Niro in spotlight to join Kia’s Kiwi family

It might soon be ohm time for Kia New Zealand, with emergent potential to add a petrol-electric hybrid compact crossover that is weeks from its full international debut.


A Kia that has New Zealand’s best-selling hybrid in its crosshairs is being considered for introduction here, potentially to sell alongside a like-configured Hyundai as a reinforcement of the Korean juggernaut’s unfolding Green intent.

 Unveiled at the Chicago motor show that ended last weekend ahead of a more formal debut at next month’s Geneva motor show, the Niro is a medium hatchback, sitting size-wise between the Soul and new Sportage, that has the same platform and drivetrain technologies as Hyundai’s Ioniq.

And yes, the plural is correct: These cars are being built in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicle formats, a stunning world-first achievement packaged under a new acronym, HUV – for hybrid utility vehicle.

Which works best for New Zealand? Hyundai New Zealand has previously told Motoring Network it is undecided, but Kia’s national representative has immediately asserted the best initial choice has to be a hybrid drivetrain.

In both Niro and Ioniq this format pairs a 77kW 1.6-litre petrol engine and 32kW electric motor for a total combined power output of 107kW with 264Nm of torque.

The mutual intent is to remind that Hyundai – which owns Kia – is a technology powerhouse and, obviously, the target is the Toyota Prius, currently comfortably established as New Zealand’s best-selling hybrid, though there’s potential that mantle might yet pass to a Corolla with the same drivetrain landing here around June.

Kia New Zealand boss Todd McDonald says Niro, a car key to parent Hyundai’s plans to offer 22 green models by 2020, has a great deal of appeal.

He’s definitely keen to bring in the five-seater as Kia’s first non purely fossil fuel-reliant car here – providing, that is, pricing negotiations with the factory go well.

The sticker status is the primary focus, he says, as though Kia headquarters has not confirmed when right-hand-drive will begin, understanding is that it will become available to RHD export markets relatively soon, perhaps beating Ioniq whose availability to our neighbour has just been delayed until 2017.

“If it is available to us in right hand drive, we could take either UK specification or Australia market specification … if it’s available there then New Zealand would be eligible for it.”

“(But) the price has to be right – I’d like the car, but the money has to be right.”

Impressive stickers for the Sportage introduced this week reflects that Kia NZ, as a factory shop, has ability to crack a mean deal – its version of this medium crossover costs thousands of dollars less than  the Tucson sister model from New Zealand-owned Hyundai New Zealand.

The barometer is patently the Prius, which has by happenstance just arrived in its latest generation four form and been priced from $47,490 to $54,990.

McDonald did not refer directly to Prius when discussing Niro with Motoring Network during this week’s Sportage launch, but noted: “If were to bring anything in, it would have to be price-competitive with other brands with similar technology.”

Though the hybrid is the least technically advanced of the Niro derivatives, it makes a logical first step for this market, because of the acceptability of that kind of drivetrain, McDonald said, plus the potential of it being the version with the best price.

The Niro is part of a plan to triple the number of eco-friendly models by 2020 and head towards a total of 22 ‘green’ models for Kia and its parent brand by that time.

The crossover body ensures it is less likely to directly compete with Ioniq, a hatchback. The Hyundai/Kia hybrid technology presents headline figures of 89 grams per kilometre emissions and 3.8 litres per 100km are not as sharp as the new Prius’ 70g/km and 3.4L/100km, however the Koreans believe their cars will be more driver-oriented than the Toyota product.

Also the Niro and Ioniq are more advanced for their battery type, in employing the very latest lightweight 1.56kWh lithium-ion polymer technology that is more powerful and compact that Toyota’s nickel-hydride set.

The packaging advantage is such that Kia has been able to do away with a 12v battery in the car. It places under the rear seat so there’s no compromise on boot space and rear room.

Kia has also developed a Predictive Energy Control system to use navigation data to predict changes to the road ahead (including hills) to maximise the efficiency of the hybrid system. 

Another key difference to the Toyota approach is in the gearset. The Korean models employ a new six-speed dual clutch gearbox, which Kia claims gives a more connected driving experience than the CVT continuously variable transmission Prius has always had. Though Niro has a crossover look, it is front-drive though a four-wheel-drive version is said to be in development.

Kia hasn’t quoted how fast the new Niro will be but has said that behind the wheel it will present a “very un-hybrid-like driving experience”.

To help boost efficiency the direct-injection 1.6-litre petrol combines Atkinson Cycle combustion with cooled exhaust gas recirculation and has a long-stoke/narrow-bore design. The Kia also boasts a novel heat recovery system to rapidly warm the engine up from cold.

The system works by using circulating the engine’s coolant system through a heat exchanger in the exhaust. This claws back heat to heat the coolant that warms the engine block and quickens the time it takes for the engine to warm up.

Weight-saving to boost performance include a bonnet, tailgate and suspension components made of aluminium.

The model also features autonomous emergency braking, blind spot detection, lane change assist and active cruise control – thus matching the Pre-Collision System that goes into the latest Prius.

Meantime, leaked details of the fully-electric drivetrain developed for Ioniq and Niro have just hit the internet. There’s suggestion the battery-pure versions will be powered by an 88kW electric motor fed by a 28kWh battery, providing a claimed driving range of 169km on a full charge under the South Korean testing cycle, and a top speed of 150kmh.