The New Kia Rio Hybrid Has a ‘Clutch-by-Wire’ Setup for Its Manual Transmission

Kia's new intelligent stick-shift might be a peek into the future of hybrid drivers' cars.

Kia’s budget-friendly Rio compact doesn’t typically stand out in a crowd. The commuter is aimed largely at budget buyers interested in attractively priced means of personal transportation. However, Kia recently announced a refresh for its European market which not only includes some optional styling upgrades, but also a hybrid powertrain coupled to a manual transmission. What’s more, it uses a trick “clutch-by-wire” system that sets it apart from traditional stick-shifts.

Details regarding the Rio’s refresh were announced on Tuesday and focused heavily on the vehicle’s visual and tech upgrades. Read further into the announcement, though, and you’ll notice that Kia has updated the Rio’s electrified powertrain while ensuring that buyers can also make use of a manual gearbox with that clever clutch.

Kia has officially plucked its legacy 1.0-liter turbo three-cylinder “Kappa” powerplant in favor of an identically sized gasoline engine it calls “Smartstream.” And while total power output remains maxed at 118 horsepower, the vehicle adds a  48-volt mild-hybrid electric system into the mix for added efficiency and decreased emissions. For those not interested in hybridization just yet, Kia says it will also offer an updated version of its 82-horsepower, naturally aspirated 1.2-liter engine.

But for those who are interested in battery tech, let’s talk about how it works. The electrification starts with Kia’s Mild-Hybrid Starter-Generator (MHSG) unit, which is connected by a belt to the engine’s crankshaft. Like most hybrid systems, the MHSG has the ability to either supply additional power for acceleration or recoup energy as the vehicle decelerates under specific conditions to recharge the battery, similar to regenerative braking.

Output from the hybrid power plant is then sent to either a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic or Kia’s clutch-by-wire six-speed intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT). Kia says the iMT is controlled completely by electronics and integrates seamlessly with in-car tech like Idle Stop and Go, so long as both the brake and clutch are depressed when the vehicle comes to a stop. However, the Korean automaker notes that several safety nannies will also be absent from the row-your-own Rio, including its adaptive cruise control, lane centering, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, and blind-spot collision avoidance.

via Kia

Of course, the Rio will undergo other bits to make it feel like an all-new car. Inside, a revamped interior swaddles the driver with updated tech and customization options. A boldly refreshed exterior puts the finishing touches on the package with surprisingly attractive wrapping paper.

The updated Kia Rio will be offered for sale across Europe later this year. Speaking with The Drive, a Kia Motors America spokesperson declined to comment on if the U.S. will receive the updated Rio or any of its technology.

This does open the conversation about Kia’s electrification plans on this side of the Atlantic. Kia design boss Karim Habib recently hinted that the sport-tuned Kia Stinger may need to shift towards electrification to stay current with industry trends. Could electrification paired with a manual gearbox be the answer to the Stinger’s sales problem in the States?

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