How do you get a bunch of car enthusiasts to pay attention to a car? In the case of the Kia Track'ster concept, swear it'll be a blast to drive.
There's no doubt the concept is based on the popular Soul hatchback, only it's missing a set of doors and the bodywork was completely redone in favor of aggression. Designed and built in Southern California, the Track'ster is the philosophical and diametrical opposite of to the last concept car project we saw from the same design studio and team: the KV7 people-mover that debuted at the 2011 Detroit show. That's a good thing.
Wearing Whiteout paint with Inferno Orange accenting, the Track'ster is 4 inches shorter and sits more than 5 inches lower than the current production Soul. The wheelbase is stretched from 100.4 to 101.2 inches. Critically, the Track'ster is more than 5 inches wider, too, lending it an aggressive stance no one would mistake for anything but performance-oriented. But changes go beyond color and dimension. Carbon fiber played a hefty role in the motorsport theme, finding its way into the rocker panels, front grille, and lower fascia covers. Getting the new lighting to illuminate just right was a labor of love.
"The idea was to make the Track'ster tough-looking, like a bulldog," remarked Tom Kearns, Kia Motor America chief designer. "But the car had to be approachable as well. We wanted to base the car in reality so people instantly knew it was a Soul, but with a lot of attitude. It had to be a bold interpretation that would change people's conceptions of what a sporty Kia could be."
Mounted at the Track'ster's corners are custom HRE-K1 19-inch wheels, the result of early collaboration with the wheelmaker. The wheels shield massive Brembo hardware worthy of race cars: six-piston calipers and 14-inch cross-drilled rotors, with four-piston binders and 13.6-inch rotors for the front and rear, respectively. The lower side valances have built-in cooling ducts to channel air to the aft rotors. Mechanical grip comes courtesy of Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires, staggered 245/40-19 up front and 285/35-19 in the back.
The powertrain is reminiscent of motorsport's past, but is fitting for the present and future. A 2.0-liter turbo-four develops an estimated 250 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque, with a six-speed manual transmission routing the power to an electronically controlled all-wheel-drive setup. If you've ever yearned for coupe versions of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza WRX STI, eat your heart out.
While the PS2 tires connote on-track performance, there are shades of off-roading, too. Inside the two-seat cabin, a specially sculpted full-size spare-tire holder hints at trophy trucks. Swap the tires and ensure there's enough suspension travel, and the Track'ster will look at home on a World Rally Championship stage or out on a desert run. Additionally, paneled bins reside where the back seats customarily sit, providing storage for racing-related gear.
From the driver's seat, the Track'ster looks unlike any other Soul ever made. Granite Gray complements black and Inferno Orange. The suede race seats continue the sporty theme, with much of the overall design influenced by extreme sports gear such as snowboarding boots and snow goggles. Look closely enough and you'll notice hamster logos in the unlikeliest of places, like on the pedals.
And to think the Track'ster was only one of 20 to 30 different concept car ideas. Kia maintains there's no production intent for this spunky Soul, though we can imagine a more stirring future if it were roaming our streets.