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Kia Trail’ster Electric All-Wheel-Drive Concept Unveiled at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Is Electric All-Wheel-Drive the future of the off-road rigs?

Kia is not normally known for off-road prowess but it seems they’ve fired back at Jeep with a Renegade fighter of their own after unveiling the Kia Trail’ster electric all-wheel-drive concept at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show. Now while many of you are no doubt up in arms and probably furiously typing away about how the Kia Trail’ster concept is a soccer-mom mall-crawler, we hope you’ll at least take the time to see what this concept is packing under the cutesy hamster-mobile exterior.

The Kia Trail’ster e-AWD concept is based on the brand’s iconic Soul urban passenger vehicle but it differs in pretty much every way beyond that. The Trail’ster features a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that puts out 185 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. The kicker is that it’s all matched to an electric all-wheel-drive system on the rear axle that is intended for low-speed assist, enhanced launch acceleration and improved traction in inclement weather or off-road situations. The electric all-wheel-drive system also helps mitigate turbo lag by providing instant torque which in turn improves fuel economy over standard all-wheel-drive setups by operating only when needed and serving as an energy recovery mechanism

The Trail’ster is aimed at enabling drivers to head to the mountains, through snowy summits or muddy fire road all the way to piney trailhead, thanks to a rear axle-mounted electric all-wheel-drive system. The Trail’ster’s electric propulsion system draws energy from a 1.2 kWh Lithium Ion Polymer battery which powers a 27 kW, 270 volt AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor that puts out 35 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels which brings the total output to 220 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque.

To further improve fuel efficiency, the system also utilizes a Hybrid Starter Generator (HSG) to start/stop the engine as needed (and to feed energy to the high voltage battery), and an electrically driven A/C compressor, which can run when the engine is shut off. This technology is designed for easy, lightweight packaging, with the compact battery pack stored under the cargo floor.

Operationally, the rear electric drive system engages in one of three scenarios, depending on throttle position and road conditions: Under light throttle, the Trail’ster attains true clean mobility as the electric motor drives the car solely for a range of two to three miles; under normal driving, the rear electric motor assists the 1.6-liter turbo during acceleration events calling for greater power and torque; when treading off-road or on wet pavement, the electric drive system is introduced when front wheel slippage is detected. Finally, the Trail’ster’s electric motor acts as a generator to recover kinetic energy and recharge the battery when the vehicle is braking or coasting

The exterior color was inspired by the earthy combination of springtime snow and mud, the terrain for which the Trail’ster has been created to travel through on its way to outdoor destination. The Polar Pearl Snowdrift exterior paint is a modern neutral color while the Terra Bronze Metallic tone of the roof and lower cladding brings connection to the soft dirt of roads less traveled. Anodized fire-red wheel accents and polished billet aluminum sections give the Trail’ster’s wheels an aggressive off-road look.

Up top, the Trail’ster features a full-length, weatherproof rollback canvas roof to create an open-sky environment for occupants to enjoy the outdoors even before reaching their chosen high ground. This fully retractable cover also helps shed a few pounds while effectively lowering the center of gravity to improve handling. A set of integrated roof rack fittings with aluminum cross rails allow adventurers to tote mountain bikes or snowboards with ease.

Since the Kia Trail’ster concept was designed to traverse dirt roads and rocky trails, the Trail’ster features aluminum skid plates around the entire vehicle to give it a protective armor to shield the undercarriage from jagged rocks and ice.

Inside the Kia Trail’ster is a tactile and sturdy center console incorporating a thickset gear shifter, AWD controls and a bright red ignition button to get the 185hp turbocharged 1.6-liter engine roaring. Other features include brown leather-trimmed seats which feature a pillow-embossed textile seat inserts and all-weather floor mats with aluminum inlays.

The Kia Trail’ster concept features a little more ground clearance thanks to a suspension that has been raised more than 2.5 inches over the production Kia Soul to allow it to venture off the beaten path. A set of Pirelli winter carving 245/45R19 snow tires give the Trail’ster plenty of traction in snowy and icy conditions while a set of KSport coilover shocks help soak up the rough trails and rocky surfaces.

the turbocharged Trail’ster – with its Polar Pearl Snowdrift/Terra Bronze Metallic paint scheme, roll-top canvas roof and armored aluminum skid plates – captures the essence of an advanced and capable CUV intended for those looking to escape their urban environs in search of higher-elevation playgrounds where snow, mud, streams and trails abound. Efficient and lightweight, the Trail’ster is ideal for transporting adventurers and their gear.

While it’s very clear that this is not a hardcore off-road rig or even a mediocre off-roader, it is a cool electric all-wheel-drive concept that should make for a fun rally car that can achieve great fuel economy while still being able to get you to the campsite on weekends. Just keep in mind it probably isn’t going to be capable of navigating trails like the Rubicon or pretty much anything with rocks larger than a set of work boots.