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Kia Trail’ster Concept Brings e-AWD, Rugged Looks to Chicago

The Kia Soul jumps on the AWD crossover train.

The Kia Soul is already a huge hit in the U.S. — over 145,000 units were sold here in 2014 — and what better way to broaden this boxy hatchback’s appeal than to jump onto the growing crossover wave with an all-wheel-drive, CUV-like version of the Soul?

Enter the Kia Trail’ster concept. The Soul-based, rugged-looking, off-road-oriented compact crossover debuts at the 2015 Chicago auto show as a thinly veiled look at a future Soul crossover. If you take away a few of the Trail’ster’s exaggerated show-car bits like giant foglights, a retractable canvas roof, and oversized wheels and tires, it’s not a stretch to imagine the modifications Kia would make to create a crossover-ified Soul for production.

The Kia Trail’ster concept’s powertrain is similarly based in reality, as it uses the 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four found in the Forte Koup and hatchback models. This gas engine sends 185 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels, while the “e-AWD” moniker refers to a small, 35-hp electric motor in the rear axle that gives the Trail’ster all-wheel-drive traction and a system total of 220 hp. Kia says that this “through-the-road” hybrid system also helps reduce turbo lag thanks to the electric motor’s instant torque, while also helping fuel economy through regenerative braking. The hybrid system’s battery pack is found under the rear cargo floor.

Other than its more advanced powertrain, the Kia Trail’ster concept is also raised two inches compared to the standard Kia Soul, and features tougher Ksport coilover shocks and aggressive snow tires for increased off-pavement capability. The Trail’ster also has aluminum skidplates front and rear, LED lighting accents front and rear, and an integrated roof rack for those “active lifestyle” types who carry snowboards and skis and all sorts of other equipment. The Trail’ster’s interior follow this same theme, as its brown leather and aluminum accents are said to be inspired by winter sports gear.

The Kia Trail’ster concept makes its official debut at the 2015 Chicago auto show, and we don’t think that a production version of this SUV-like Kia Soul is too far off. Stay tuned for more information about the Kia Soul’s AWD future over the coming months.