Kia Soul-Based Trail'ster Concept Features Electric AWD: Live Photos From Chicago Auto Show

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The Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept kicked off this morning's Chicago Auto Show to demonstrate a hybrid all-wheel-drive version of Kia's popular Soul tall wagon--and most likely preview a future production model.

Tom Kearns, who's the chief designer at Kia's Design Center of America in Irvine, California, said, “The Trail’ster concept is a near-future look at how the production Kia Soul would logically evolve into an AWD-capable version."

In other words: We're seriously thinking about building this car.

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The all-wheel-drive Soul concept uses a 185-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four putting out 185 lb-ft of torque, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, to drive the front wheels. But the rear axle is driven by a 27-kilowatt (35-hp) electric motor putting out 100 lb-ft of torque, getting its power from a 1.2-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack under the rear load bay.

That makes the Trail'ster a "through-the-road hybrid" with two separate powertrains linked only through the car's control software, which optimizes for efficiency between the two axles based on what power is required to meet driver demands and the traction available at any given moment.

Kia Trail'ster e-AWD hybrid concept at 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Kia Trail'ster e-AWD hybrid concept at 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Enlarge Photo
Kia Trail'ster e-AWD hybrid concept at 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Kia Trail'ster e-AWD hybrid concept at 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Enlarge Photo
Kia Trail'ster e-AWD hybrid concept at 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Kia Trail'ster e-AWD hybrid concept at 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

Kia says the concept would achieve fuel-economy ratings that would be 25 to 30 percent higher on the city cycle and 5 to 10 percent higher on the highway test. The comparison vehicle is a 2015 Soul with the optional larger 2.0-liter engine; that vehicle is rated at 26 mpg combined (23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway).

The "rugged runabout" concept is intended for "city-dweller-turned-outdoor-adventurer[s]" who enjoy "mountain activities, from skiing and snowboarding to camping, hiking and mountain biking."

In other words: It's a light-duty AWD off-road vehicle, but don't expect it to offer the rock-climbing capabilities of, say, a Jeep Wrangler.

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The concept dresses up the standard Soul tall wagon body with additional ground clearance--2.5 inches more--along with aluminum skid plates, a two-tone white and bronze paint job, special interior trim with brown leather seats, and custom 19-inch wheels fitted with snow tires.

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