| First Drive | Frankfurt, Germany | Kia cee'd hybrid |
The next step up in technology terms, from a stop-start 'micro hybrid' system such as Kia's Idle Stop&Go
, is a mild hybrid. Kia describes this as one that features brake energy regeneration and extra power assistance from the second source of propulsion. The Korean company is currently developing the cee'd hybrid for sale in some markets and we were given the opportunity for an early first drive.
How it works
For Kia's first hybrid, it chose the cee'd
as its basis, in 1.6-litre format. To the petrol engine is bolted a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) - developed in house - and a 15kW electric motor powered by a new high-voltage battery mounted behind the rear seats. The layout echoes that employed by Honda in the Civic Hybrid.
With such a small electric motor (equivalent to just 20bhp), the cee'd hybrid has no electric-only mode. Instead, the motor is used to assist the petrol engine when acceleration is required, allowing the fitment of a smaller, more economical engine for the level of performance on offer. Additionally, the hybrid has built-in stop-start functionality, where engine restarting is carried out by the electric motor instead of a standalone starting motor. Brake energy recovery is also utilised during deceleration and braking to recharge the battery.
Though Kia intends to put the cee'd hybrid into production next year, the car we drove still required some development. The CVT ensures that the engine is spinning at the 'optimal' point, but in a petrol engine that's quite high, so it sounds as if you're revving it a lot even when not accelerating hard. Really put your foot down and the racket gets worse, though there is appreciable extra shove from the electric motor.
It's easy to be distracted by all the extra gauges in the dashboard, though as the system regulates battery charge itself, there is no real benefit to the driver to know its status - an economy readout of some description would be more useful. Kia also acknowledges the distinctly impractical positioning of the battery pack behind the rear seats, as it significantly reduces luggage space. Future iterations should feature an underfloor battery.
Unlike the slightly wooden feeling of the Civic Hybrid's brake pedal, the cee'd's felt normal underfoot, though when the engine is stopped at an idle, it does so with an unrefined shudder. Presumably that will be addressed before the first customer cars are delivered.
Although Kia will put the 1.6-litre hybrid into production next year, it will initially be produced only for the Korean market and the engine will be optimised to run on LPG - which has a huge following in Kia's home country. Soon after, the cee'd hybrid will be introduced to the USA, where sales of petrol-electric hybrids are significant. At this stage Kia is unsure about the success of such a car in Europe, where we currently favour efficient turbodiesels. Kia has looked at diesel-electric hybrid technology, but the final price of the car is just too much for it to be viable at this stage. However, Kia did state that it could have hybrid cars on sale in Europe in less than two years if it believes there is demand.
While the car under test had an unfinished feel to it, it's easy to appreciate the benefits of fitting a small petrol engine with an electric motor to provide performance commensurate with a larger engine, while cutting emissions and fuel consumption. Kia reckons that the cee'd hybrid reduces the regular 1.6-litre model's CO2
from 152g/km to just 114g/km and though petrol-electric hybrids have yet to take off in Europe, we shouldn't write them off just yet.