• The Habaniro is Kia’s Spicy New Crossover Concept

It’s the "everyday" concept we didn’t know we wanted

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Kia’s been on a roll with its concept vehicles lately. A month after unveiling the “Imagine by Kia” Concept and its 21 digital screens at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, the Korean automaker took its traveling concept carnival to New York where it unveiled the Habaniro, a concept it claims is the world’s first-ever ECEV, as in “everyday car, electric vehicle.” The Habaniro is a bold concept. It’s also imaginative in terms of Kia’s vision for the future. Kia didn’t explicitly say that the Habaniro will never see the light of production day, but don’t expect it to arrive anytime soon. For now, the Habaniro is a concept that previews the direction Kia wants to take with its electrification and mobility efforts. Whether that future includes a production version of the Habaniro remains to be seen, but it’d be nice to wish for it, right?

The 2019 Kia Habaniro Concept is as Spicy as Its Name

The Habaniro is Kia's Spicy New Crossover Concept
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You have to hand it to Kia. It hasn’t generated as many headlines as other automakers this year, but it does look like it’s trying to own the concept car market. The “Imagine by Kia” Electric Concept turned a lot of heads in Geneva last month. Now, Kia’s back with the HabaNiro Concept, which is currently on display at the Javits Center in Manhattan, the site of the 2019 New York Auto Show. The Imagine by Kia Concept showed Kia’s ambitious side, specifically when it comes to its vision for the future. Well, the follow-up to the Imagine by Kia is every bit as ambitious, if not more “out there” than the concept it’s succeeding.

The Habaniro is Kia's Spicy New Crossover Concept
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If you’ve been around this business long enough, you’ll know never to take the words from flowery press releases seriously. Kia certainly went to town with its press release for the HabaNiro, describing it as “The Everyday Car,” something that can literally be driven anywhere, and at any time. That’s great and all, but Kia followed that up by boasting that the HabaNiro has “more advanced tech than what helped land men on the moon.” Sure, there might be hints of honesty in the press release; you’ll just have to read between the lines to find them. Otherwise, you’re going to drown in a sea of bombastic claims and big-talking words.

Fortunately, if you remove Kia’s verbal grandiosity out of the equation, you’ll be left with a concept that actually has a lot to offer.

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The Kia HabaNiro Concept is packaged as a compact four-door crossover.

It (partly) shares a name with the Kia Niro, though the concept is six inches wider, three inches taller, and boasts a wheelbase that’s 5.2-inches longer than the actual Niro crossover. The HabaNiro’s exterior also bears some similarities with the Niro, most notably the concept’s overall profile. Everything else, though, is unique in the way most concepts are unique. Kia describes the concept’s grille as that of a shark’s snout, complete with small and thin bars that make the whole setup look like a row of shark’s teeth. While I can’t argue with the reference, it does make for a somewhat confusing scene, especially when you compare it to the design of Kia’s previous concept, the Imagine by Kia Concept. Perhaps Kia has two design languages it wants to show off

The Habaniro is Kia's Spicy New Crossover Concept
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It is refreshing to see the HabaNiro wearing its colors well.

The concept is clad in a Snowdrift Pearl White paint scheme that’s offset by Satin Metallic Granite Grey cladding in the front and an anodized Lava Red aero panel in the back.

Together, the three distinct colors blend well together but are also distinct enough on their own to give the concept a striking visual personality. The massive faux intakes in the front contain a row of horizontal slits and a curious-looking LED light bar that cuts across the width of the front end. Turn it on and you’re treated to something akin to a pulsating lights show that’s not at all surprising to see in a concept of the HabaNiro’s stature. Just below this setup is an aluminum skid plate, billet aluminum tow hooks. The concept also has a bit of a buggy-feel to it, specifically in the way it sits on a set of 20-inch wheels while wearing massive 265/50 tires. This isn’t an accident on Kia’s part; this is the automaker’s way of emphasizing the concept’s go-anywhere ability. The wheels make the concept look uneven, but I’ll take Kia’s word for it.

The Habaniro is Kia's Spicy New Crossover Concept
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Then there are the doors. I suppose it’s much more normal these days for concept cars to feature outlandish door setups, and the HabaNiro, well, it doesn’t disappoint. You should be familiar with butterfly doors these days. Just about every concept that’s worth its salt features them in form or another. It’s no different with the Habanero, which features butterfly doors that open to an interior awash in a rich Lava Red color. Don’t try looking for a battalion of digital screens because there’s only one, albeit an enormous one.

See, the HabaNiro does not have a proper dashboard.

That’s because the full-width heads-up display is the dashboard. There’s a good bit of added technological wizardry thrown in for good measure, too, including an instrument panel that doubles as a touchpad and features something Kia calls “Sensory Light Feedback.” Speaking of way-into-the-future tech, the HabaNiro also comes with the Real-time Emotion Adaptive Driving (R.E.A.D.) System that Kia introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year. In so many words, the R.E.A.D. system is an artificial intelligence-enhanced technology that can read your emotions and adjusts its settings depending on your perceived emotional needs. The system can do this through a variety of sensors that monitor a number of known parameters, including facial expression, heart rate, and sweat levels. Fancy tech for a fancy concept.

The Habaniro is Kia's Spicy New Crossover Concept
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The HabaNiro Concept gets its power from an undetermined battery that powers a pair of electric motors, one on each axle, ensuring that the concept runs on (electric) all-wheel-drive capability. Kia made no mention on output or performance numbers, but it did say that the concept’s electrified powertrain can work in symmetry with Level 5 autonomy.

There’s something admirably appealing about the Kia HabaNiro Concept. It follows the guidelines of what you can expect from a proper concept car, but Kia also designed it to stand out on its own. The automaker also said that the concept may not be just a concept for long, but as with most automakers, any hints of future production plans should be taken with bags full of salt.

Length: 4430 mm/ 171 inches
Height: 1600 mm/ 63 inches
Width: 1955 mm/ 77 inches
Wheelbase: 2830 mm/ 111.5 inches
Powertrain e-AWD supplied by two electric motors, fore and aft
Range 300+ miles
Battery Advanced state of the art battery technology

Further reading

2019 ‘Imagine by Kia' Electric Concept Previews a Promising Design Future for Kia
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Read more details about the 2019 Imagine by Kia Concept.

2017 Kia Niro
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Read our full review on the 2019 Kia Niro.

Kirby Garlitos
Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read full bio
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