The Chicago Auto Show got underway on Wednesday, and Kia had one of the noteworthy debuts of day one. The company's Track'ster concept is essentially a race-inspired hot hatch version of its popular Soul. The car gets a potent powertrain and aggressive look. Kia is clearly empowered by its recent success. Once essentially the baby brother of Hyundai, a brand that itself has a historical reputation as a cheap, entry-level automaker, Kia is really starting to come into its own. According to the company's numbers, it launched more new models in the US between 2009 and 2010 than any other automaker and was one of the world's fastest growing auto brands.

That rapid success has given Kia the confidence to experiment with new, higher-end models. At last year's Frankfurt Motor Show, it introduced the 390-hp GT sports car concept, and has now followed suit with the Track'ster. Kia says that it has no plans to commercially launch the Track'ster, but the model hints at possible future directions for the Soul.

"The idea was to make the Track'ster tough looking, like a bulldog," said Tom Kearns, Kia Motor America's 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."

The Track'ster definitely appears more aggressive and 'bulldogish' than the Soul that inspired it. It has a more muscular profile, and its front fascia is defined by new elements like big, round driving lights, a lower intake grill, and carbon fiber accents. The concept sits on 19-inch custom-built HRE-K1 monoblock billet performance wheels rolled in Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 high-performance tires.

Though it gains about an inch in overall length, the Track'ster drops the Soul's two rear doors in favor of larger front doors. When you pop one of those doors open, you realize that the car is every bit as track-ready inside. It has a pair of suede race seats and a suede-wrapped sport steering wheel. Kia pulled the rear seats out to make room for a race-day tool tray and spare tire well. The rear area also has several bins designed to hold gear like a helmet, gloves and emergency supplies.

Kia picked the Whiteout and Inferno Orange paint scheme to accentuate the car's aggressive, race-inspired look. Kia says that the bright orange that's seen on the roof, rear-view mirrors, hatch and other areas was picked out because it's perfectly suited to racing. The white was selected as a sort of blank canvas that helps to bring out the Track'ster's sculpted curves and lines.

This bulldog definitely has the bark to match the bite. Kia upped the power of the Track'ster by 66 percent over the Soul. The concept uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to deliver up to 250 horses (253 PS). It's equipped with a four-wheel-drive system and six-speed manual transmission.

Maybe if the reaction in Chicago and future shows is strong, we'll see some version of the Track'ster in production. But so far, it looks like Kia just wants to show the Track'ster off as a concept.

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