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Friday, February 12 2016 14:19

Preview: The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle from the Chicago Auto Show

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It's no secret that I'm a fan of Kia, and over the past few years I've also made some friendships there (my wife and I went to the Chicago Bulls game the other night with some Kia Execs, disclosure and all), but we don't own a Kia just yet. When it comes to the Chicago Auto Show, they've kicked it off the past few years, and this year they pretty much perfected the art of a kick-off press conference - bringing in the young students of the School of Rock Oak Park (ages 14-18) to truly ROCK the auto show. It's stuff like this that makes me love Kia - outside of their cars, of course. On a press conference note, it's hard for some of the other automakers to follow - especially the ones with really bland presentations (up your game, gentlemen - there's several of you). With a medley of tunes that included some from QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, LED ZEPPELIN, THE ROLLING STONES and more, the School of Rock Show Team provided the perfect soundtrack for Kia's Michael Sprague to throw down some Chicago music history (Chess Records was mentioned) before rolling out a trio of hybrids, one of which was the much-anticipated 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid Utility Vehicle (HUV). Sprague said it was designed "in the rock and roll spirit of rebellion." I can dig it.

The Niro aims to bring some fun into Hybrid driving - a little "oomph" perhaps, something that tends to be missing.

Specs & Features from the Official Announcement:

An “Un-Hybrid” Design
Designed at Kia’s design centers in Irvine, California, and Namyang, Korea, the Niro demonstrates that owners don’t have to sacrifice emotionally engaging design or functional utility in the name of efficiency. The HUV’s design language is atypical of a hybrid, appearing strong and confident with subtly sculpted surfaces offset by robust styling cues. The Niro sports wide and low proportions with a long roofline and short overhangs that give it an overall athletic profile. Up front, the Niro bears a familiar front fascia highlighted by Kia’s signature grille and flanked by aggressively shaped headlights that accentuate the Niro’s strong shoulders. Contours on the hood lend visual interest and, along with voluminous wheel arches, rocker cladding, roof rails, and rear skid plate, contribute to a sporty look. Although the Niro has a cohesive crossover theme, it was designed with aerodynamics in mind, with its carefully shaped bodywork contributing to a relatively slippery coefficient of drag of .29.

2017 Kia Niro

Stepping inside the Niro reveals an inviting, modern, and high-tech interior. Glossy white or black accents underline the HUV’s straightforward theme. The instrument panel is uncluttered and clean, with colorful and informative gauges at the forefront and perfectly positioned primary and secondary controls falling readily to hand. Interior roominess comes by way of the Niro’s 106.3-inch wheelbase, body height, and wide stance, which affords ample leg-, head- and shoulder-room. Seats with increased pad density in the cushions ensure a comfortable ride, helping to prevent fatigue on longer trips. With its crossover-like proportions, the Niro boasts an elevated seating position much like the Kia Soul, providing drivers with a more commanding view of the road as well as easy ingress and egress. While the clever packaging of the high voltage battery assists in delivering a desirable driving experience, its location underneath the rear seats also increases cabin and cargo space and allows a flat load floor.

2017 Kia Niro Interior

In addition to spaciousness and comfort, ensuring a quiet interior environment was also a key development focus for engineers. Copious insulation in the Niro’s front structure, optimized suspension bushing stiffness, careful body sealing, and application of expanding foam inside the A- and B-pillars all prevent road and tire noise from entering the cabin. Furthermore, acoustic windshield glass and carefully shaped side mirrors mitigate wind noise.

Engineers also worked hard to address the innate issues often associated with hybrid powertrains. To that end, they minimized system noise and vibration at the source with specially designed engine mounts, equal-length driveshafts, and even added a damper inside the steering wheel hub to minimize vibrations felt in the steering wheel. Other NVH measures include a special embossed foam in the floor (under the carpet), and a dense insulating pad underneath the hood also help to keep unwanted noise to a minimum.

Strong and Light Core
The platform underpinning the Niro has been specifically engineered to accommodate the unique gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, and with 53 percent of Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS), including reinforcement in the A- and B-pillars as well as the roof rails, it is both a lightweight and durable structure. Extensive use of hot-stamped components and industrial joint adhesive increase torsional rigidity and structural integrity.  As such, engineers are targeting the Niro to earn top honors from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS).

