Kia’s short-but-sweet Niro Concept brings ‘butterfly doors’ to the supermini segment

Kia has brought a strong showing to the Chicago Auto Show, but perhaps its most interesting offering isn’t actually new. The Kia Niro concept first debuted at the 2013 Frankfurt Auto Show and it was exciting then, but now with its appearance in Chicago might mean that it is one step closer to production.

The Niro is called a “supermini” because, well, it’s tiny. Funnily enough, I’ve owned boots that look bigger than this car. Really, though, it’s the Niro’s diminutive stature that makes it car so exciting.

The performance features you get in the Niro are like those you would find on much more aggressive cars, like a DSG gearbox and advanced suspension. And thanks to Kia’s ‘Gamma’ four cylinder, it has 160 horsepower. That is a lot in a shoe.

The aggressive styling also sets Niro apart from a market segment that is normally dominated by dullness. Kia is quick to point out all of the touches that set this car apart, from the “Nightfall” paint to the “Limelight” anodized aluminum touches.

But, to me, what makes this car special is the profile. The Niro manages to be both tall and sleek, in part thanks to the long wheelbase that places the aggressive rims right at the corners.

The Niro also features the same design of headlights from the flagship K900, which I will be driving next week. The quadrant of cornea-burning LEDs also add a nice touch that marks this car as a Kia. That may not have been considered a good thing as recently as ten years ago, but with concepts like the Niro that has changed.

Kia’s design language has become distinctive and interesting. Personally, I can’t say that I like all of it. The Soul in particular has always struck me as an awkward design. However, even if I haven’t liked all of Kia’s design elements, I respect the fact that Kia designers have actually made an effort. Kias don’t look like anything else on the road, and that’s a good thing.

Unfortunately if it does go into production it may lose some of its more fun features, like the dihedral “butterfly” doors. But there is nothing on this car that is pie-in-the-sky. The things that make the Niro interesting are all easy to imagine in a production car.

Really my only criticism with this car is the name. First Kia gives its flagship car, the K900, a name that really belongs on a robot dog, and then it names its subcompact concept after a borderline psychotic Roman Emperor. They might have swapped an ‘e’ for an ‘i,’ but I am not sure that makes it any better.

Still if the most we have to worry about is a silly name, then I think that is a win for Kia. And if the Niro does go into production, it will instantly become one of the most interesting subcompacts on the market.  

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