Kia Trail’ster Concept is Soulful, AWD Hybrid for Chicago
Cute-Ute May End Up Fighting Jeep Renegade
Kia may be getting into the compact-crossover fight with its newest concept, the Trail’ster, which is based on the Soul compact wagon. Revealed today at the Chicago Auto Show, the Trail’ster is “built to escape the city streets and roam into the mountain wilderness,” according to Tom Kearns, chief designer at the Kia Design Center of America. “It takes the go-anywhere capability of an SUV and reimagines it within a compact and sporty package with an expressive design to match.”
The Trail’ster significantly departs from the Soul in terms of its powertrain. Kia’s 1.6L turbocharged I-4 moves 185 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, while an electric motor turns the rear wheels at low speeds for better traction when launching, in inclement weather, and during off-road situations. The instant torque of the electric motor also compensates for the gas engine’s turbo lag, which should help provide fairly good throttle response. Combined power ratings for the Trail’ster are 220 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque, which is at the top of the compact-crossover class.
The Trail’ster has been lifted 2.5 inches over the Soul upon which it is based, with 19-inch snow tires and KSport coilover shocks for additional traction and suspension capability. Armored aluminum skid plates provide body protection for the inevitable rock bashing. We wouldn’t expect the Trail’ster to comfortably tackle the Rubicon Trail, but it should be more than able to handle dirt roads, washboard surfaces, and unplowed snow. We’d bet it’d be able to match the Jeep Renegade’s capabilities in 95 percent of the situations owners will experience.
Birthed in Kia’s California design studio, the Trail’ster is painted Polar Pearl Snowdrift, a neutral white that no doubt blends into Chicago’s weather quite well. A Terra Bronze roof and rocker panels keep the exterior from looking boring, as do red accents on the wheels. A rollback canvas roof (kind of like the Sky Slider from the most recent Jeep Liberty) lets the sunshine in, an obvious nod to Jeep’s open-top heritage. Kia says that a rollback roof was chosen over glass or sheetmetal panels for its light weight.
A narrow front grille joins with LED/projector-beam headlights, creating a full-width front graphic that’s a bit more sophisticated than the current Soul. Massive fog lamps look like the thrusters for the starship Enterprise. Whether that’s good or not is your call, but it’s certainly distinctive and matches the giant brake lights below the Trail’ster’s smoother rear hatch.
Leather and cloth adorn the interior, which is finished in a similar shade of brown as the exterior accents. Aluminum inlays in the floor mats and scattered around the interior help it feel modern. Kia claims the interior design was inspired in part by wintersports accessories, and strangely, that description fits. The color palette and alloy accents certainly match this author’s snowboard bindings.
The company didn’t comment on whether the Track’ster was being considered for production, but we’d be surprised if at least some elements of the concept don’t show up on the Soul. Given the worldwide success of compact crossovers like the aforementioned Renegade, Chevrolet Trax, Nissan Juke, and various French CUVs, an all-wheel-drive Soul would likely broaden the little hamster’s appeal. While we wouldn’t consider it a legitimate off-roader, it would still likely steal a few sales from its competitors. Kia’s other Soul-based concepts haven’t come to fruition, but the Trail’ster looks like the most production-friendly Soul variant yet.