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Kia Trail’ster Concept: Chicago Auto Show

What Is It?

The Kia Trail’ster is a Soul-based compact crossover with an innovative electric all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. Under the hood is Kia’s familiar 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, but that’s where the conventional hardware stops. Out back, an electric motor with 35 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque provides independent propulsion for the rear axle, with energy sourced from a 1.2 kWh lithium-ion-polymer battery. Add it up and you have AWD with an unusual hybrid twist, not to mention a hefty total output of 220 hp and 285 lb-ft.

Kia says the Trail’ster can drive solely under electric, rear-axle power for 2 to 3 miles if you’re light on the throttle. Under normal circumstances, the rear power system serves as an ever-ready aid to both acceleration (adding lag-free power and torque to the gas engine) and traction (activating instantaneously when front wheel slippage is detected). It only activates when you need it, though, so when you’re cruising down a dry highway, the Trail’ster is effectively a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Additionally, the electric motor serves as a generator during braking and coasting, channeling kinetic energy into the battery to recharge it.

Interestingly, Kia says that Trail’ster fuel economy is projected to exceed that of the regular 2.0-liter Soul by 25-30 percent in the city and 5-10 percent on the highway.

Although the e-AWD system is the big news here, the Trail’ster has also been treated to a series of off-road-themed modifications, including aluminum skid plates all around, beefed-up coilover shocks, 19-inch snow tires and a 2.5-in suspension lift. There’s even a rolltop canvas roof that’s fully retractable, which is a distinctly Jeep-like touch. Inside, an industrial-strength shift lever, a red ignition button and brown leather upholstery add to the rough-and-ready ambiance.

Will They Ever Sell It?

The basic idea of a Soul-derived crossover seems like a no-brainer, so we definitely expect to see something along these lines. But will it offer trick e-AWD hardware like the Kia Trail’ster? We hope Kia will find a way to offer all that technology at a palatable price.

Why Is It Important?

Kia’s presence in the compact-crossover class is currently limited to the aging Sportage, which is pricier than new-wave runabouts such as the Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade. A crossover version of the Soul would make Kia fully competitive in this increasingly popular segment.

See all 2015 Chicago Auto Show articles

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