2016 Chicago - Kia Niro previews a 'hybrid' future for the brand

Having a dedicated hybrid vehicle in the lineup is a good thing. If that hybrid comes in the shape of a crossover, the in-vogue automotive body-style worldwide, it’s a double whammy. That’s exactly what Kia has finally with the Niro. Displayed in production form at the just-concluded 2016 Chicago Auto Show, the Niro is the first dedicated hybrid model in Kia’s lineup. It joins the Soul EV and Optima Hybrid in the car-maker’s environment-friendly ‘Eco Dynamics’ line.

Niro’s claim to fame is a combination of almost-conventional styling that doesn’t scream hybrid, the practicality and appeal associated with the crossover body-style and a targeted 50 miles per gallon fuel economy. Given that there are no dedicated crossover hybrids in the market right now, that’s quite a power punch from Kia. If the Niro gets anywhere close to the targeted fuel economy when it goes on sale later this year, Kia might be laughing all the way to the bank with swelling order books for the Niro. The fact that the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids are oddly-styled might only serve to help Niro’s cause.

What's most impressive about the Niro is its wide and planted stance accentuated by the long roof-line, shorter overhangs and flared wheel arches. Surprisingly, for a car of Korean origin, there are hardly any cuts and creases in the sheet metal. The muscular hood contours, the prominent shoulder line and the plastic cladding all around with front and rear bumper inserts complete the crossover look while the signature grille ensures the Niro isn't mistaken for anything but a Kia. Despite its bulky crossover shape, the Niro's drag coefficient is still a pretty impressive 0.29.

Powering the Niro is an all-new 1.6-liter GDI 4-cylinder engine from the Kappa family developed specifically for hybrid applications. With a rated power output of 103 horsepower, the engine is paired to a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). Working in tandem with the gasoline engine is a 43-horsepower tractive motor aided by a lithium-ion battery pack stacked underneath the rear seat. The same hardware would be shared with Hyundai's upcoming dedicated hybrid model, the Ioniq.

The cabin is neat, uncluttered and features contrasting white textures that livens up the overall ambiance. Apart from features like Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking and Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, the Niro also debuts a couple of Eco-Driver Assistance System features. There is a Coasting Guide that coaches the driver on when to coast and brake and Predictive Energy Control that dynamically manages the stored energy, both aimed at maximizing fuel economy.

The Niro might be a bit late to the hybrid party but it has the potential to make it big, we think!

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