Billed by its maker as a ‘Hybrid Utility Vehicle’ - which essentially means it combines crossover looks with hybrid technology – the vehicle is part of Kia’s aim to increase its green car line-up from four cars to 11 by the end of this decade.
First revealed at the recent Chicago motor show, it is the first Kia product to make use of a new platform specifically for hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles that’s been developed for use by parent firm Hyundai.
The Kia Niro occupies a new space within the brand’s model line-up in terms of its size. The Niro is 4355mm in length, 1800mm wide and 1535mm tall, with a wheelbase of 2700mm, making it smaller overall than the all-new Kia Sportage, though occupying a larger footprint than the Cee’d hatchback.
At the heart of the Niro’s power supply is a new 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that has been engineered specifically for hybrid applications.
The 102bhp engine maximises efficiency by combining the Atkinson Cycle, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), direct injection and when Kia calls a “long-stroke-narrow-bore specification”. An exhaust heat recovery system speeds the engine’s warm-up by routing coolant to a heat exchanger in the exhaust system.
A transmission-mounted 32kW (43bhp) electric motor is powered by a 1.56kWh lithium ion polymer battery and works in tandem with the petrol engine to produce a total of 139bhp and 195lb ft of torque.
Kia says the battery pack, which weighs 33kg, is the “lightest and most efficient” used by the manufacturer to date and it features an brake energy regeneration system.
Fuel economy and CO2 emissions have yet to be officially ratified, but Kia engineers are targeting a CO2 output of 89g/km for the Niro.
The power is fed to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). The transmission also offers a manual shifting mode.
To minimise noise, vibration and harshness, the Niro is fitted with specially designed engine mounts, equal-length driveshafts, and a damper inside the steering wheel hub to minimise vibrations felt in the steering wheel. Other NVH measures include a special embossed foam under the carpet, and a dense insulating pad underneath the bonnet also dampen noise.
Kia said it paid special attention to achieving a “seamless” feel to the transition between electric and petrol propulsion. It also focused on braking feel from the regenerative braking system, to offer “consistent and linear” braking.
The new petrol-electric platform uses 55% of Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS), including reinforcement in the A- and B-pillars as well as the roof rails, to reduce weight and increase durability. AHSS was also used to engineer other elements, including the unusual lightweight seat frames.
Engineers brought down the overall weight by using aluminium for the bonnet, tailgate and several suspension elements including the front lower control arms, front and rear knuckles, and in the brake calipers.
Detail tweaks such as a parking brake pedal made from fibre-reinforced plastic contributes to the weight savings. Kia also eliminated the traditional 12-volt battery found in conventional cars to reduce weight, instead, utilising the 1.56kWh lithium-ion polymer battery.