Kia unveils trio of hybrids, including Niro HUV, Optima PHEV

Kia has unveiled a trio of new hybrids, including an all-new "hybrid utility vehicle," as it looks to boost its lineup's fuel efficiency by 25 per cent compared to 2014 levels by 2020.

A major piece of Kia's so-called "Green Car Roadmap," the 2017 Niro was unveiled simultaneously in Chicago and Toronto at the two cities' respective auto shows, while hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of the recently redesigned Kia Optima were also introduced.

Powered by an all-new 1.6-litre four-cylinder, the Niro "challenges the hybrid-electric segment," according to Kia.

The gas engine, which Kia says marks the first combination of Atkinson Cycle, gasoline direct injection (GDI) and cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) technology and a long-stroke-narrow-bore specification, works alongside a 43-horsepower tractive motor, dubbed a transmission-mounted electric device (TMED), to give the Niro a total system output of 146 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.

Power is relayed to the wheels through a newly-developed six-speed dual-clutch transmission.

A 1.56-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery ties the hybrid powertrain together.

According to Kia, its engineers are targeting a combined fuel efficiency rating of 50 mpg—equivalent to 4.7 l/100 km.

Riding on a platform that Kia says was "specifically engineered" for its unique hybrid drivetrain, the Niro is made of 53 per cent advanced high-strength steel, including reinforcements in the A- and B-pillars.

Aluminum was also used where possible, including the hood and tailgate, and several suspension components like the front lower control arms and front and rear knuckles.

The design, too, is unique, with a crossover-meets-wagon look that is attractive and, according to Kia, efficient.

The automaker says the Niro's drag coefficient is 0.29, just 0.3 off the likes of the BMW i8 hybrid super car.

Kia says a plug-in hybrid powertrain is due to be added to the Niro's line-up later in its life-cycle.

New Optima hybrids unveiled

Joining the Niro in Kia's lineup for 2017 will be a pair of hybrid Optima sedan models, including Kia's first-ever plug-in hybrid.

Both are built on the redesigned Optima the automaker introduced for the 2016 model year, with the plug-in hybrid version boasting an estimated 960 kilometres of total driving range.

It accomplishes the task thanks to a a combination of Kia's 2.0-litre four-cylinder GDI gasoline engine and a transmission-mounted 50-kW electric motor.

Kia says the electric motor is 42 per cent more powerful than in the outgoing Optima Hybrid, and pushes power to a 9.8-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack.

Likewise, Kia says the battery has an energy output that is roughly 60 per cent more than the previous Optima Hybrid's system, and, according to the automaker's estimates, will be able to drive approximately 43 kilometres in pure electric mode.

The battery pack has been placed underneath the rear seat to increase available cargo room in the trunk, which will give the Optima PHEV "one of the largest cargo areas among all midsize PHEVs," according to Kia.

A Level 1 120-volt charger will fully charge the car in less than nine hours via its driver's side front fender-mounted charging port, while a Level 2 240-volt charger will do the job in less than three hours, Kia says.

Additionally, the battery can be topped up while driving thanks to an inproved regenerative braking system that draws 10 per cent more energy than the outgoing version.

Kia Motors America vice-president of product planning Orth Hedrick called a plug-in hybrid "a critical addition" to the automaker's lineup given its 2020 fuel efficiency goal.

Kia is targeting a 10 per cent improvement in fuel economy with the 2017 Optima Hybrid compared to the outgoing version, a goal it hopes to achieve by using the same 2.0-litre gas engine as the Optima PHEV along with a 38-kW electric motor.

Total combined output is estimated at 193 horsepower, while the Optima Hybrid's battery capacity has been increased by 13 per cent compared to the outgoing version to 1.62 kWh.

The three new hybrids join the Soul EV as electrically-powered options in Kia's lineup.

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