Twin Kia tests point to the future
We test a couple of special Kia vehicles and we really hope both are allowed into the NZ market.
We’ve just been driving two interesting new vehicles from Kia. One can only be purchased on indent order, while the other isn’t even on sale in New Zealand – yet.
But they do combine to illustrate the strength of the Korean motor industry, and how today it is capable of filling just about every conceivable motoring niche with product that really is world-class.
Take one of these Kias, a vehicle called Niro, as an outstanding example.
I’ve always felt that one of the downsides of petrol-electric hybrids is that many of them look like hybrids. Product such as the Toyota Prius and more recently the Hyundai Ioniq is great, but their looks are different in a techie-electric futuristic sort of way. The only current hybrid model that I can think of that looks just like a conventional car is the Toyota Camry – but it’s a sedan, and these days we kept getting told that sedans are passe.
But now there’s this Niro. Kia New Zealand has a couple of them in the country, and they are doing the rounds of people such as motoring journalists as the company works to build a business case that would allow the vehicle to be sold here.
The Korean-built Niro is primarily intended for the European market, you see, so apparently some sort of special dispensation is required from Kia to allow it to be imported to New Zealand for public sale.
I hope the Niro does come here, not the least because to all intents and purposes it looks and feels like a normal car even though it is a hybrid, built on a speciallydeveloped dedicated hybrid platform.
Powering the vehicle is a 1.6-litre petrol engine that is mated to a lithium-ion battery pack, and they combine forces in their parallel hybrid way to give easy and flexible performance, at the same time achieving an average fuel consumption of 4.4 L/100km. All you old fellows – that’s 64 miles per gallon. Pretty good for a medium-sized vehicle that runs on 18-inch wheels.
The engine is connected to a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission that greatly assists in making the Niro feel as much like a conventional car as it looks.
It’s interesting that right now an event called Leading the Charge is taking place, which is a 2500km road trip the length of New Zealand involving fullyelectric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The event is designed to raise the profile of the benefits of EVs, and in that regard it is an excellent initiative.
But . . . . handout material that’s being made available to the public at every stop during this tour declares that petrol-electric hybrids ‘‘no longer count’’, because they can not be plugged into an electric socket to recharge.
That’s a bit unfair, because until such time as the fully electric vehicles can have sufficient range on a single charge, and more particularly can become affordable enough to be able to be purchased by the average motorist, then petrolelectric hybrids remain relevant in New Zealand.
So with that as background, I really hope Kia NZ can convince the factory in Korea that it should be allowed to sell the Niro in this country. Word is that a plug-in hybrid version is also being developed, and I hope that comes here too, because not only would that progress the Kia marque, but help increase the takeup of EVs.
And what’s the other Kia that’s the subject of this review? It’s a car that could be said to be a polar opposite of a somewhat conservative and eco-friendly hybrid crossover vehicle – an outthere and high-performance turbocharged sedan.
The car is the Kia Optima GT, which is based on the standard Optima medium-sized front-drive sedan but which is powered by a twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that makes 180 kilowatts of power and 350 newton metres of torque.
The car’s six-speed automatic transmission has been recalibrated to match that additional oomph, higherperformance suspension dampers have been installed in the interests of a slightly firmer and sportier ride, and the Optima GT has a rack-mounted power steer system instead of a motor-driven version in the standard model, for better steering feel.
End result is a sedan that feels nice and sporty, even though I wouldn’t describe it as highperformance.
On the inside, the GT has leather upholstery with some red stitching, a different steering wheel, eight-inch touch screen with navigation, and the same Harman Kardon audio system as that aboard the Optima Limited.
Overall the Optima GT is an appealing sports sedan for its $53,990 asking price, and it is little wonder that 38 customers have placed their indent order for the supply of one from Korea.
The Kia Niro hybrid - let’s hope it does come to New Zealand.
Kia Optima GT features bigger wheels and tyres and other performance-related "fruit".