Usually one of the last car brands you'd think of when you think "off road," Kia is looking to pull urbanites out of city limits and into the great outdoors.The all-new Soul-based Trail'ster concept it's showing at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show is the vision of a small crossover that's as comfortable roaming wide-open public lands as it is maneuvering cramped city streets.
The Trail'ster is the brainchild of Kia's California design studio, the same minds behind some of Kia's most radical concept cars from recent auto shows, including the Track'ster and the GT4 Stinger, one of our favorite concepts of 2014. With the Trail'ster, the studio puts the heart of an off-road-capable SUV into a small, efficient, city-friendly package.
"The Trail’ster concept is a near-future look at how the production Kia Soul would logically evolve into an AWD-capable version that’s built to escape the city streets and roam into the mountain wilderness," explains Tom Kearns, chief designer, Kia Design Center of America (KDCA). "It takes the go-anywhere capability of an SUV and reimagines it within a compact and sporty package with an expressive design to match."
A Kia Soul may never take the place of a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with all the aftermarket fixin's, but Kia has equipped the Trail'ster with some all-terrain-savvy design elements and components. The concept is lifted by 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) when compared to the standard Soul and has a set of aluminum skid plates to protect from the scrapes and dings it can't clear. Pirelli Winter Carving 245/45-19 snow tires increase traction while KSport coilover shocks smoothen out rough, unpredictable ground.
The highlight of the Trail'ster concept is its hybrid AWD powertrain. The 1.6-liter turbo engine powering the front wheels gets assistance from an electric drive hooked to the rear axle. The 35-hp (27-kW) electric motor is powered by a 1.2-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery, upping total system output to 220 hp (164 kW) and 285 lb-ft (386 Nm). The electric drive operates in three different modes: it can power the vehicle on its own for up to 2 to 3 miles (3 to 5 km) in light-throttle driving, add a burst of torque and power to assist the turbo four during acceleration, and add traction when front-wheel slippage is detected. During braking and coasting, the electric motor acts as a generator, resupplying the battery.
"This powertrain strategy of a downsized turbo and ‘Through-the-Road’ hybrid power yields a dual benefit of increased performance – torque and traction – and optimized efficiency," says Kearns. "This is AWD being done the advanced, intelligent and responsible way, while sacrificing nothing."
Kia defines "through-the-road" hybrid as a hybrid with separate systems that team up during driving, not via mechanical connection. It believes that the light hybrid AWD system could improve fuel economy by 25 to 30 percent in the city and 5 to 10 percent on the highway when compared with the 2015 Soul with naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine. Adding to the concept's efficiency are a hybrid starter generator, which stops and starts the engine as needed and feeds the battery, and an electrically driven A/C compressor, which can run when the engine is off.
The Trail'ster's Polar Pearl Snowdrift/Terra Bronze Metallic paint job was inspired by the classic mountain mud season phenomenon of declining snow and expanding mud fields. The metallic bronze paint of the roof is interrupted by the retractable canvas panel, which increases the concept's sense of outdoors and adventure by opening the cabin to the fresh air and sky above. The integrated aluminum cross rails allow for easy hauling of gear like snowboards and mountain bikes.
The interior follows the theme of the exterior, featuring brown leather-trimmed seats, floor mats with aluminum inlays for all-season traction, and a bright red ignition button that ties into the red accents of the wheels. The center console offers a large shifter and AWD controls.
The Trail'ster is on show now at the Chicago Auto Show. Kia doesn't mention any production intentions.
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