Kia Introduces the Niro in Chicago

Kia’s big on bringing rock n’roll to the Chicago Auto Show – literally.

As in years past, the brand brought out a rock band – this year, the band members were all teenage students at a Chicago-area music school – to help usher in its latest new models. This year’s crop of Chicago intros includes the production version of the Niro Concept, a new Optima Hybrid, and a new plug-in Optima Hybrid.

The Niro is the biggest news, as it’s the first Kia to be a dedicated hybrid. The subcompact crossover utility/wagon is being targeted for 50 mpg combined, thanks to a hybrid system that mates a 1.6-liter gasoline direct-injection four-cylinder engine that makes 103 horsepower. The electric motor makes another 43 horsepower, for a combined 146 for the system. Overall, the system combines for 195 pounds-feet of torque.

Unlike many hybrids, the 2017 Niro will deliver its power to its wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, instead of a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT). The 1.56 kilowatt-hour battery is mounted underneath the rear seat.

2017 Niro

2017 Niro

Kia will offer plenty of available tech with the Niro. Features such as blind-spot detection, rear-cross traffic alert, and lane-departure warning will be available, as will lane-change assist, a smart cruise control system, and an autonomous emergency braking system.

A new piece of driver-assistance tech aims to help drivers maximize fuel economy. In Kia parlance, it’s called the Eco-DAS (for Driver Assistance System). It has two main features – a Coasting Guide telling drivers when to coast versus when to brake, and Predictive Energy Control, which uses a combination of the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate the upcoming topography of the road and adjust energy use accordingly. Kia claims that this is the first such system to adjust for both ascending and descending terrain.

Other fuel-economy-enhancing tech includes the Smart Air Intake, which manages outside air brought in for air-conditioning system in an attempt to reduce drag, and an automatic defroster system. Available comfort and convenience features include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Pandora, wi-fi, and Kia’s UVO3 infotainment system. A Kia spokesman told us that the projected on-sale date is early next year.

2017 Niro

The Optima Hybrid and Optima Plug-In Hybrid are also both new for 2017. The Hybrid uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 154 horsepower to mate to a 38-kilowatt/51-horsepower electric motor for 193 horsepower, while pairing with a six-speed automatic transmission that uses an electric clutch in lieu of a torque converter. The battery pack is a 1.62 kilowatt-hour lithium-polymer unit.

Opt for the plug-in version, and you get the same gas engine, but the electric motor is beefed up to 50 kilowatts (67 horsepower) and the battery pack is a lithium-ion unit of 9.8 kilowatt-hours. Kia is promising up to 27 miles of electric-only range, a 600-mile driving range, and an under nine-hour charge time with 120 volts and less than three hours if the outlet offers 240 volts.

Both offer the Coasting Guide system, as well as safety features such as blind-spot detection, smart cruise-control, front-collision warning, and lane-departure warning. Both offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and both offer UVO3, with the PHEV version offering a few unique apps such as geofencing and a Google-powered local search.