2016 Chicago Auto Show: Kia Intros Three Hybrids

A series of ambitious debuts by Kia at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show might have the minds behind the automaker wondering if they have their timing right.

It’s been a show dominated so far by the debuts of big trucks and SUVs. While gas prices plummet outside the McCormick Center with no sign that they’ll be climbing significantly higher throughout the coming year, we’re seeing a resurgence of big vehicles powered by thirsty V8s.

Also: 2016 Chicago Auto Show: 2017 Ram Power Wagon

As sort of a green, eco counterpoint to all of that, Kia debuted three new hybrids during these Chicago Auto Show press days: the 2017 Optima Hybrid (center), the 2017 Optima Plug-In Hybrid (bottom) and the all-new Niro hybrid SUV (top).

As for the new Optima versions, they’re not stylized significantly different from what we’re seeing from the 2016 standard Optimas already on the market. The differences come under the hood and throughout the power train.

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The new Optima Hybrid pushes out the old version by providing what Kia says is a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency. According to Kia’s own data, that adds up to an average mileage number of 38 mpg.

The Plug-In Optima promises to roll 27 miles in straight EV mode, thanks to new battery technology. In keeping with the automotive tradition of plug-in hybrids running more expensive than their gas or standard hybrid sisters, the Plug-In will be available only in the Optima’s highest trim level.

Final hybrid Optima price numbers are on hold until closer to the cars’ release dates later this year.

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The Niro is an entirely new vehicle for Kia – a hybrid shot into the intensively competitive small SUV and crossover markets. Correcting that: It’s technically an HUV – a Hybrid Utility Vehicle. When the comfortable urban people carrier arrives later in 2016, it promises an MPG rating of around 50.

It’s too soon to say if lower gas prices will shake up hybrid sales in the long term. When these cars went into planning and production, no one at Kia could’ve foreseen pumps running for potentially less than $0.99 per gallon. Assumptions leaned more toward prices creeping closer to $5. 

At an auto show hyping and celebrating big, burly gas-powered brutes, it looks like Kia is betting the cheap oil party won’t last forever.