Monday, 25 September 2017

New Kia is ready for its close-up

IMAGINE for a moment that you have been tasked with designing a new car for the model year 2016.

IMAGINE for a moment that you have been tasked with designing a new car for the model year 2016.

Naturally, you realised at the outset that — the way things are today — by the time your new car travelled from drawing board to the road it could be seen as old hat.

That is a chance you have to take — carmakers live with this kind of pressure every day of the week.

You have money for development. Let’s say that you belong to a giant Far Eastern conglomerate that sells cars worldwide.

But where do you start? At the very beginning, perhaps — a very good place to start, as the blessed Julie Andrews once warbled?



Yet just about everything you find in a modern car has already been done. (It’s hard to innovate. We’re all holding our breath over driverless cars, but that’s for the future.)

So let’s assume your 2016 model is brand, spanking new from the ground up — just like this week’s drive, the all-new Kia Niro.

Our project may be imaginary but it was a stark reality for Kia’s designers. An important part of their brief was to come up with the Korean carmaker’s first dedicated hybrid model.

And to bear in mind that Kia has pledged to reduce the average CO2 emissions of its range by 25 per cent before 2020. No pressure, then.

But Niro is spearheading a greener-than-green approach in the next few years at Kia.

Niro sets the bar high: with fuel economy of up to 74.3mpg and CO2 emissions starting at 88g/km, it joins the all-electric Soul EV in Kia’s new green-car line-up. Kia, under its maestro president, Peter Schreyer, has transformed itself in past years, so this eco-mission is the next logical step. It comes as no surprise to me that the Niro comes over as a pragmatic, carefully constructed, able and efficient car.

All the elements are in place to make this model a success. The compact five-door five-seater Niro is based on an all-new platform that will only ever be used for electrified vehicles.

It has an all-new powertrain featuring a 1.6-litre 104bhp internal combustion engine and a 43bhp electric motor. The transmission is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic.

Studios in Namyang, Korea, and Irvine, California, jointly designed the Niro. And there is plenty of evidence that they went for it: this car is packed with the latest technological equipment essential for an early 21st century car.

To name a few: Kia Connected Services featuring TomTom, wireless smartphone charging, autonomous emergency braking, smart cruise control and lane-assist, blind-spot traffic warning system.

And in a first for Kia, Niro also offers Android Auto, which links Android smartphones to Google Maps navigation, Google Play music, hands-free calls and texts and voice recognition via pre-downloaded apps.

Phew! Well, I did say that if one imagined designing a car fit for purpose in 2016, everything would have to be taken on board.

And this is literally the case with the Niro. It is packed on board to its neat, compact rafters with everything you need in a car today — and everything that one might assume you would only get in bigger, more expensive models.

I have said for a while now that I see no reason at all why you cannot be comfortable and equipped to the nines in smaller cars.

I actively look, for example, for heated, comfortable seats, dual air conditioning, a classy sound system, and great technology in every car I review — not just the so-called prestigious ones.

But not only that: with this new Kia Niro you get an extraordinarily efficient and economical vehicle in a new hybrid form.

I think this works well without any of the “range anxiety” that never fails to kick in with pure EVs (electric vehicles). But while the jury is out on EVs — and carmakers are working furiously to improve range — the coming of the super hybrids (whatever their size) is to be welcomed.

A word about the extraordinary standard of finish on the Niro: sometimes on these smaller cars there is an overwhelming sense of plasticity, as if the interior has been designed as an exercise in pungent, black plastic sculpture.

Not so with the Niro. So-called “soft-touch” materials used in the cabin create its smart black upholstery in model grades one to three (cloth, cloth and leather or all leather) that are non-intrusive for the car’s occupants. There is an almost uncanny awareness of space inside the Niro, creating ample room for rear-seat passengers — an area often neglected by car manufacturers.

The range-topping First Edition model has stone grey leather upholstery and high-gloss white steering wheel, dashboard and door panel inserts, plus stainless steel pedals.

I really am a sucker for greater comfort in small and compact models and hope to report back on the Niro First Edition at a later date to see if it matches up to expectations.

Driving the Niro this week I was reminded that the evolution of the modern car continues apace.

Niro’s technology is quite wondrous to behold in the context of how far “modern” cars have come in the past half-century. Those of us brought up on snarling gas-guzzlers that thrilled us to bits at the time might reflect that the modern car has become a quiet yet very sophisticated machine.

There will be those that cannot accept that. But I think there’s surely room for those refuseniks too in the ever-developing global car market.

Retro, classic, vintage, modern, futuristic — all these elements already make up the diverse models new, old and plain ancient that populate our roads.

The Kia Niro — and this carmaker’s attitude to keeping faith with the ever-evolving — is right on the money as far as the needs of modern motoring is concerned.

FACTFILE

Kia Niro 1.6 GDi (104bhp) Petrol 2

• Price: £22,795 on the road

Fuel consumption mpg and emissions:

• Combined cycle: 74.3

• CO2 g/km: 88

•Transmission: six-speed DCT

• 0-60mph: 11.1 secs

• Top speed: 101mph

• Warranty: seven years

• 16in alloy wheels

By Nigel Wigmore



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