Kia begins new empire with the Niro Hybrid Utility at Chicago show

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The Niro features an all-new hybrid powertrain(Credit: Tim Esterdahl / Gizmag)

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At the 2016 Chicago Auto Show, Kia is focusing on its "Green Car Roadmap" by showing hybrid and plug-in vehicles. One that's been anticipated for some time is the Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle (HUV), which has finally debuted as a production model for the 2017 model year.

The Niro is based on an all-new eco-car platform the company plans to use as its electrified vehicle base going forward. Kia says its goal is to use the platform to triple its green car lineup by 2020. The Niro begins that trek with its all-new hybrid powertrain that showcases the direction the Korean automaker seems to be taking with electrification on that front.

The new platform is engineered specifically to offer a lighter weight and stronger build in order to facilitate heavier hybrid and plug-in powertrains without adding more weight to the vehicle's structure.

The Kia Niro first debuted in Frankfurt as a concept for the European B-segment. It was funkier-looking and a lot more aggressive in that conceptual form than its production version will be. Surprisingly, though, the Euro-B was dropped and the final design was given to Kia's studios in California. The powertrain showcased in Frankfurt was forgotten and a new hybrid ideal was added.

The Kia Niro will utilize a gasoline-electric hybrid propulsion system in front-wheel drive. It's made up of a combination of proven and new technologies. An Atkinson Cycle gasoline engine, which is commonly used in hybrids, begins the setup. This 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine has been upgraded with a gasoline direct-injection system to produce 103 horsepower (77 kW), but also adds cooled exhaust gas recirculation, and a long-stroke in a narrow bore to optimize efficiency of output.

An exhaust heat recovery system, not often seen on any but high-end vehicles, is also present on the Niro to speed engine warm-up times. This system routes coolant through a heat exchanger in the exhaust system, circulating the warmed coolant through the engine again to aid the warming process.

The 1.6L engine is coupled to a new second-generation six-speed dual-clutch transmission. This transmission is mated to a 43-horsepower (32 kW) electric traction motor that is designed to be lightweight. The total powertrain output becomes 146 horsepower (109 kW) and 195 pound-feet (264 Nm) of torque. Power for the motor is provided by a 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack mounted beneath the rear seat. That battery provides both energy for the motor and in-vehicle 12-volt power. Kia targets 89 g/km CO2 emissions with the Niro. Fuel efficiency is also expected to be high.

The 2017 Kia Niro is a compact five-seat four-door hatchback with a crossover build and car-like design and underpinnings. The Niro is low and wide, with a drag coefficient of just 0.29. The wheels are pushed out to the corners with short overhangs to emphasize sportiness and nimble maneuverability.

Inside, the Niro's design has been made to offer as much passenger room as possible. The long wheelbase for the car's length means more interior room and the wide stance aids that goal. Seating is slightly elevated, similar to what's seen in the Kia Soul and other small cars in their line, to aid visibility and entry/egress.

Kia plans to offer a host of safety and driver aid technologies such as blind-spot detection and lane change assist in the Niro. Autonomous emergency braking will make the Kia Niro eligible for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's "Top Safety Pick Plus" designation.

The framing for the 2017 Niro is made up of 53 percent high strength steel. This is focused on key structural and crash elements such as the roof rails and pillars as well as body framing. Hot-stamping is also used extensively in the Niro, aiding torsional rigidity for the lighter-weight structures.

The lighter structure means more weight reduction for the vehicle, which was further augmented by changes in component designs to trim ounces and pounds. Lightweight seat framing, an aluminum hood and tailgate, and the elimination of the 12-volt battery are some of the contributions made to weight reduction.

The 2017 Kia Niro is expected to enter showrooms late this summer.

Source: Kia

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