Neither bound for Oz
Following in the footsteps of the Kia Optima plug-in hybrid sedan revealed in early 2016, Kia has taken the covers off two new plug-in hybrid production models at the 2017 Geneva motor show, with the dual-powered Optima Sportswagon and Niro set to bring greater efficiency and practicality to the PHEV fraternity.
The Kia Optima Sportswagon plug-in hybrid teams a 115kW/189Nm naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre ‘Nu’ four-cylinder GDI (gasoline direct injection) petrol engine, with an 11.26kWh lithium-polymer battery pack and a 50kW/205Nm electric motor.
With Kia targeting a ‘provisional’ pure-electric range of “more than 61km” at speeds up to 120kph, the South Korean brand says, combined, the Optima Sportswagon plug-in hybrid’s total outputs are 151kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 375Nm of torque (from 2330rpm).
Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the 1740kg Sportswagon PHEV claims 0-100km/h in 9.7 seconds, a top speed of 192km/h, and combined-cycle fuel economy of 1.5 litres per 100km on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC).
Said to help extend battery range and reduce unnecessary load, the hybrid wagon features regenerative braking, as well as an advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system that isolates only the driver, while shutting off ventilation to other areas when not required.
As with the Optima plug-in hybrid sedan, the Optima Sportswagon PHEV also comes standard with more aero-friendly bumpers, side skirts, and wheels, model-specific chrome exterior highlights and ‘ECO plug-in’ badging, new driver instrument displays, and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are all optional.
With the plug-in hybrid’s battery pack located beneath the boot floor, Kia says the Sportswagon still offers 440 litres of seat-up boot capacity and 1574 litres with the rear seats down – down 112L from the regular Optima Sportswagon – while an optional tow pack will provide the plug-in wagon with a 1500kg braked towing capacity.
Employing a 77kW/147Nm naturally aspirated 1.6-litre ‘Kappa’ four-cylinder GDI (gasoline direct injection) petrol engine, an 8.9kWh lithium-polymer battery pack, and a 44.5kW/170Nm electric motor, the 2017 Kia Niro plug-in hybrid is targeting a 55km pure-electric driving range, along with combined-cycle emissions of sub-30g/km on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC).
Touting total outputs of 104kW of power and 265Nm of torque, the six-speed dual-clutch automatic-equipped plug-in compact crossover is also claimed to be able to hit 100km/h from a standstill in 10.8 seconds (0.7 seconds quicker than the standard hybrid Niro) and onto a top speed of 172km/h.
The Niro PHEV too employs regenerative braking technology to improve battery range, however, it also features two additional systems.
One is an ‘Eco Driving Assistant System’, which provides guidance on how to drive more efficiently, including recommendations of when to coast and when to brake, the other is a ‘Predictive Energy Control System’, which uses the car’s navigation and cruise control systems to “anticipate topographical changes and determines the best way to actively manage energy flow” – i.e. when to recharge the battery pack or send stored energy to the driven wheels.
Depending on final market specifications, the Niro PHEV will come equipped with a new satin-chrome grille surround, unique chrome and metallic-blue exterior accents, ‘Eco Plug-in’ badging, low wind resistance 16-inch alloy wheels, and LED headlights. As in the Optima Sportswagon PHEV, the Niro plug-in hybrid’s battery pack is located beneath the boot floor, helping the small SUV offer 324 litres of boot capacity.
Niro PHEV cabins are highlighted by blue stitching and trim accents, a new 7.0-inch TFT driver instrument cluster, and an 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Kia says a driver attention warning, lane-keep assist, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) are all available to Niro PHEV buyers, while adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and a rear cross-traffic alert will be optional, along with a tow pack – the latter providing the compact SUV with a 1300kg braked towing capacity.
Kia Motors Europe COO Michael Cole said the Kia Sportswagon plug-in hybrid completes the Optima line-up, combining the best attributes of the Optima Sportswagon and the plug-in hybrid technology seen in the Optima PHEV sedan.
“The introduction of eco-friendly vehicles such as the Optima Sportswagon plug-in hybrid will ensure Kia remains on course to achieve its mission of improving average fleet fuel efficiency by 25 per cent by 2020, compared to 2014 levels,” Cole said.
And with Kia tipping that annual sales of plug-in hybrid models across Europe will exceed 600,000 units by the end of 2023, and that crossover growth will continue to climb, of the Niro PHEV, Cole said, “There is a clear demand from customers for a vehicle which combines the practicality and ‘cool’ image of a compact crossover, with the ultra-low emissions of an advanced plug-in powertrain.”
Both the Kia Optima Sportswagon plug-in hybrid and Kia Niro plug-in hybrid are due to go on sale in Europe from the third quarter of 2017.
Despite good interest in the models from the South Korean brand’s local division, Kia Motors Australia media and corporate communications general manager Kevin Hepworth, told CarAdvice, neither model is on the radar for Australia at this time.
“As far as plug-in hybrids are concerned, they’re a step past hybrids, and we haven’t even taken that step at this stage,” Hepworth said.
“It’s difficult to build a business case for a product that is essentially the same as a petrol or a diesel car, plus price. More difficult than that, in a society where the fuel for that car – the electricity – is actually probably less green than burning hydro-carbon fuels.
“Hydroelectricity, renewable resources, are absolutely a great idea, but it’s going to have be with some form of incentive or support from the government if they want to move down that line. And we’ve seen how successful hybrid cars have been in Australia so far, and that’s with massive government support for [local] manufacturers. As an importer, it’s almost impossible to do. So, we’re not looking down that line at the moment.”
Acknowledging that several other brands are bringing more hybrid and plug-in hybrid models into the fray, Hepworth says the proof is in the pudding.
“They’re doing it, whether they’re making it work or not is another matter,” Hepworth said.
“We’re a small company, we’re a commercial company, we’re socially aware that we need to be practical – in that we don’t have the Toyota and the BMW ‘backroom’, if you like, to support an experiment in hybrid cars.
“[We’re] certainly not taking it off the table, but it has to make sense on its own behalf. And at the moment, it doesn’t.”
The 2017 Kia Optima Sportswagon PHEV and 2017 Kia Niro PHEV are on display at this week’s 2017 Geneva motor show, along with the all-new third-generation Kia Picanto.