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If you were to look at the long list of the Kia Motors lineup today, the average consumer wouldn’t know where it all began. Over the decades, models have come and gone, and surely the first Kia Motors vehicle to sell in the states – the Sephia – is no more. The Kia Sportage, Sedona, and Optima followed, which are still nameplates we still recognize today, but when did Kia start changing the game and shift from good ol’ internal gas combustion engines to alternative fuel? Today, the automaker is going all-electric and producing battery electric vehicles (BEVS), and the evolution of the electrified product lineup is interesting to say the least.
It Started with the Kia Optima
The Kia Optima was once a family sedan in the Kia Motors lineup. It has since been removed, replaced with the new sports car, the 2021 Kia K5, and it’s about time. That car looks sick! Before the Optima made the change, though, it had two alternative fuel counterparts. At one time, there were three Kia Optima models – the Optima, Optima Hybrid, and Optima Plug-in Hybrid.
The Optima Hybrid debuted in 2011, and the Plug-in Hybrid, a plugin hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), came soon after. This vehicle had a larger battery, able to be recharged, and allowed for driving emission free on pure electricity. Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t the first vehicle Kia Motors experimented with when introducing electric motors powerful enough to drive from point A to B. The Optima PHEV first debuted in 2016, sold in the U.S. in 2017.
The Kia Soul is around longer than some may think. First debuting in 2008, spawned a fully-electric version in 2014, sold in the U.S. the same year. Sadly, the second-generation has been delayed and the Soul EV is in short supply if any are available (California, maybe?). Still, the 2020 Kia Soul EV is quite a feat. Powered by a new state-of-the-art liquid-cooled lithium-ion polymer 64 kWh battery hooked up to a new electric motor, the powertrain can generate 201 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque. The official EPA cycle rated it at a total of 243 miles of range. Definitely one for the record books.
That was in 2018, and the excitement died down until 2020.
The First Hybrid Minivan
Yes, the Kia Niro, the first hybrid minivan in the world, made its debut at the 2016 Chicago Auto Show for the 2017 model year. In 2021, a 1.6-liter DOHC gasoline engine tied to an electric motor powered by a 240V lithium-ion battery powers the vehicle, generating a combined horsepower of 139 and combined torque of 195 lb-ft of torque. The fuel economy for the 2021 Kia Niro is 52 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway.
What quickly followed in 2018 was the Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid, featuring an 8.9 kWh battery, charging capabilities, various driving and regenerative modes, the works. With an electric range up to 26 miles, and a 110/99 miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe) city/highway EPA rated fuel economy, it was the next step for electrified vehicles in the Kia Motors lineup. In the same year, the Kia Niro EV was produced, available with two different power systems, a 100 kW (130 hp) (39.2 kWh) Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor or a 150 kW (200 hp) (64 kWh) version. The Niro EV has a fuel economy of 123 MPGe in the city, 102 MPGe on the highway, 112 MPGe combined, and a total driving range of about 239 miles.
Sorento Goes Green
The last vehicle to be released thus far in the hybrid category is the 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid SUV. Powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 combined with an AC synchronous permanent magnet motor and a lithium-ion polymer battery, the total horsepower is 277 and 258 lb-ft of torque. With only two trims available, both get 39 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. The towing range is 2000 – 3500 pounds, depending on the trim.
The Kia EV6
Last on our list and possibly the most exciting is the Kia EV6, having recently made its debut. The release date is TBD, but this EV is packed with some of the coolest tech available. Riding on a new BEV platform by Kia Motors and Hyundai Motor, the E-GMP, this battery electric vehicle (BEV) is a dedicated all-electric vehicle and the first of Kia Motors new EV-dedicated lineup. Also going GT, Kia Motors added a GT version to the EV6 with all-wheel drive (AWD). It can generate 545 lb-ft of torque and accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 3.5 seconds. Now that’s some high-performance, and from a BEV no less!
BEVs and electric vehicles (EVs) are the same, don’t get confused. No one knows when or why automakers decided to make the change to the terminology. Wearing a new ‘Digital Tiger Face’, an electrified version of Kia’s ‘Tiger Nose Grille’, the EV6 is setting the style for a new lineup of electric vehicles to come. With lots of cool tech like 12-inch dual screens, an augmented reality (AR) head-up display windshield, Kia’s innovative connected car system “Kia Connect”, and Remote Smart Parking Assist helps drivers enter and exit a parking spot without needing to be behind the wheel. Kind of like automated valet, a tech Kia Motors is currently working on if this isn’t it.
It’s all pretty fascinating. What do you think of this timeline of Kia Motors dive into a world of electric vehicles? Join the discussion on NowCar social media.