23.1.2009 Kia cee'd review
Faced with demoralising fuel costs, councils slapping on city idling fines and high car costs, South Korean carmaker, Kia Motors, may well have the answer in the form of the new Eco-Kias - Iain Robertson took them for a spin.
Korean carmakers are not merely playing `catch-up` with their European rivals but are set to snatch technological leads away from them in the very near future, which is what led me to drive the latest eco-friendly versions of the record-breaking cee'd model and both a petrol-electric hybrid alternative and fuel cell Kia Sportage at the company’s European Design Centre in Frankfurt.
By working closely with Michelin Tyre, which has formulated a new Energy-saver cover (reduces CO2 level by 5g/km), and improving the aerodynamics of the car, as well as introducing a `stop-start` function, the cee'd's CO2 level can be reduced from 145g/km. Of course, `stop-start` is not new and several carmakers have their own slant on how to work the technology.
In the 1.4-litre petrol cee'd, by selecting neutral in the conventional gearbox and applying the handbrake, while resting the left foot on the clutch pedal, the engine cuts obligingly, only restarting rapidly once a gear is taken up. Apart from the inclusion of the new mild-hybrid technology, this is moving towards the sub-120g/km model that Kia is promising will be introduced within the next 12 months and will join the 89bhp 1.6-litre diesel that already boasts 119g/km.
However, the company has also developed an alternative petrol-electric hybrid model, which is currently under-going extensive trials. It is a mild (or soft) series hybrid, which means that it will not run on electric power alone, however, its 180V, 5Ah Lithium-ion battery pack (safer, more compact and more durable than the Nickel Metal-hydride types currently in use by Toyota and Honda) can provide other benefits. Naturally, `stop-start` is one. Yet the package also includes an in-house developed CVT transmission, brake energy recovery and a modest amount of extra power (15kW) for acceleration boosts. Thus equipped, the CO2 emissions drop from the standard 152g/km of the 1.6-litre petrol engine to 114g/km.
This is never more obvious than in its FCEV project, now fitted to a Sportage model. Already the fuel-cell advancements have lifted it to produce no less than 100kW (approx. 134bhp) of power. Although slightly eerie, accompanied by a gentle whirr from the electric motors, its performance is outstandingly zesty. Acceleration is strong and the car can exceed 106mph. With most of the engineering mass positioned quite low in the chassis, its dynamic handling was far better than expected.
The vehicle has passed all high and low temperature tests, survived a 50kph rear collision and its Li-Ion polymer battery has a remarkable range of 375miles, fuelled by hydrogen and emitting only water vapour from its exhaust pipe. Naturally, it is the ultimate example of `power at virtually no cost`.
In each case, Kia's prototypes are enjoyably driveable and so competently assembled that they feel like full production vehicles. Yet, it is clear that the programme is not yet finalised. Packaging is an important element that will be addressed as the various models reach their next stages, as will ensuring that the end-user is not compromised in any way, in terms of driving satisfaction. Although the company realises that several of its current line-up of models do not meet the 2012 EU Emissions proposals, by concentrating its efforts on reducing rolling resistance in conjunction with its partner, Michelin Tyre, improving aerodynamics, reducing weight, making thermo-dynamic improvements and enhancing power-train efficiency, in the future Kia should go well beyond simple compliance.
Model tested: Kia cee'd `stop-start`, Kia cee'd hybrid, Kia Sportage FCEV
Body-styles: 5-door hatchback and SUV
Engines: 1.4 (P4), 1.6 (P/E4), 100kW (FC)
Trim grades: n/a
Prices: from n/a
In the showroom: from 2010
Review star rating: 5 STARS
Warranty: Five years, unlimited miles
Iain Robertson © Next Green Car.com 2008
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