50mpg Kia Niro Hybrid Launches Full Frontal Assault On Kooky Toyota Prius

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It looks as though Hyundai and its affiliates are taking direct aim at the Toyota Prius, and with good reason. Despite the fact that gas prices have reached lows in the United States that we haven’t seen in years, the Prius is still the by far the best-selling hybrid vehicle on the market. Many have tried to copy the success of the Prius, but all have come up short.

Hyundai is going after the Prius with the similarly-shaped Ioniq, while Kia just today announced the new 2017 Niro, which uses the same platform as the Ioniq, but is wrapped in a crossover-esque body style. Compact crossovers are the hottest-selling vehicle category in the U.S. auto market, so its makes sense that Kia would try to emulate that look with its newest hybrid.

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Speaking of the styling, this is definitely a more mainstream offering than what Toyota has done with the fourth generation Prius. While the 2016 Prius features an ungainly mixture of slashes odd lines, the Niro heads straight down the middle with an inoffensive look that will appeal to a broader audience. The same can be said for the interior, which forgoes space age styling cues in favor of a straightforward and modern look that fits right in line with the rest of the Kia lineup.

But perhaps the most important part of the Niro is its powertrain. It uses a 1.6-liter “Kappa” four-cylinder engine that generates 103hp and is paired with a 43hp electric motor for a combined 146hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. This powertrain combo sends power to the front wheels via six-speed dual-clutch transmission (inexplicably, despite the crossover looks, the Niro is not offered with an AWD option… yet). A 1.56kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery is located beneath the rear seats and doesn’t intrude into the cargo area.

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When all is said and done, the powertrain gives the Niro a combined fuel efficiency rating of 50mpg combined. For comparison, the Prius IV is rated at 52mpg to 56mpg combined depending on what type of battery pack is used.

The Niro has the usual array of driver assistance features like Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Assist, and Smart Cruise Control, but this particular energy-saving feature caught our eye:

Predictive Energy Control, meanwhile, uses the navigation system and cruise control to anticipate topographical changes on the road ahead and actively manage energy flow, seamlessly determining when its best to recharge the battery and when its best to expend stored energy to optimize overall efficiency. Similar systems have been seen on German luxury makes, but Kia's system is the first in the industry to monitor and adjust for both ascending and descending scenarios.

That is a pretty impressive piece of tech, and one that should help driver eek as many miles from a gallon as possible on long trips.

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Unfortunately, Kia has not yet announced pricing or availably for the 2017 Niro.