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Meet the Kia Soul EV and Niro hybrid concept

Thu, 06 Feb 2014

Kia revealed three electrified cars at the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday, one concept and two that are headed for production. The Niro hybrid is Kia’s future take on a city car, while the Soul EV and new Optima hybrid will be out later this year.

The Soul EV is the company’s main focus at the show, judging by our seven pages of press releases on it. It is Kia’s first all-electric, zero-emissions car sold in the U.S. The Soul EV will go on sale in the third quarter of 2014 in California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Kia says it will offer the vehicle in other markets as infrastructure and demand grow.

The front-wheel-drive Soul uses an 81.4-kW electric motor producing 109 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque, which uses multilayer magnets the company claims reduce whine at speed. Acceleration to 60 mph will take less than 12 seconds, while top speed is limited to 90 mph.

Underneath the floor, lowering the center of gravity, is a 27-kWh air-cooled battery good for 80-100 miles on a charge. The Soul EV uses Kia’s third-generation regenerative braking system to capture up to 12 percent of the car’s kinetic energy. Four selectable modes govern how much energy is recovered.

The Soul comes with two charging ports, one for level 1 and level 2 chargers, and one for DC fast charging. Recharging times range from 24 hours on a fully depleted battery with a level 1 charger, down to about 33 minutes for an 80 percent charge on the high-voltage wire.

The Soul loses a bit of space due to the battery. Rear seat legroom is down 3.1 inches, while cargo space decreases by 5.1 cubic feet.

The EV's unique wheels, two-tone paint job and closed front grille will distinguish it from the gasoline-powered Soul. Projector headlights and LED taillights sit at the corners, while “Eco Electric” badges notify the rest of the world.

Inside, the Soul EV uses eco-friendly materials in 23 different parts, and won an award for the 10.9 pounds of bio-based organic content in its plastics. It also uses antibacterial materials on the gear shift, audio and HVAC controls, instrument panel and center console to keep the germs at bay.

Standard features include navigation, rear camera, Bluetooth, power windows, power driver’s seat, a 6.6-kW on-board charger and an exclusive HVAC system designed to extend driving range by minimizing energy draw.

Pricing will be announced closer to launch.


Sticking with the green car theme, Kia also showed off the 2014 Optima Hybrid sedan. The Optima uses an electric motor combined with a gasoline-powered four-cylinder engine to make 199 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque. The LX trim returns 38 mpg combined, and the EX gets 37 mpg combined.

The 2014 Optima hybrid gets two sets of new aerodynamic rim choices, one for the LX and one for the EX. It also gets additional vents in the bumper that increase airflow and reduce drag. A new grille, hybrid-exclusive LEDs and hybrid fender badges finish the look.

Kia revealed the Niro concept at the Chicago Auto Show.

Finally, the Niro concept is what Kia thinks its future city car could look like. We first saw the chunky hatch in September at the Frankfurt motor show.

Kia says the Niro comes from the company’s “ambition to seek new automotive solutions for the discerning and individualistic.” We think they were just trying something new.

“Ten years ago people wanted understated style in the SUV market, but increasingly, as more people migrate to the B-segment, they are looking for strong character and individuality,” said Gregory Guillaume, chief designer at Kia Design Center Europe. “It may have the looks of a Dakar contender, but Niro has a strong premium feel.”

We’re not sure if premium feel includes butterfly doors, but the Niro has them, and they’re activated by flush-mounted door handles. The door mirrors also have built-in cameras, which has been a theme of many recent concepts. In the back, the hatch gets a set of lights that illuminate the cabin, while another set faces rearward for maximum visibility.

The Niro measures 164.8 inches long, 72.8 inches wide and 61.3 inches tall. That makes it a few inches longer, wider and taller than the five-door Rio.

According to Kia, the concept comes with a variant of the company’s 1.6-liter turbocharged motor, delivering 160 hp. The engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission send power to the front wheels, while a regenerative hybrid system can send 45 more ponies to the back.

The Niro concept wears a set of 20-inch wheels on aggressively styled low-profile tires.

We'll have more from the Chicago Auto Show all day today, so stay tuned.

By Jake Lingeman