Kia Debuts Hybrid SUV & Hybrid Optima

2017 Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid

As if there weren’t enough subcompact crossovers on the market right now, soon you’ll have another option. The 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid.

It’s one of the vehicles Kia debuted at the Chicago Auto Show, to prove it is serious about making its lineup 25 percent more fuel-efficient by 2020.

The Niro, definitely stylish in our opinion and fits right in with the subcompact crowd. Nissan went for “athletic” and “sporty” in its design. It sports wide and low proportions with a long roofline and short overhangs that give it an overall athletic profile. It seats up to five people.

Kia estimates it delivers 50 mpg with its gas – electric engine. The hybrid powertrain pairs a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with an electric motor, a lithium-ion battery, mated to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. That’ll get you 146-horses and 195 pound-feet of torque. Kia also focused on aerodynamic styling as well, for fuel efficiency purposes, resulting in a coefficient of drag of .29.

Inside, Kia designers paid special attention to keeping the cabin quiet. They used insulation in the Niro’s front structure, optimized suspension bushing stiffness, and applied expanding foam inside the A- and B-pillars to cut down on road and tire noise.

They added acoustic windshield glass and carefully shaped side mirrors to help with wind noise. They even used special embossed foam in the floor (under the carpet), and a dense insulating pad underneath the hood to keep unwanted noise to a minimum.

The Niro will be offered with all the safety and convenience technologies that are a must theses days. Those include Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist; Advanced Smart Cruise Control; Lane Departure Warning; and Autonomous Emergency Braking.

The crossover also gets Kia’s new Eco-DAS system with Coasting Guide and Predictive Energy Control features. The Coasting Guide helps drivers know when to brake or coast to up the fuel efficiency factor. Predictive Energy Control uses the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate topographical changes on the road ahead and actively manage energy flow, to determine when its best to recharge the battery and when its best to expend stored energy to optimize overall efficiency.

The Niro is being introduced under the Kia Motors EcoDynamics environmentally friendly sub-brand alongside the new Optima Hybrid and Soul EV. A plug-in hybrid Niro will hit the road later. Pricing still to come.

Kia also says hello to the 2017 Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid that aims to take on the Ford Fusion Energi and the Chevrolet Volt. Kia introduced the new plug-in, along with the Kia Optima Hybrid, this week at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show.

The new green offerings are part of Kia’s larger plan to increase fuel efficiency by 25 percent across its entire lineup by 2020.

Also new, the 2017 Optima Plug-In, and its hybrid sister, can go 27-miles on electricity alone. The PHEV has a 600-mile gas and electric range. Both share the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine. The plug-in’s engine is paired with a 50-kilowatt electric motor for 154 horses. The hybrid pairs the same engine with a 38-kilowatt electric motor for a bump to 193 horses. The old engine was a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Kia says the new one should use 10 percent less fuel.

Charging the battery back for the plug-in takes from between three to nine hours, depending of course on how much power you can tap into. It’s just under nine hours on a normal 120v household AC, but less than three hours on a 240V (level 2).

The PHEV’s battery is under and just behind the back seat, nixing a little bit of cargo space. The hybrid model’s battery pack is stowed in the back, where a spare tire would normally be.

In the looks department, some tweaks but no big changes for the Optima, which was Kia’s most popular U.S. model last year. (It sold more than 159,000 of them ranking it eighth among midsize sedans). They get new active grille shutters along with some aerodynamic improvements to help with fuel efficiency. Kia says the changes help achieve the segment’s lowest coefficient of drag, tied with the Tesla Model S at 0.24 Cd.

The PHEV also features Kia’s all-new Eco-DAS Driver Assistance System with a new feature called Coasting Guide. It basically coaches the drivers on when to coast and brake in order to maximize fuel economy. An icon in the instrument panel blinks and sounds a one-time audible alert to alert the driver to make coasting changes. Like the HEV, it also offers a ton of safety features that we’re all getting used to now: Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Detection, Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, and Front Collision Warning System.

The Optima Plug-In Hybrid, available in an EX trim, will be built in South Korea, and is expected to go on sale in the fourth quarter of this year. No pricing information is available yet.

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