The Kia Niro, Green Car Journal’s 2018 Green SUV of the Year™, joins an increasingly crowded compact crossover SUV market but does so with some significant accomplishments in its corner. To begin with, the Niro is comfortable, nimble, and fun to drive, all important considerations even to drivers looking for ‘green’ and efficiency. It’s also offered in hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and soon-to-come battery electric versions, so drivers have some pretty compelling options within the Niro family of vehicles. The Niro is a handsome model, and while we could quibble that many might view the Niro more a highly functional five-door, five-seat wagon than an SUV, there’s enough blurring of the lines between crossovers, hatchbacks, and wagons these days to enable classifying this in the crossover SUV category.
And what about efficiency, you ask? Well, prepare to be impressed. This crossover excels in that department with the Niro FE hybrid delivering an EPA estimated 52 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. Other variants in the line also offer very impressive fuel efficiency, with the LX/EX Niro rated at 51/46 mpg and the Niro Touring achieving 45/40 mpg. The Niro Plug-In Hybrid nets a combined 46 mpg.
The automaker’s first dedicated hybrid crossover is powered by a 1.6-liter, direct-injected 16-valve DOHC engine producing 104 horsepower and 109 lb-ft torque. An aluminum block is used for lightweighting and thus additional efficiency. A 43 horsepower, permanent-magnet synchronous AC electric motor/generator is integrated between the engine and a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transaxle. Maximum power output of the combined system is 139 horsepower with a total torque rating of 195 lb-ft. The engine uses the highly-efficient Atkinson combustion cycle, and with its exhaust-heat recovery system can achieve an impressive 40 percent thermal efficiency under certain circumstances. The new engine has dual cooling circuits for quickly warming up its aluminum cylinder head.
Energy for the electric motor is provided by a 1.6-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack located beneath the rear seat. Beyond the Niro’s highly efficient hybrid mode, this battery allows the vehicle to travel short distances under all-electric power at gentle speeds. Efficiency is enhanced by a Coasting Guide that helps direct a driver when to coast and when to brake.
Niro offers confident ride and handling with independent MacPherson struts and a stabilizer up front, and independent multi-link suspension at the rear. Vented solid disc brakes are used front and rear along with regenerative braking to generate electricity for the battery during braking and coast down. The Niro uses electric power-assist steering.
The Kia Niro is offered in four trim levels –base FE, mid-level LX and EX, and high-end Touring. Compared with the LX, the EX model has more interior comforts, adding standard heated front seats, rear A/C vents, upgraded trim, and an available sunroof. Touring models come with an eight-speaker Harman/Kardon system and also get power front seats and leather upholstery.
A rearview camera and 7-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are provided. Loads of safety technologies are standard or optional including blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking. Although this is a compact crossover, plenty of gear can be hauled along with 54.5 cubic feet of space available with the rear seats folded down.
The Niro PHEV has a much larger 8.9 kWh battery pack with a portion of this pack located in the spare tire well beneath the load floor. The plug-in’s electric motor is more powerful and delivers an EPA estimated 26 miles of all-electric range before reverting back to hybrid power, for a total driving range of 560 miles. Enhancing this range is a Predictive Energy Control function that evaluates the route chosen by the optional navigation system to maximize energy conservation, picking when to recharge the battery and when to use stored energy based on the speeds and topology ahead. It can also direct the powertrain to shunt electricity to pre-charging the battery in anticipation of long uphill grades. Rounding out the line will be a Niro battery electric variant coming next year, which was unveiled as a concept at this year’s CES Show in early January.
Kia continues to impress with the sophisticated styling of its new models and an eye for what American consumers are looking for, at affordable prices. The Kia Niro continues this tradition in a very big way by delivering style, functionality, and connectivity in a handsome and compelling compact crossover package.