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The Kia HabaNiro is a wild EV crossover: 5 things to know

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Striking concept cars are auto show staples, and few are more striking than the Kia HabaNiro electric crossover. Revealed in New York this week, Kia’s vision of the future of electrified transportation is never going to be accused of being subtle. However, neither is it just a flight of fancy on the automaker’s part. Read on for the five things you need to know about the Kia HabaNiro.

The HabaNiro starts out with a pun

No, Kia hasn’t misspelled the name of the famous pepper. While the hot and spicy habanero chili may be part of the automaker’s inspiration for the concept SUV – both for its potency and for its color – there’s also a nod to Kia’s more mainstream range, too. After all, the HabaNiro is a (distant) cousin to an electric car Kia actually is selling, rather than just bringing to an auto show.

The Kia Niro EV is the automaker’s punchy little electric crossover. Set to go on sale this year, the 2019 Niro EV is expected to do 240 miles on a full charge, and deliver Kia’s latest cabin tech among other niceties. Obviously it doesn’t look quite as striking as the HabaNiro, though.

It’s a pepper, volcano, and shark-inspired crossover

Kia grudgingly accepts that, by modern terms, the HabaNiro is a “compact crossover utility vehicle,” but it’s not happy about it. Instead, it would rather define it as “an all-electric Everything Car” that can turn its hand to everything from the humdrum commute through to off-roading.

The vivid “Lava Red” panels are volcano inspired, with the flush of color integrated into the C-pillar and then wrapping up and around the roof. It contrasts with the metallic grey cladding that wraps around the front wheels and the sides of the car. At the front, Kia’s inspiration was a shark’s snout, replete with gloss black aluminum “teeth.”

Some of the styling cues are classic off-roader. Satin aluminum skid plates and milled billet aluminum tow hooks, for instance, sit alongside the Lava Red anodized aluminum accents. However the nature of the EV platform means Kia could give the HabaNiro a distinctive stance, pushing the wheels out to the extreme corners.

Show-friendly butterfly doors and an in-your-face cabin

Automakers love counter-hinged and butterfly doors for their concept cars: after all, not only does it look cool, but it helps expose the interior for photos. The HabaNiro didn’t exactly need more help in standing out on the stage, but its butterfly-wing doors certainly look the part. Inside, there’s an equally striking cabin.

If you don’t like the color red, this isn’t the concept SUV for you. Tough textured flooring above which fabric seats seemingly float give it an airy feel, as does the glass panel roof. Kia has done away with traditional dashboard instrumentation altogether, replacing it with a full-width head-up display controlled by a concave acrylic touchpad. That, the automaker says, is navigated by swiping and moving options “as though moving chess pieces.”

A narrow vent runs around the cabin, surreptitiously cooling it, while the floor is under-lit with color-changing LEDs. Kia has used video displays instead of physical mirrors, with eye-tracking to control what you see when you glance to where the old-school mirror would usually be.

It’s not the only high-tech feature interacting with the driver. Kia says it envisages the HabaNiro using its Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving system, or R.E.A.D., which tracks bio signals to adjust the cabin conditions. Down the line, it suggests, R.E.A.D. could even start picking up on driver cues like hunger, and suggest where they could stop off to eat.

Autonomous, electric, and all the buzzwords

You can’t throw your car keys at an auto show these days without them scratching the paintwork of an autonomous electric concept car, and the HabaNiro is no different. Kia envisages the EV having a 300+ mile range, with its battery driving twin electric motors. One up front and one at the rear adds up to e-AWD.

Sometimes you’ll want to drive yourself, Kia is predicting, and sometimes you’ll want to just let the car do all the hard work. The HabaNiro would have Level 5 autonomous support, therefore, with the steering wheel and instrument panel retracting back when not needed. Practical today? Nope, and probably not any time soon.

There could be production in the HabaNiro’s future

Typically, cars like the HabaNiro are made specially for an auto show and then quietly wheeled off into the history books. Kia, though, is teasing something a lot more interesting. It says that, contrary to expectations, there might be a route to production – in some form – in the HabaNiro’s future.

The Stinger and the Telluride, the automaker points out, were both production cars that began as spin-offs from concept vehicles. And, while it’s not exactly commonplace, it’s not unheard of in the car industry for companies to be so overwhelmed with positive feedback about a concept, a production version gets the green light for go-ahead.

Kia does warn that some of the HabaNiro concept’s more outlandish features – we’re looking at you, butterfly doors – are unlikely to be production-ready any time soon. However, a beefy-looking all-electric crossover with urban street appeal could be just what Kia – and EVs in general – need in its not-too-distant portfolio.

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