Twin Kia tests point to the fu­ture

Taupo Times - - MOTORING -

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".

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