Kia Uses Electric AWD for Powerful, More Efficient Shade of Soul

Trail'ster Concept
Source: Kia

When you think of rugged, all-wheel-drive (AWD) compact vehicles, Jeep would come to mind long before Kia. The Korean automaker hopes to change that with the debut of the Trail’ster concept at the Chicago Auto Show. Featuring electric AWD, a turbocharged power boost, and gritty off-road features, Trail’ster is a major departure from the Soul on which it’s based.

Traction, power, efficiency improve

Kia Motors America had the first slot for press reveals at the Chicago Auto Show and didn’t disappoint journalists looking for a story. Though the automaker had teased the arrival of an electric AWD vehicle for the Windy City, Kia was mum about the Trail’ster’s potential to muscle up in the wild, as well as its potential to improve efficiency with the e-AWD system.

In a company statement accompanying the Trail’ster reveal, Kia says a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine will supply 185 horsepower and 185 pounds-feet of torque with a six-speed automatic transmission for control. A 1.2 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack supplies an extra 35 horsepower and 100 pounds-feet of torque that doubles as an accelerator boost and helps with overall efficiency. Total output: 220 horsepower, 285 pounds-feet of torque. But it gets better.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

According to Kia, the electric-AWD system kicks in when the front tires slip; in light driving when a few miles’ worth of electric power will do; and in circumstances that call for more power and added torque. Its electric motor also charges the battery through the capture of kinetic energy during braking.

That electric boost makes for a more efficient crossover than Kia currently sells, with the Trail’ster providing an improvement of at least 25% in city driving and up to 10% in highways driving.

Trail'ster Concept
Source: Kia

Hamsters unavailable for comment

Some will want to know where Kia’s famous hamsters fit into the debut of this much more powerful and rugged version of the Soul, but it appears their only presence is in the last syllable of the concept’s name. Trail’ster may have outgrown the lovable characters that somehow raised the profile of the funky, city-oriented Soul.

This vehicle is the big-boy version. In addition to the retractable canvas roof, Trail’ster features aluminum skid plates on all sides of the vehicle along with roof rack fittings and aluminum cross rails. Headlamps are borrowed from the K900’s design.

Compared to the 2015 Kia Soul with 2.0-liter DOHC engine, the Trail’ster concept features an additional 56 horsepower and 134 pounds-feet of torque. Based on Kia’s estimates, the crossover concept could return as much as 31 miles per gallon in city driving and 34 miles per gallon on the highway. (Soul gets 24 city miles per gallon and 31 highway miles per gallon with Eco Package.)

Jalopnik sees the Trail’ster concept as “a Korean take on the Jeep Renegade,” and it’s easy to see why. Sport models pack the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine provides 160 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque as well as two four-by-four systems designed for improved efficiency at a base price of $19,995. Trailhawk models featuring skid plates start at $25,995. Jeep promises better than 30 miles per gallon on the highway in its compact SUV.

Kia considers Trail’ster an efficient city vehicle that would double as an off-road explorer on weekends before turning back around for the Monday morning commute. No plans for production are in the works, but the automaker says it shows the blueprint for how Soul would “logically evolve” into an AWD-capable vehicle. With the hype surrounding the Jeep Renegade surging even before its release, we’d say Kia would have the demand side covered.