Dedicated hybrid vehicles, as opposed to those developed from a combustion-engined car, have until now involved compromises in design, mainly to achieve the lowest air-drag figure possible. That is why the majority have adopted a tear-drop hatchback profile – practical and efficient, but uninspiring and not what customers demand in a market increasingly attuned to SUVs and crossovers.
Kia was adamant it could overcome the design limitations of other dedicated hybrids without sacrificing practicality, versatility and aerodynamic efficiency. The result is Niro, a hybrid with a modern, attractive crossover body style and ample room for five people plus their luggage. The remarkable feat is that this has been achieved with a drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.29, even on versions with roof rails.
To make this possible, Kia designers’ took a reverse approach during the creation of Niro: design an attractive, sporty, stylish and tough-looking crossover, then fine-tune the aerodynamics to suit the requirements of a hybrid. This novel way of going about things has resulted in a crossover which is appealing in its own right – hence the decision by Kia to offer upper-series models with 18-inch wheels – which also serves as a highly efficient hybrid.
From any angle, Niro exudes dynamism and strength. The body line linking the roof, glasshouse and bonnet adds crossover-style volume to the car, while a wide bumper with bold lines and the now-familiar 'tiger-nose' grille, in high-gloss black with a black and chrome surround, add a distinctive Kia family look. Body cladding on the lower edge of the front and rear bumpers, along the sides and around the wheel arches emphasises Niro's crossover credentials, but there are also subtleties which illustrate the attention to detail of the design and engineering teams to make Niro a legitimate hybrid.
An active air flap in the lower front grille opens and closes according to the cooling requirements of the powertrain at any given time, so that Niro is running in the most efficient aerodynamic configuration in all circumstances, and there are air curtains, like gills, in the front corners of the car. These channel air away from the front wheel arches to reduce turbulence in those areas, again to aid aerodynamic efficiency. A specially shaped roof leading into a rear spoiler also channels air over the car in the most efficient manner. Even the stylish 16-inch alloy wheels on grades ‘1’ and ‘2’ have been designed with aerodynamics in mind.
The tailgate area is equally clean-looking and sits over a diffuser which aids airflow under the car. The C-shaped rear lamps are mounted immediately beneath the tailgate glass, while the contours of the wide and deep tailgate also emphasise the smooth aerodynamic shape of Niro. Even the location of the rear-vision camera (where fitted) reduces drag: it is housed within the rear wiper mounting so as to impede air exiting the rear of the car as little as possible. The rear corners of the car have been refined in minute detail to reduce drag without worsening visibility. There are specially profiled door mirror casings and – as an example of the attention to detail of Kia's engineers – covered holes in the roof rails, which sit flush on the bodywork.
The design of Niro was a joint effort between Kia's studios at Namyang in Korea and Irvine, California. It features the subtly sculpted surfaces and sharp lines that are now Kia design hallmarks. A wide stance gives pointers to the car's stability and low centre of gravity, while a long bonnet, short overhangs, elevated headlights and a rising shoulder line are other Kia distinguishing features. The body tapers towards the rear, where bold wheel arches, a squared-off bumper and the high-mounted C-shaped tail light clusters emphasise Niro's crossover stance.
At 4,355mm long, 1,805mm wide and 1,535mm tall, the compact Niro sits between the cee'd hatchback and the Sportage SUV in size. Yet with a 2,700mm wheelbase and short front and rear overhangs it provides generous interior space.