Key component to Kia Motors’ Green Car Roadmap was unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show
“The Niro hits the sweet spot by offering the best combination of outstanding mpg, an engaging driving experience, utility, and most importantly, a stunning design that doesn’t shout ‘hybrid,’” said Orth Hedrick, vice president product planning KMA. “The subcompact CUV market continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in the world, and the Niro offers a uniquely alluring yet practical package that consumers haven’t seen before.”
The Niro is yet another vehicle introduced under the Kia Motors EcoDynamics environmentally friendly sub-brand and represents a number of firsts. While it was preceded by clean mobility products such as the Optima Hybrid and Soul EV, Niro is the first Kia to make use of an all-new, dedicated eco-car platform and is an important next step on the path to nearly tripling the brand’s global green car line-up by 2020. A plug-in hybrid powertrain is due to be added to the car’s line-up later in its life-cycle.
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.
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.
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.