Fi­nally – a sub-com­pact hy­brid that’s fun to drive

The Hamilton Spectator - - WHEELS - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY JIM ROBIN­SON METROLAND ME­DIA

SAN AN­TO­NIO, TX: It wasn’t so much the im­pres­sive 40.2 mpg I achieved driv­ing the 2017 Kia Niro hy­brid, but the fun I had do­ing it.

Fun and hy­brid sounds like an oxy­moron and this was not a $60K Euro hy­brid sports sedan, but a sub-com­pact, five-door cross­over with a start­ing price of $24,995.

Get in the cabin and the sense of big­ger than sub-com­pact is im­me­di­ately no­tice­able with, for ex­am­ple, rear head and knee room at 993 mm and 950 mm re­spec­tively.

The be­hind the sec­ond row seat there is 634 litres of cargo space and 1,789 litres when the back seat is folded flat.

The lay­out of the in­stru­ment panel is very clean in its ex­e­cu­tion, with a Kia pre­sen­ter at the press launch not­ing the large knobs are just right for win­ter HVAC con­trols.

On the topline model I was driv­ing, there was a cub­bie with two 12-volt power points, aux­il­iary in, USB port and wire­less charg­ing for a cell­phone.

The Niro is a front driver with a newly de­signed six-speed dual clutch au­to­matic trans­mis­sion which is stan­dard.

Power comes from a 1.6-litre di­rect in­jec­tion inline four-cylin­der us­ing the Atkin­son Cy­cle pro­duc­ing 104 hp and 108.5 lb/ft of torque mated to a 43 hp elec­tric mo­tor for a com­bined 139 hp and 195 lb/ft of torque.

The 1.56 kWh poly­mer lithium-ion bat­tery can be shaped and fits neatly un­der the rear seat thus max­i­miz­ing cargo vol­ume.

What my co-driver and I no­ticed right off the bat was the quiet­ness of the cabin with the en­gine run­ning at high­way speeds.

This is partly due to the use of spe­cially en­gi­neered en­gine mounts, equal-length half­shafts and a damper found in­side the steer­ing wheel hub that quells road vi­bra­tion.

To this is added ex­ten­sive sound in- su­la­tion, op­ti­mized sus­pen­sion bush­ing stiff­ness, tight body seal­ing fol­lowed up by the use of ex­pand­ing foam in­side the A- and B-pil­lars that all mit­i­gate road and tire noise from en­ter­ing the cabin. Lastly, acous­tic wind­shield glass and aero-shaped side mir­rors help mit­i­gate wind noise.

And the Niro is prob­a­bly the most aero­dy­namic sub-com­pact five-door on the mar­ket with a drag co-ef­fi­cient of just 0.29. This is ac­com­plished by a num­ber of de­sign el­e­ments such as the up­per rear spoiler that re­duces drag, im­proved un­der­body and en­gine air flow with an ac­tive air flap built into the front bumper grills and a rear muf­fler spoiler.

Be­cause it op­er­ates so qui­etly, Niro is equipped with a Vir­tual En­gine Sound Sys­tem (VESS) that gen­er­ates the sound of an en­gine so pedes­tri­ans can hear it com­ing at slow speeds.

But what my co-driver and I were aim­ing at was what kind of mileage could we ex­pect in ev­ery­day driv­ing con­di­tions with­out re­sort­ing to the end­less coast­ing and brak­ing to gain re­cu­per­a­tive elec­tric­ity.

Now a crew of pro­fes­sional Niro driv­ers re­cently set a Guin­ness World Record (US) of 76.6 mpg from Los An­ge­les to New York City (3,714.5 miles) on just 4.1 tanks of gas.

We knew we couldn’t come close, but didn’t want to. We drove nor­mally, re­ly­ing on the Hy­brid Sys­tem Gauge on the up­per left of the main in­stru­ment clus­ter which showed when the bat­tery was be­ing charged by re­gen­er­a­tion, Eco mode when driv­ing in an eco-friendly man­ner and Power when ex­ceed­ing eco-friendly pa­ram­e­ters.

Just be­low this is the bat­tery State Of Charge (SOC) gauge that shows how much juice is in the bat­tery. On the cen­tre touch­screen here is a de­pic­tion of en­ergy flow routes, 11 of them no less.

The re­sult af­ter a morn­ing and af­ter­noon of driv­ing mostly north and east of San An­to­nio was (US) 40.2 mpg and we were not try­ing that hard. With a lit­tle around-town coast­ing/brak­ing (US) 45-46 mpg is at­tain­able.

Ac­cord­ing to Kia, the base L model does 4.5/4.8/4.7L/100 km city/ high­way/com­bined. The mid-trim EX, be­cause of more con­tent, does 4.6/5.1/4.8L/100 km, while the topline SX —which I was driv­ing with even more con­tent — recorded 5.1/5.8/5.4L/100 km.

There will be four trim lev­els with the base L at $24,999. At this writ­ing pric­ing for the EX, EX-Pre­mium and SX were still be­ing worked out.

Dur­ing the press brief­ing, the sub­ject of where the name Niro came from came up and we were told it was a kind of mix of “Near Zero” and “Hero” which is nifty in an era when car­mak­ers are in­creas­ingly go­ing for any­thing al­phanu­meric.

But when you can get the kind of av­er­age mileage which roughly equates to 5.8L/100 km, you’re do­ing darn good.

So when it comes to fuel ef­fi­ciency, Niro is def­i­nitely a hero.

Billed as a sub-com­pact CUV, the 2017 Kia Niro hy­brid is more a large com­pact with pas­sen­ger and cargo vol­ume to match.

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