By: Special to the Star, Published on Tue Feb 16 2016

Kia pulled the wraps off its Niro HUV hybrid at the CIAS, a vehicle that will spearhead the Korean automaker’s push to become the leading purveyor of small green vehicles by 2020.

This five-door hatchback crossover rides on an all-new dedicated platform featuring over 50 per cent high-strength steel — all in the pursuit of less mass and improved rigidity. Motivation comes via a 1.6L, Atkinson cycle, 4-cylinder, mated to a 32 kW electric traction motor.

Combined output is 146 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, routed to the front wheels via a six-speed, dual-clutch transmission. A 1.56 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack lives under the rear seat.

A new feature, dubbed The Coasting Guide, aims at maximizing fuel economy by coaching the driver on when to coast and brake.

Relative to what we’ve seen from Kia lately, this Niro’s design is fairly conservative. Still, Kia’s trademark “tiger” grille gives the front end some zing. Size wise, it slots in between the Sportage and Sorento crossovers. Ted Lancaster, Vice President of Kia Canada, predicts the Niro will deliver class-leading fuel economy along with engaging driving dynamics.

A shot across the Toyota Prius’s bow? Expect the Niro HUV Hybrid in Canadian showrooms in early 2017 with a plug-in version to follow.

Further to Kia’s plan, Lancaster says they will replace all current internal combustion engines with next-generation gas and diesel units by 2020.

The other newbie on the Kia stand is the fresh 2017 Sportage compact SUV. As we know, there’s an insatiable appetite for these jacked-up critters in the marketplace, and this new-gen Sportage looks ready for the fight.

Designed mostly at Kia’s German design studio under the watchful eye of lead designer Peter Schreyer, the 2017 Sportage features taut lines, shorter overhangs and an interesting face dominated by the Kia corporate grille, high-mounted tapering headlights and “Ice Cube” LED fog lamps. Bigger overall than the outgoing model, and bragging a 40-mm wheelbase stretch, there’s more passenger room both front and back, and cargo space increases by 17 per cent. A dual-level cargo floor adds further functionality. The structure is 39 per cent stiffer, and all models get a rear multi-link suspension. Additionally, all-wheel-drive is now available on every trim level.

Naturally, the cabin is richer (more “mature” in Kia’s words) and features increased connectivity, thanks to the new NUVO3 interface with 8-inch touchscreen and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities. The centre console is angled 10 degrees toward the driver, and as would be expected from Kia, there’s a long list of available luxury features that include heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats. Additionally, a full suit of driver’s aids can be ordered, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure and blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, and cross-traffic alert.

Two carry-over engines are on the menu — a base 2.4L, 4-cylinder (182 hp, 177 lb-ft) and a 2.0L, 4-cylinder turbo (265 hp and 269 lb-ft). Both are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Reportedly, fuel economy is up while handling improves and unwanted cabin noise is down. It will be on sale at the end of this month.