Kia Niro: Compact SUV first, hybrid second
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Kia New Zealand’s boss Todd McDonald has created a new acronym for his latest compact SUV, the Niro.
Kia New Zealand brought in a model from South Korea last year to evaluate, and decided to add three variants of the Niro to its line-up, with the compact SUV now for sale here.
But this is where McDonald decided to switch things up and add the new acronym, HUV.
That stands for Hybrid Utility Vehicle — as he wants buyers to focus on where it sits in the SUV segment, rather than being a hybrid.
“We primarily see the Niro as an SUV, and secondly as a hybrid,” McDonald told media at the recent launch.
The Niro has two hybrid models and one plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (another acronym, the well-known PHEV).
The entry level hybrid EX starts at $39,990, the hybrid limited is $43,900 and you’ll pay $55,990 for the PHEV limited; the cheapest New Zealand-new PHEV available at the moment.
The Niro has a longer wheelbase (2700mm) than the popular Kia Sportage (2670mm) that dominates the compact SUV market.
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The Niro was created in Kia’s design centres in California and Namyang, South Korea, with an aerodynamic SUV-look plus the signature tiger-nose grille and a wide C-pillar.
The Niro’s platform is all new for Kia and has been engineered separately from its other products to accommodate a specific set of environmentally conscious technologies and next-generation powertrains.
Niro’s hybrid powertrain is a 1.6-litre direct injection petrol engine producing 77kW of power and 147Nm of torque with a 32kW electric motor in the hybrid and 44.5kW engine in the PHEV with a lithium-ion polymer battery pack.
All three models are paired with Kia’s latest six-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) that is based on the same architecture as its seven-speed DCT. But the six-speed DCT has been re-engineered specifically for use with the Niro’s hybrid powertrain to deliver a more direct response rather than the traditional electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT).
The Niro’s six-speed transmission has the Drive mode or Sport mode for the manual transmission use and a sportier drive.
But it’s the fuel economy that Kia NZ likes to promote. The PHEV has 1.3L/100km combined fuel consumption and 3.8L/100km for the Hybrid EX.
During the launch drive from Highbrook, Auckland, to Raglan on winding country roads, and then back to Kia HQ on the motorway, I achieved 4.5l in the hybrid and 2.6l in the PHEV.
McDonald expects the EX to be the biggest seller of the trio due to its price point and also because it dispels the Kiwi fear of range anxiety.
What about that PHEV and range anxiety? It can drive 55km in pure electric mode and takes four hours to charge at home on a three-pin plug, or 2½ hours on Kia charger.
The Niro comes with 16in or 18in alloy wheels plus an impressive Lane Keeping Assist System, a cruise control system, Blind Spot Detection in Limited models as well as Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
To help with pedestrians, the PHEV has the Virtual Engine Sound System that generates an engine sound so people can hear vehicle when it is moving at low speed in pure EV mode. The PHEV has the best ride due to the battery giving it a stable ride around tight corners while the hybrid felt more suited to city and motorway driving.
Just don’t call it a hybrid around McDonald or Kia NZ. The compact SUV market is burgeoning in New Zealand and the competition is fierce with 71 variants available in the small SUVs less than $40,000.
That’s a lot of choice for Kiwis.
So Kia is hoping the low fuel economy and the Niro’s SUV packaging will be what attracts buyers in New Zealand.