Kia Niro shines brightFriday, November 06, 2020
The local hybrid market has been left largely open when it comes to new cars. The 2020 Kia Niro smartly fills that niche, a niche expected to grow as vehicles converge on the concerns of environment, fuel economy and electrification.
The Niro doesn't scream hybrid. This is your standard small sport utility vehicle (SUV) fitted with an internal combustion engine and an onboard battery-powered electric motor. Rather than go space age, it sticks with standard visual considerations for the class, but is by no means a boring looking SUV. The Niro is a very sporty in external styling, having razor-sharp lines accentuated by muscular curves. It continues Kia's modern design language capped off by a future-inspired rendition of their signature tiger grille.
The Niro's compact dimensions create an optical illusion as the interior is large enough to handle everyday family needs. Keyless entry makes getting in a breeze, with mirrors that signal the vehicle's open or close status. Entrants are greeted by ambient lighting at night. The cabin is just as nicely designed as the outside with a simple clean aesthetic for the dashboard, soft-touch materials at the key contact points, and a sprinkle of gloss black accents just to liven things up. From the comfortable driver's seat, all the main controls are easily accessed. However, since many are automated — lights, wipers, emergency brakes — they won't need to be fiddled with much.
Storage solutions are everywhere as is connectivity. Kia's infotainment system continues to be one of the best, having a fast and responsive nature, with intuitive menu structure. Sound quality is high, accentuated by the interior refinement that keeps external noises low. There are some neat features as a hybrid, including the ability to limit the climate control system to just the driver, in case there is only one person in the vehicle. This way it doesn't waste precious energy maintaining the temperature for occupants that aren't there.
The main element of the Niro Hybrid is its dual power sources. Hybrids fill the gap between legacy internal combustion engine and full electric propulsion. Under the nose of the Kia is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder. That engine makes 104bhp and has 108 lb/ft of torque unassisted. The other part of the equation is a 43bhp permanent magnet electric motor. The electric motor is fed by a 1.56kWh lithium-ion battery under the rear seats. When combined they give a total of 140bhp through the six-speed dual-clutch transmission. This is a parallel hybrid system.
There is no need to plug in the Niro, it charges automatically using a variety of strategies, some of which the driver does have minor control over. The battery charge is maintained firstly by the engine, and capturing energy from regeneration. Power can be sent to the electric motor whenever necessary from the petrol engine, even if it is driving the front wheels. Under no engine load situations the vehicle regains energy from just the wheels rolling. Charge can also be got from braking. There is a power flow diagram available on both the infotainment and central instrumentation binnacle screens. Learning the flow is the key to extracting the maximum fuel efficiency from the Niro.
Under acceleration — based on throttle position, speed, and battery charge — the petrol motor will send electricity to the batteries to run the electric motor. Letting the vehicle coast, or run downhill without touching the accelerator will send power back to the batteries. Using the brakes will do the same. The Niro has paddle shifters. In ECO and NORMAL mode they act to set the strength of the regenerative braking. The highest of the three modes will aggressively slow the vehicle. Once charged to a certain level the electronic only mode (EV) operates as best as it sees to save fuel.
The Niro Hybrid creates two different driving philosophies, the mental game to save as much fuel as possible and driving enjoyment. The latter is because the chassis is tuned on the sportier side, hiding the extra weight of the batteries. The instant electric torque makes the Kia punchy in SPORT mode. In this mode the paddle shifters operate the six-speed transmission. Otherwise one can leave it NORMAL or ECO mode and enjoy the other positives of the vehicle.
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