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Kia’s 50-mpg Niro crossover anticipates hills to save fuel

2017 Kia Niro
Kia has traveled to the Chicago Auto Show to introduce a hybrid crossover called Niro.

The 2017 Niro is a heavily toned-down version of the eponymous concept that was presented to the public at the 2013 edition of the Frankfurt Auto Show. It adopts sharp headlights, a rippled hood, and a thin rendition of Kia’s trademarked Tiger-nose grille, but it predictably ditches the concept’s sporty, two-door body style in favor of a more family-friendly four-door setup. All told, the Niro’s front end bears more than a passing resemblance to the brand new Sportage, and Kia prides itself on having designed an eco-friendly crossover that doesn’t scream, “Hey, I’m driving a hybrid!”

The Niro is nonetheless built on a brand new platform developed specifically to underpin electrified models, and it’s powered by a gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain made up of a 1.6-liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine and a small electric motor integrated into a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. Combined, the two power sources generate 146 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, and they allow the Niro to return 50 mpg in a mixed cycle. For comparison, the Toyota Prius — the poster child of the hybrid segment for nearly two decades — is rated at 52 mpg in a mixed cycle.

50 mpg was attained by using lightweight components such as aluminum body panels to lower the Niro’s weight. To further boost efficiency, the Niro relies on a new technology called Predictive Energy Control that works with the navigation and cruise control systems to detect topographical changes such as hills in the road ahead. It then uses the information gathered to decide when to recharge the lithium-ion polymer battery pack and when to send the electricity to the drive wheels.

While pictures of the cabin haven’t been published yet, Kia promises the Niro benefits from a seven-inch touch screen that runs the latest evolution of its UVO infotainment system. Buyers in need of additional peace of mind can order the soft-roader with electronic driving aids including a blind-spot detection system, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking.

The 2017 Kia Niro will go on sale nationwide before the end of the year, and an even more efficient plug-in hybrid model will be added to the lineup a little later in the production run.

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