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The Kia Trail'ster electric AWD concept is more all-terrain savvy than the production Soul with its 5.9 in (150 mm) of ground clearance.

Kia reveals electric AWD Trail'ster concept

The Trail’ster concept interprets the Kia Soul as an electric all-wheel-drive compact CUV.

“We keep re-imagining what we could do with the Soul because it’s such a popular car. When you have a vehicle like that, you want to make some variations of it. You want to do some different things with it,” Tom Kearns, Chief Designer of the Kia Design Center of America, said in an interview with Automotive Engineering immediately following the Trail’ster’s world debut at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show.

The front-wheel drive Soul arrived in the U.S. market as a 2010 model. A second-generation model followed in the 2014MY, and the all-electric Soul EV was added to the 2015MY product line-up in select U.S. markets.

The Concept Trail’ster sits more than 2.5 in (64 mm) higher than the production Soul. The vehicle’s unique fittings include a rollback canvas roof, undercarriage aluminum skid plates, Ksport coil-over shocks, and Pirelli Winter Carving 245/45-19 snow tires.

There are two power sources for the Trail’ster: a 1.6-L turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 185 hp (138 kW) and 185 lb·ft (251 N·m) that mates to a six-speed automatic transmission and an ac synchronous permanent magnet electric motor producing 27 kW and 100 lb·ft (136 N·m). The 270-volt electric motor, packaged just ahead of the rear axle, and the gasoline engine provide a total output of 220 hp (164 kW) and 285 lb·ft (386 N·m).

Trail’ster has no mechanical linkages between the engine and the electric motor.

Orth Hedrick, Vice President of Product Planning for Kia Motors America Inc. said in an Automotive Engineering Interview that Trail’ster’s powertrain configuration is unique. “The gas engine drives the front wheels, and the electric motor drives the rear wheels. That’s new for us,” Hedrick said.

While the gasoline engine is the primary power source, the electric motor helps provide instant torque during initial startup when the turbo is still spooling up, noted Hedrick, adding, “If the vehicle is on a slippery surface, the electric motor provides additional traction to a second set of wheels.”

In a light acceleration mode, the electric motor can drive the Trail’ster for an expected range of 1 to 3 mi (1.6 to 4.8 km).

Trail’ster’s electric motor also functions as a generator to recover kinetic energy and recharge the 1.2-kW·h lithium-ion polymer battery pack, stowed under the cargo floor, during vehicle braking or coasting. The vehicle is fitted with an electrically driven A/C compressor, and a hybrid starter/generator for engine stop-start as needed.

Compared to the 2.0-L engine-powered 2015 Soul, the Trail’ster is targeted for a 25-30% fuel economy improvement in city driving and a 5-10% improvement in highway driving.

The concept taps technology from Kia production vehicles such as the 1.6-L turbocharged engine that powers the Forte5 SX. “We have the engine already. We have the electric motor already. We have the battery technology, and we have the platform,” said Hedrick, “It’s just using the ingredients and coming up with something new and unique.”

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