Weight reduction was a critical Niro development aspect, and in addition to the body, AHSS was also used to engineer other elements, including novel lightweight seat frames. Further, engineers were able to bring down the overall weight by using aluminum for the hood, tailgate and several suspension elements including the front lower control arms, front and rear knuckles, and in the brake calipers. Even the parking brake pedal contributes to the weight savings through the use of fiber-reinforced plastic construction.  Finally, the engineers eliminated the traditional 12-volt battery to reduce weight, instead, utilizing the high-voltage lithium-ion polymer battery.

Uniquely Engineered Hybrid Powertrain
Motivating the Niro is a highly efficient and engaging powertrain starting with an all-new, state-of-the-art Kappa 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder engine, engineered specifically for hybrid applications. Making 103 horsepower, the new engine marks the first combination of the Atkinson Cycle, cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), GDI and a long-stroke-narrow-bore specification to maximize efficiency2. Efficiency and emissions are further improved via the Niro’s exhaust heat recovery system, which speeds engine warm-up by routing coolant to a heat exchanger in the exhaust system. A 43-hp tractive motor, known as the transmission-mounted electric device (TMED), works in tandem with the gasoline engine to produce a robust 146 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.

2017 Kia Niro

That power is transmitted through a newly developed, second-generation six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which not only boosts efficiency but is also a key factor to the Niro’s great driving experience. The transmission delivers smooth, quick shifts for a natural and spirited feel in stark contrast to that of other hybrids equipped with continuously variable transmissions. Bringing the whole system together is a compact and lightweight 1.56-kWh Lithium Ion Polymer battery located underneath the rear seat. Because the high-voltage battery is both power and energy dense, engineers were able to use the downsized gasoline engine to maximize fuel economy and reduce emissions.

With its unique combination of the lightweight TMED, proven GDI and Atkinson Cycle technology in the internal combustion engine, along with the DCT providing a dynamic driving experience, the Niro offers enjoyment and efficiency all in one, targeting a combined fuel efficiency rating of 50 mpg.

Driving Fun
The Niro’s parallel and simplified hybrid system creates seamless transitions of power delivered to the front wheels, resulting in a very un-hybrid-like driving experience. The hybrid system is neither intrusive nor obvious. The Niro accelerates quickly off the line and continues its smooth power delivery, inspiring driver confidence in everyday driving maneuvers like merging onto the highway.

Special attention was also paid to brake feel. Applying lessons learned through development of two generations of Optima Hybrids as well as the fully electric Soul EV, Kia engineers designed the Niro’s regenerative system to seamlessly blend in hydraulic friction braking. Consequently, deceleration feels more consistent and linear than other hybrids.

Advanced Hybrid Tech
Like the rest of Kia’s lineup, the Niro will be offered with a suite of advanced driver assistance and convenience technologies. Familiar features that will be available on the HUV include Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist; Smart Cruise Control; Lane Departure Warning; and Autonomous Emergency Braking3.

2017 Kia Niro

All-new Eco-DAS1 (Driver Assistance System) features Kia’s first application of Coasting Guide and Predictive Energy Control. The Coasting Guide aims at maximizing fuel economy by essentially coaching the driver on when to coast and brake. Predictive Energy Control, meanwhile, uses the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate topographical changes on the road ahead and actively manage energy flow, seamlessly determining when its best to recharge the battery and when its best to expend stored energy to optimize overall efficiency.  Similar systems have been seen on German luxury makes, but it is Kia’s first system to monitor and adjust for both ascending and descending scenarios. Other notable features include Smart Air Intake, which reduces drag by carefully managing the intake of outside air for the HVAC system, and also an accompanying Auto Defog system that prevents condensation from building on the glass by monitoring cabin air conditions to manage the cycling of the A/C compressor.

Kia’s award-winning infotainment and telematics system aims to keep Niro drivers connected at all times4, with the newest version, UVO3, trickling down from the all-new 2017 Sportage. Complete with Android5 Auto™, Apple6 CarPlay®, and UVO eServices featuring 14 telematics services, the enhanced system features up to 8 GB of music storage, access to onscreen apps such as Pandora®7 and Soundhound and Wi-Fi tethering capability. All this is displayed on a 7-inch capacitive touch screen.

The Chicago Auto Show runs February 13-21, 2016 at McCormick Place. Tickets are just $12 for adults, $7 for seniors and kids 7-12, and kids 6 and under are free! Check out more on the official website, and right here at THE ROCK FATHER Magazine!

James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade as Publisher of The Rock Father Magazine, he joined Adventure Publishing Group as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider—a destination for all things pop culture. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 25 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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