By on February 1, 2017

Kia Niro, Image: Kia Motors

Kia’s foray into the hybrid segment might be ill-timed, considering the current contraction of sales for its main rival, the Toyota Prius, but the Korean automaker is betting big on the Niro’s traditionally boxy shape bringing in would-be Prius buyers offended by origami-esque sheetmetal.

Still, with that two-box silhouette comes some preconceived notions — like all-wheel drive.

While you want it, and Kia Motors of America would surely love to give it to you, there are a host of reasons why Kia’s newest hybrid-only crossover doesn’t offer all-wheel drive and likely won’t anytime soon.

After speaking with Kia Motors America’s director of communications, James Bell, it appears the company would love to offer optional all-wheel drive on the Niro and is actively campaigning for its addition, but two major technical issues stand in the way.

First, one must consider the platform. The Niro is based on the same bones that underpin the new Hyundai Ioniq, a car that will be launched later this month. Underneath the rear seat sits the same battery pack as the Ioniq, which stretches more-or-less the width of the vehicle. This poses an issue in engineering.

“You’d have to split that battery pack in half,” explained Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning for Kia Motors America, when asked about the addition of mechanical all-wheel drive. Splitting that pack would be no easy feat, and would likely reduce the Niro’s battery capacity while also adding the extra weight of a mechanical all-wheel-drive system.

But what about an e-AWD system where the rear wheels are independently driven by their own electric motor? Not so fast.

“The rear of the Niro is already quite tight and we didn’t package protect the rear for future all-wheel drive,” Hedrick stated, effectively killing the possibility of a single-motor solution.

Still, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Hyundai-Kia’s largest supplier, Mobis, offered a glimpse at an in-wheel electric motor e-AWD system that would solve the Niro’s packaging issues — but at a cost.

“[In-wheel e-AWD] is unlikely to happen if the solution adds $4,000 to the price of the vehicle,” Hedrick said.

If Kia Motors America gets its way, all-wheel drive could show up in a second-generation Niro, with some other vehicles also benefiting from the new technology. Kia is currently developing an e-AWD system in-house, but will need to find more applications than just the Niro to bring it to production.

[Image: Kia Motors America]

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18 Comments on “You Want It, Kia Wants It, But Here’s Why Niro Likely Won’t Offer All-wheel Drive Anytime Soon...”


  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    If Kia is still using their mickey mouse hybrid system, Toyota has little to worry about. The electric motor/generator is hung on the ICE like an a/c compressor

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, what this works out to be, in essence, is a tall hybrid wagon, ala Prius V or Ford C-Max.

    The bad news: neither model has been a big success sales wise.
    The good news: this one’s far better looking, and will undercut them both on price.

    As far as the Prius is concerned, given the fact that Toyota chose to make the current one an eyesore, maybe Kia sees an opportunity.

    If it’s priced right, and delivers the mileage you’d expect from a hybrid, I think it has a fair chance at some success.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    “[In-wheel e-AWD] is unlikely to happen if the solution adds $4,000 to the price of the vehicle,”

    It won’t do anything positive for the unsprung weight of the rear suspension either.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    One correction: the Niro is not a crossover (no AWD/4WD option).

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I don’t want AWD. The Prius was never AWD; this is no different.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    AWD is more of a psychological crutch than a necessity.
    Most FWD vehicles with decent tires are surprisingly capable in snow conditions.

    If you’re talking Blizzard of 78 mobility, you need serious ground clearance too, which cars / CUVs don’t have.

  • avatar
    fozone

    I can’t help but wonder what possessed Toyota to make the new Prius so heinous-looking.

    When my wife (“cars are an appliance”) went shopping for a hybrid, it was immediately crossed off on looks alone. Which was a shock to me, as she normally could not care less. It actually crossed the line from ‘invisible’ to ‘offensive’.

    If Kia prices this bland bread-box aggressively, they could have something.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I agree, have not seen one in person yet, but on the computer screen it looks pretty well done. If you can grab one for a couple grand under sticker, it looks like a pretty hot deal. With gas well under 2 bucks a gallon, there’s no rush to high fuel econ rigs right now.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Hyundai/Kia AWD is worthless. I’ve seen youtube videos where it shows to be just as such. Especially Russians like to take them to snowy tests. And often fairly easy conditions make these cars and their AWD fail

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Isn’t this basically, in terms of mission if not actual lineage, a slightly more butch Rondo?

  • avatar
    RHD

    There may be a perfectly good reason for the moniker placed on this model, but perhaps Kia should have first researched the, ah, colorful life of Nero.
    But maybe there will be parallels in the life of Nero and the Kia Niro – power sharing, being adopted by a new “parent”, then belonging to several different women (and then a man) over the course of a few years… possibly a disaster or two that cost a fortune to repair, followed by an early death.

  • avatar
    stephan00

    If anyone from Kia is reading this.. please make this: http://www.kia.com/us/en/content/vehicles/concept-cars/trailster

    PLEASE!?

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