Kez Casey | Feb 12, 2016

While the Chicago Auto Show isn’t usually associated with big-ticket global debuts, that is exactly where the Kia Niro hybrid SUV has shown its face to the world for the first time.

The Niro joins Kia’s hybrid range, alongside the Optima Hybrid, under the brand’s environmentally-friendly EcoDynamics sub-brand which also includes the Soul EV.

Unlike the Optima however, the Niro is Kia's first dedicated hybrid, meaning there won't be a version powered by internal combustion alone.

In the move from concept to production, the Niro has kept little but its name and its triangular headlights, with the bold styling and three-door form of the 2013 Niro concept giving way to a much more traditional (and practical) five-door body.

Unlike either the Optima Hybrid, or the Soul EV, which are based on existing vehicle architectures, the Niro has been designed from the ground-up as a hybrid - engineered to accommodate its petrol-electric powertrain, with a focus on weight reduction through the use of advanced high-strength steel.

Aluminium has been used in the bonnet, suspension components, and brake calipers, while even the traditional 12 volt battery has been eliminated, utilising the high-voltage lithium ion polymer battery instead.

Under the bonnet, the Niro features Hyundai-Kia’s recently developed Kappa 1.6 GDI four-cylinder engine, developed specifically for use in hybrid applications and also set to feature in the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid.

The 76kW petrol powerplant is teamed with a 32kW tractive motor known as a transmission-mounted electric device (TMED) which lifts combined output to 109kW and 264Nm.

Power for the electric motor is provided by a 1.56kWh Lithium Ion Polymer battery installed beneath the rear seat. Targeted fuel consumption for the Niro is 4.7 l/100km.

A six-speed dual clutch transmission delivers power to the front wheels. To maximise fuel economy an Eco Driver Assistance System (Eco-DAS) helps instruct the driver on better utilising coasting and braking to reduce fuel consumption.

Predictive Energy Control links the cruise control and navigation to predict topographical changes and better manage battery charge and discharge cycles to optimise efficiency.

The Niro features a specially developed floor foam beneath the carpet and a bonnet insulator pad to keep noise levels low. An acoustic windscreen, foam-filled A and B-pillars, and aerodynamically-shaped wing mirrors are all in place to reduce road noise.

The cabin itself features a clean design, employing Kia’s horizontal design themes highlighted with high-gloss black and white feature panels. A 7.0-inch touch screen operates an 8GB music hard drive, on-screen apps, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.

As for an Australian debut, Kia Australia’s general manager of media and corporate communications, Kevin Hepworth, told TMR that Kia Australia takes an interest in every new model, but right now the Niro is off the cards.

“While the Niro and any hybrid and alternate fuel models will certainly be discussed, there are currently no plans to include them in the Australian model line-up, at least in the immediate future.” Mr Hepworth said.

MORE: Kia News and Reviews

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