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Kia Trail'ster previews hybrid Soul. Image by Kia.

Kia Trail'ster previews hybrid Soul
Kia Soul-based concept gets 1.6 turbo petrol engine with electric four-wheel drive.
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Hang on, someone seems to have put wheels and lights on a ski boot...

Very droll, but also kind of apposite - this is the Kia Trail'ster, another grammatically-enraging car from Korea, but one that points to a hybrid-future for the upstart brand. We've already seen an Optima Hybrid (albeit not much of it on this side of the Atlantic), but the Trail'ster, revealed at the Chicago Auto Show, is packing a much more high-tech hybrid setup.

Up front is a 188hp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, related to the one you'd find in the current cee'd GT. Down the back is a 27kW electric motor that draws its power from a small lithium-ion battery pack and turns the rear wheels and makes this a proper 4x4. And it can add 36hp to the Trail's mix (sorry).

Kia claims that this can improve the in-town economy of the Trail'ster by as much as 30 per cent compared with the current 2.0-litre turbo petrol version (don't bother asking your local Kia dealer for that one - he won't be stocking it). The combined total of the two powertrains comes to a GTI-like 222hp and 286Nm of torque.

That rear motor works in three ways - it can boost the car's overall power when accelerating hard; it can bring the rear wheels into play for extra traction when needed; and it can of course act as a generator to recharge its own battery.

"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," said Tom Kearns, Chief Designer, Kia Design Centre of America (KDCA), where the car was penned. "It takes the go-anywhere capability of an SUV and reimagines it within a compact and sporty package with an expressive design to match."

"This powertrain strategy of a downsized turbo and 'Through-the-Road' hybrid power yields a dual benefit of increased performance - torque and traction - and optimised efficiency. This is AWD being done the advanced, intelligent and responsible way, while sacrificing nothing."

On the outside, the Trail'ster turns the off-roady-ness up to 11 with big aluminium skid plates to protect the underside and massive spotlights mounted up front. The colour scheme, a mix of Polar Pearl Snowdrift (that's metallic white to you and I) and Terra Bronze (that'll be brown) is meant to evoke a snowy mountain landscape, while inside there are big, brown leather seats and a whacking great red starter button. And, for those who like a little bit of camping under the stars, there's a full-length rollback canvas sunroof.

Sounds rugged, man. When can I buy one?

Not yet, I'm afraid, but this is one of those concepts that seems pretty close to production reality so it probably won't be long...

Neil Briscoe - 13 Feb 2015

Earlier articles featuring 2015 Kia Trail'ster

2015-02-06: Kia's new Trail'ster concept

2015 Kia Trail'ster concept. Image by Kia.2015 Kia Trail'ster concept. Image by Kia.2015 Kia Trail'ster concept. Image by Kia.2015 Kia Trail'ster concept. Image by Kia.2015 Kia Trail'ster concept. Image by Kia.

2015 Kia Trail'ster concept. Image by Kia.     - Kia road tests
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- Trail'ster images

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