 amp hr, 1.56 kWh;
+6-speed dual clutch automatic helical transaxle
(Stay tuned for a plug-in BEV Kia Niro.)
WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: Fenders = more relaxed than Sportage’s, grille = dark lattice bowtie; Lower airdam features dark clad horizontal bars, chrome trimmed bezels for the fog lamps and corner brake ducts;
Chiseled doors comprise Coke-bottle fuselage; Roof with integrated brushed metallic rails slopes aft of B-pillar, with small fixed window separating C & D pillars;
Formidable gloss black rear roof spoiler blends with similar outboard tail-lamp trim; Liftgate makes concave descent to bumper cover; Chrome trimmed dark cladding rises in center lower rear fascia, terminating in diffused pseudo skid plate; -1: Deep recessing of liftgate e-latch release is challenge.
WHY: Urbanites clamor for their gas-electric hybrids in a more conventional small family crossover wagon package;
WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since Spring 2017
WHERE: Kia new vehicle dealers
WHERE MADE: Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, South Korea
WHERE TO: Up to the challenge of urban scoots and country skedaddles.
HOW ROADWORTHY: Kia’s stated quest for Niro is a “Non [traditional] gas-electric hybrid” [read “Toyota Prius”] driving experience
Conspicuous in its omission is the absence of an aggressive regenerative slowing mode AKA golf cart braking; Instead the throttle and dual clutch gearbox do the toiling: Going easy on the throttle earns more blue-green tree leaves in the UVO’s Eco Driving menu display; In normal drive, the dual clutch transmission eagerly heads for the highest gear, sapping useful engine speed; With the selector moved left to “Sport/ Manumatic” mode, gears are held more steadfast for purposeful acceleration, but with droning high-revving & detriment to fuel economy;
Instead of being stuck with Kia Soul’s flinty torsion beam rear suspension, Niro’s 4-link fully independent layout gains more compliance; A battery pack formed lower center of gravity contains most body roll and pitch; Frost heaves transmit mild thuds, and the axles jitter slightly rather than hop; Kia has ditched their obnoxious steering weight variability, having found a middling natural heft, even if road feel is filtered out; Regenerative e-motor slowing doesn’t do any favors for an inert responding 4-disc brake set-up, hampering confidence at the end of pedal travel;
HOW FAR: 46 combined miles per gallon = 18% < 2017 Toyota Prius Eco Two
HOW BIG/ LITTLE: √ Lengthwise splits difference between Kia Soul personal cute ute and Sportage compact family SAV, √ Sitting on wheelbase 1″ > Sportage, yet standing -3″ lower in height, comes amazingly close in rear legroom; √ Packaging battery under rear seat & nixing the donut spare for a tire inflator manages 20 cubic feet of cargo space, nudging past Soul’s;
Compared to 4th generation Toyota Prius [Eco Two]: Despite sharing identical 106.3″ wheelbase, 1.5″ cabin height > Prius + less sloped rear roof = 4″ 2nd Row legroom > Prius; Niro’s abrupt wagon-style liftgate = 28% hatch area cargo space < Prius;
HOW USEFUL: √ Low load floor w/ 60/40% split 2nd Row seatbacks; +1 Sub-load floor storage management caddy; +1 Low cowl for improved forward visiblity; -1 Seat cushion comfort wanting over longer road stints; +1 Front pax seat includes height adjustment; +1 Manageable liftgate reach; -1 Minimal door pocket storage; Tow Rating: Not Rated.
HOW SAFE: √ 7 airbags; √ Rear camera; sonar front & rear Park Assist, Roll Mitigation, √ Blind spot, rear cross traffic warning, √ Partial adaptive cruise control, Lane change assist √ Autonomous emergency braking -1 Lane departure warning has difficulty sensing lane markings;
HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY: √ Heated & cooled driver/ front passenger seats; √ 10-way power driver’s seat; √ Driver’s seat & wing mirror 2 position memory; √ Heated D-shape heated leather steering wheel with large tactile spoke-integrated controls;
Cool Gizmo(s): √ Key-fob proximity hands-free power folding wing mirrors; √
Qi inductive wireless device charger
Details Done Right: √ Metallic bezel rotary dials, tipped door switchgear; √ Dashboard blue tinted vent bezels; √ Piano gloss black appliques;
Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Hard plastic grain; -1 Leather feels fake & lacks hide scent; -1 Steering wheel heating switch hidden from view; -1 Red night instrument + switch illumination = retina burning;
HOW “APP” -LICABLE: √ 8″ matte capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen; √ +1 Large icons; Voice command hands-free communications; 3-D SD GPS navigation; √ Complimentary UVO telematics includes Park Minder, Geo-fencing; √ low depth Harman Kardon audio w/ 8 GB juke box; UVO-3 Apps: Android Auto, Apple Car Play, Google Local Search, destination import, Siri-Eyes, Pandora, SoundHound, Yelp;
√ Subscription based: Sirius XM TravelLink Sports, Weather, Traffic; Fueling; Cinema;
√ USB x 2, 12V x 3; 115V AC x 1; Qi inductive wireless device charger; +1 Generous lower center stack mobile device connectivity/ storage;
HOW MUCH: $32,445 = fully loaded 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Touring;
WHAT’S MISSING: Positive transmission action; Steering feel; Progressive brake pedal; native SMS messaging app; Heated rear seats; Heads-up display; AWD option??
ANY COMPETITION: Ford C-Max: +1 Taller euro-crossover packaging, available plug-in BEV; Hyundai Ioniq: +1 sportback and available plug-in BEV, Toyota Prius: +1 traditional hybrid experience, genuine hatchback cargo space, available plug-in BEV; Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: +1 upscale cabin finish, ride compliance, road clearance.
BOTTOM LINE: Laudable first attempt at ground-up gas-electric hybrid vehicle by Kia results in a stylish value of efficient urban & suburban adventure usefulness.