Kia's HabaNiro concept opens the doors to high-tech "everything cars" of the future
Kia adds a little color and spice to its crossover stable with the new HabaNiro concept. Using "more advanced tech than what helped land men on the moon," the HabaNiro bridges the gap between city commuter and open-road explorer, becoming an "all-electric everything car." The 171-in (443-cm) crossover combines a 300-mile (483-km) electric powertrain with next-gen technologies like Level 5 autonomy, a reactive emotion-reading system, and a windshield-stretching, eye-tracking head-up display.
The modern small crossover is already something of an "everything car," an amalgamation of key features boiled down from other popular vehicle types into a versatile car that's equally comfortable crawling through narrow city corridors, racking up economical highway miles, hauling home-improvement tools and materials, and exploring wide-open off-road spaces. Or at least that's the idea — the typical crossover won't be the best solution for any of those tasks, but it will be the one vehicle type that should be able to accomplish all four on a regular basis, without any ensuing disaster — so long as you don't get too ambitious with the "off-road" part.
With the HabaNiro, Kia uses technology to catapult that type of one-for-all crossover versatility into the future, creating a car it believes can be an everyday commuter, a utility vehicle and an adventure vehicle all in one.
"We wanted this concept to be comfortable navigating city streets, carving turns on a coastal road and off-roading with confidence to remote wilderness adventures," explains Tom Kearns, vice president of design for Kia Design Center America. "We imagined a car for everyone and nearly everything."
Critical to its versatile multi-use mission is the e-AWD powertrain with front and rear motors, a set-up that delivers not only all-wheel traction but also lively electric performance and zero-emissions commuting. Kia doesn't pen out all the specs, but it does stamp a 300+ mile (483+ km) range on the concept, a figure that feels just high enough for us to start contemplating the idea of HabaNiro as viable road trip and outdoor adventure candidate without going way above and beyond contemporary battery technology and making it feel like pure conceptual fantasy (the production Niro EV has an estimated 239-mile/385-km range).
Kia next applies futuristic technologies to fit HabaNiro to driver like a set of leather gloves. The Level 5 autonomous system works hand in hand with the full-width windshield head-up display. When a living, breathing human has the steering wheel, the HUD projects vehicle and driving information that the driver can rearrange with the flick of a finger. The system uses eye-tracking technology to sense when the driver is looking up at the rear-view section of the display, automatically feeding in video from the 180-degree rear-view camera.
When the vehicle switches over to Level 5 mode, the steering wheel and drive controls retract away and the HUD becomes a multimedia display. The driver and passengers can use it to watch a movie, collaborate on a work project, or gather information about their passing surroundings and destination.
To further adapt the interior environment to the driver, Kia incorporates the Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving (READ) technology it previewed earlier this year with those weird CES pods. The AI system fine-tunes the interior environment based on the driver's changing mood, relying on bio signal recognition to read the driver's emotional state and react accordingly.
One particularly thought-provoking example of READ-based functionality sees the system identifying a hungry driver, automatically re-routing the car to a fast food drive-through, where a piping hot bag greets the driver upon arrival, the Kia system having auto-ordered ahead. We're not so sure we want our car deciding where and what we're eating unless it can read minds as well as emotional states, but Kia believes such a feature is a way of using AI to improve the overall driving experience rather than detract from it, as traditionalists fear too much autonomous drive technology will do.
So long as it puts an "off" switch on that READ system, we'll entertain the idea. What we're not so ready to entertain is the suggestion that a HabaNiro-like car could find its way to production.
"Some will assume the HabaNiro concept will never be built, but we don't advise betting the farm on it," Kia stresses in its press release. "In the past 18 months, Kia has launched two vehicles, the Stinger and the Telluride, from concepts that fully captured the public's imagination. The future is an exciting place and Kia is ready to lead the automotive industry into this spicy world of possibility."
We have to imagine that if and when all the HabaNiro's technologies are ready for market, auto design will have advanced well past the "gussied up Kia Niro" stage, however. For now, Kia gives its concept crossover a quartet of butterfly doors and capitalizes on the decentralized electric powertrain by pushing the 20-in wheels out to the edges, shrinking the overhangs down into near nonexistence. Up front, it trades out its signature tiger nose grille for a "shark snout" design. The headlight bands plummet sharply before rebounding and stretching clean across the grille.
The HabaNiro's white, creamy center is framed by the slashing Lava Red panels at the C pillars and the wraparound metallic grey cladding up front. The triple-color split reminds us of something we'd have see from Peugeot more so Kia, but it does give the HabaNiro some Scoville-ranking spice.
Deep-red continues inside, where it blankets the the cabin, broken only by the bright white of the acrylic dashboard and the dazzle of the dimmable floor-integrated "lighting color effect" system. The full-width touch-panel dash incorporates sensory light feedback, while a very slim, low-profile "perimeter ventilation system" provides climate control. The glass roof and thin pillars bring the outdoors inside, giving the HabaNiro a bright, open feel.
"This is no fanciful supercar that will likely never be built but a prescient look into the future of mobility," Kia stresses again.
Still, it really feels like a fanciful car that will likely never be built, so see it while you can at this year's New York International Auto Show.