Automotive

Kia escapes the streets with hybrid Trail'ster off-road convertible

The Trail'ster uses a combination of turbo engine and rear electric drive
The Trail'ster uses a combination of turbo engine and rear electric drive
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The weatherproof canvas roof gives the Trail'ster an airy convertible feel
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The weatherproof canvas roof gives the Trail'ster an airy convertible feel
Inside the Kia Trail'ster
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Inside the Kia Trail'ster
The interior includes brown leather trim on the seats
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The interior includes brown leather trim on the seats
Kia envisions the Trail'ster as a small, efficient city crossover that can escape into the wild at a moment's notice
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Kia envisions the Trail'ster as a small, efficient city crossover that can escape into the wild at a moment's notice
The Trail'ster uses a combination of turbo engine and rear electric drive
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The Trail'ster uses a combination of turbo engine and rear electric drive
The Trail'ster's electric drive gives it AWD capabilities when needed
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The Trail'ster's electric drive gives it AWD capabilities when needed
Exterior upgrades include the fire red-accented wheels and aluminum skid plates
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Exterior upgrades include the fire red-accented wheels and aluminum skid plates
The Trail'ster gets dirty
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The Trail'ster gets dirty
Kia imagines the Trail'ster offering skiing, camping, hiking and mountain biking escapes
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Kia imagines the Trail'ster offering skiing, camping, hiking and mountain biking escapes
The fog lights add extra wattage for lighting up shadowy forests
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The fog lights add extra wattage for lighting up shadowy forests
Kia is showing the Trail'ster at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show
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Kia is showing the Trail'ster at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show
Kia says the light canvas roof also helps to lower the concept's center of gravity
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Kia says the light canvas roof also helps to lower the concept's center of gravity
The all-new Kia Trail'ster
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The all-new Kia Trail'ster
The all-new Kia Trail'ster
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The all-new Kia Trail'ster
Kia picked the Polar Pearl Snowdrift/Terra Bronze Metallic paint scheme to mimic the snow and mud of spring
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Kia picked the Polar Pearl Snowdrift/Terra Bronze Metallic paint scheme to mimic the snow and mud of spring
The 1.6-liter turbo powers the front wheels, and the electric motor powers the rear
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The 1.6-liter turbo powers the front wheels, and the electric motor powers the rear
The integrated cross rails help in hauling gear
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The integrated cross rails help in hauling gear
The AWD system and snow tires give the Trail'ster extra traction for traveling off pavement
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The AWD system and snow tires give the Trail'ster extra traction for traveling off pavement
From city to mountain retreat
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From city to mountain retreat
The Trail'ster is based on the stock Soul and gets a 2.5-in increase in ride height
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The Trail'ster is based on the stock Soul and gets a 2.5-in increase in ride height
The all-new Kia Trail'ster concept
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The all-new Kia Trail'ster concept
The Trail'ster's AWD system puts out up to 220 hp and 285 lb-ft
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The Trail'ster's AWD system puts out up to 220 hp and 285 lb-ft
The all-new Kia Trail'ster concept
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The all-new Kia Trail'ster concept
Going where the average Kia Soul won't
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Going where the average Kia Soul won't
The Trail'ster can travel two to three miles on all-electric power at low speeds
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The Trail'ster can travel two to three miles on all-electric power at low speeds

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 Trail'ster gets dirty
The Trail'ster gets dirty

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 integrated cross rails help in hauling gear
The integrated cross rails help in hauling gear

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.

Inside the Kia Trail'ster
Inside the Kia Trail'ster

The Trail'ster is on show now at the Chicago Auto Show. Kia doesn't mention any production intentions.

Source: Kia

9 comments
Kaiser Derden
so its a tricked out Soul then ? kind of cool (I have a Soul) ... but to call this a "Concept" car is a bit of a stretch ... same body and frame as a Soul ... so what conceptual about it ? the drive train ? well maybe but its hardly a new car ... Still, neat idea that Kia could put into production in short order ...
Keith Reeder
I like it, but it's hardly a novel concept - Fiat has been doing a (surprisingly effective) 4x4 Panda for donkey's years.
LikelyLad
This could sell in great numbers for Kia, it's a cracker. But they shouldn't waste any time in getting it into production. Car manufacturers oddly seem to spend years (rarely months) in producing something after showing the initial concept. There is a big demand for this small type of '4x4' and Kia have put together a great package. But it disappoints me greatly that they are still nowhere with their Naimo concept.
Noel K Frothingham
Your concerns was addressed in the 5th and 6th paragraphs of the article. Using the new drivetrain, in this case a internal combustion engine to drive the front wheels with the rear wheels being electrically driven to create a truly unique - and new - AWD vehicle never before put into production. Conventional all wheel drive requires a transfer case to split the power output from the engine to all 4 wheels, typically in a 60- 40 ratio with the 60% going to the rear wheels and 40% to the front wheels in conventional RWD vehicle. This isn't simple 'drop-in and go' change. The Rio chassis would require extensive modification and reinforcement. The manufacturer would be better off designing a chassis specifically for this new drivetrain. It would certainly be simpler to put into production. Kia chose to use the Rio platform in this design exercise because of its current popularity. Whether the Rio platform would actually survive the design process is anyones guess. I suspect it would not given todays design cycles and would applaud Kio's ingenuity if did. Or are you saying that you've seen this drivetrain being produced by another manufacturer? Again, this is a design exercise. Let's wait for this vehicle to actually roll off the assembly line on to the Kia dealers display lot before questioning whether the word 'new' is accurate.
Noel K Frothingham
This isn't a 'tricked out' Soul or Rio. It is a design exercise as stated within the article and is quite unique as drivetrains go. Get past the blatantly obvious - the body - pay attention to what matters - an AWD chassis that uses separate power sources to drive the front wheels and back wheels. This design could provide on 'demand' AWD yet allow the driver to select a two wheel drive option whenever the driver chooses. Eliminating the conventional mechanical transfer case needed to channel power to both the front and rear wheels simultaneously is a plus. The closest any manufacturer has come was Volkswagen when the used a housing containing a proprietary silicone compound and perforated discs welded onto the output shafts to channel the drive load to the separate axles. I strongly disagree with the idea that Kia should drop this design like a hot potato and move on to other projects. Parallel development with other drive concepts would make more sense, There much to be learned if developed side-by-side.
Keith Reeder
"This design could provide on 'demand' AWD yet allow the driver to select a two wheel drive option whenever the driver chooses." Umpteen cars allow "on demand" AWD right now - again, nothing novel here except the hybrid power.
aajay
What a piece of crap. It couldn't fight itself out of a wet paper bag. This vehicle would be completely useless in sand, snow, rock and mud. It has no clearance, no ability to lift it higher and no means of being able to 'lock' the axles. No one in their right mind, well maybe city folk who have NFI would take this car off road where moving forward relied upon the activation of the rear electric motor. What if the battery was depleted? How would you get back or even continue forward? May as well paint it pink with daisies on it. This is light years behind any jeep.
the.other.will
Kia has not built nor will market this as a direct competitor to the Wrangler. It will have much better off road mobility than the base Soul achieved by minor modifications in combination with a truly innovative power train. Price, as usual, will be a key factor. There's definitely demand for vehicles that will be mostly driven on pavement but have some off road ability & are less costly to own & operate than the Wrangler & similar SUVs.
Riaanh
@aajay, you did not really read the article did you? I really like this concept, would love to know what the fuel consumption figures would, look like. This alone could make it a worthwhile purchase. I would just like to suggest a slightly higher ground clearance.
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