It’s not the biggest debut at the 2016 Chicago Motor Show. That prize would go to the size-XXL 2017 Nissan Armada SUV. But the 2017 Kia Niro Hybrid is certainly this Chicago show’s most significant premiere. Here are five reasons why:
1. It’s the first model off Hyundai Motor Group’s new DE dedicated hybrid platform
Kia and Hyundai now have a compact platform exclusive to hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains, though Kia says it went out of its way to avoid designing a green car hair shirt. The Niro is a pleasant-looking car that mates a 1.6-liter gas direct-injection Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with a 43-hp electric motor, for 146 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Kia expects an EPA combined fuel economy number of more than 50 mpg when it goes on sale early in 2017 (it’s on sale in South Korea late this year).
2. It’s a hatchback-wagon-sport/utility ‘tweener
Kia calls the Niro an SUV, because, why not? That’s all anybody is buying these days. At 171.5 inches overall length, 70.9 inches wide, and just 60.4 inches tall, it’s larger than a Soul, smaller than a Sportage, and it has more interior space than a Toyota Prius or Ford C-Max. As it’s three or four inches lower in height than most small crossovers, its proportions look more like that of a hatchback or wagon, which is a good thing in our mind. Admittedly, step-in height is more like a compact crossover’s, though the Niro will be available only with front-wheel drive, at least for the time being. To distinguish the Kia from Hyundai’s first model off this hybrid architecture, the related Ioniq Hybrid is shaped more like a Prius.