Turbocharged. All-wheel drive. Kia Soul. Put those three terms together, and you have the makings of the 2015 Kia Trail’ster e-AWD concept debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in February, 2015. After confirming its new concept in January, using a teaser image and a brief press release, Kia has now released all the information on the exciting and intriguing Trail’ster.

In this concept form, the Soul trades in its city-bound form for a more rugged manifestation. Off-road-focused additions include bigger wheels and tires, more ride height, and most importantly, an electric all-wheel-drive system (e-AWD) that uses an electric motor to power the rear wheels. The jury is still out on whether this concept will make production, but we have a thing or two to say about it after the jump.

Updated 02/13/2015: We added a series of Trails’ter images taken during the car’s official debut at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show. Check them out in the "Pictures" tab.

Click past the jump to read more about the Kia Trail’ster e-AWD Concept.

  • 2015 Kia Trail’ster e-AWD Concept
  • Year:
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
  • Transmission:
    six-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
  • MPG(Cty):
    30 (Est.)
  • MPG(Hwy):
    34 (Est.)
  • Torque @ RPM:
  • Displacement:
    1.6 L
  • 0-60 time:
    7 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    110 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    30000 (Est.)
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • car fuel:
  • body style:

Update History

Updated 02/12/2015: Kia unveiled the new Trail’ster e-AWD Concept at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show. Check the official details after the jump.


2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept Exterior
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2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept Exterior
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2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept High Resolution Exterior
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A set of striking LED taillights surrounded by rugged housings set the mood for the back end.

For those of you who don’t fancy the Kia Soul, you may want to turn away, as this concept is based upon the quirky, love-it-or-hate-it hatchback. To give it some much-needed ruggedness, Kia jacked up the Soul and added some extra lower cladding.

Up front, Kia added in tons of LED lighting to help get you through any conditions, including a set of overhead lights and massive, circular fog lights. Housing the fog lights is a revised bumper with an aluminum skid plate beneath it to handle a little extra off-the-beaten-path driving. Keeping the model in line with the rest of Kia’s lineup is the signature “Tiger Nose” grille and that relatively flat Soul front end.

Around back the motif of the Trail’ster continues, as Kia worked hard to make it rugged while still maintaining the look and feel of the Soul. A set of striking LED taillights surrounded by rugged housings set the mood for the back end. Like the front end, the rear also comes with a ready-for-the-trail aluminum skid plate underneath, and massive, round lights integrated into the black bumper.

Coating the Trail’ster is a hue that Kia calls Polar Pearl Snowdrift with a Terra Bronze Metallic roof, which also features a roll-top canvas roof, and lower cladding contrasting that base coat nicely.


2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept Interior
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2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept Interior
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The inserts not only look like they would feel quite nice on the ol’ derriere, but they also look like they are fairly grippy.

Contrary to popular belief, the Kia Soul is actually a pretty nice vehicle to spend some time in, thanks to its high-end features in its upper trim levels. Likewise, the Trail’ster also features a fairly upscale cabin that includes brown leather seats with pillow-embossed textile or the center inserts. The inserts not only look like they would feel quite nice on the ol’ derriere, but they also look like they are fairly grippy.

Under your feet lay floor mats with aluminum inlays for additional traction and to protect the Trail’sters carpeting from mud, water, and snow. There is also a fair amount of high-gloss and metallic trim work to give the cabin that little extra something.

To be honest, the fact that Kia only changed a few things when turning the small hatch into this trail-ready concept is a testament to just how nice the Soul’s cabin really is.


2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept High Resolution Exterior
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When combined with the output of the gasoline engine, this system produces 220 horsepower and 285 pound-feet of twist.

We can talk about all the exterior changes, the raised ride height, and the beautiful cabin until we’re blue in the face, but the real story here is that drivetrain. Under the hood of the Trail’ster concept is Kia’s 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 185 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of twist, and mates to a six-speed auto transmission that delivers the power to the front wheels. What makes this concept so special is the electric all-wheel-drive system that the gasoline powertrain combines with.

On the electric side of things there is a 1.2 kWh lithium-ion better powering a 240-volt electric motor that delivers 35 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque exclusively to the rear wheels. When combined with the output of the gasoline engine, this system produces 220 horsepower and 285 pound-feet of twist.

The electric and gasoline units perform three different dances depending on the conditions. Under light throttle, the electric motor drives the Trail’ster without aid from the gasoline engine at low speeds for up to three miles. Once you put that hammer down, however, both powerplants come to life and the electric motor is there to deliver instant torque to help overcome turbo lag. The final dance number occurs only when things get a little bit loose, as the electric motor will chime in to help overcome front-wheel slippage.

When the electric motor is not needed – when coasting or braking – it turns into a generator to convert the kinetic energy from the rear wheels into juice for the battery.

Though Kia did not get into specifics, I expect the Trail’ster to be rather zippy, maybe even in the seven-second range to 60 mph. Additionally, Kia mentioned that if the Trail’ster makes it to production, it expects to see fuel economy improvements of 25 to 30 percent in the city and 5 to 10 percent on the highway over the current Soul’s 2.0-liter engine. Those estimates would put the Trail’ster at roughly 30 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, which are pretty decent for an all-wheel-drive crossover.

Drivetrain Specifications

front axle 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Output 185 HP
Torque 185 LB-FT
Transmission six-speed automatic
Rear axle Electric system
Type 27 kW, 270 volt AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor
Battery 1.2 kWh Lithium Ion Polymer
Output 35 HP
Torque 100 LB-FT
Total output 220 HP
Total torque 285 LB-FT


For now, the price tag is something along the lines of "pie in the sky," but if Kia did decide to introduce a production version of the Trail’ster e-AWD concept, there’s no reason to think that pricing would be positioned above the Soul EV’s $33,700 price tag.


Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid High Resolution Exterior
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When it comes to small, off-road-friendly hybrids, the Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid might be in a class by itself – unless Kia has something to say about that, of course. Powered by a 2.0-liter boxer engine paired with a continuously variable transmission with an integrated electric motor and Subaru’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid delivers 34 mpg highway to go along with its 8.7 inches of go-anywhere ground clearance.

Jeep Renegade

2015 Jeep Renegade High Resolution Exterior
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The 2015 Jeep Renegade would also be another good match for an off-roading Kia Soul. Jeep’s newest model goes on sale this year, and while it doesn’t have any electric motors driving its wheels, it does bring Jeep’s legendary off-road prowess to the small-SUV market. And while we can’t see what Kia has in store for the roof of the Trail’ster, the Renegade also offers a trick open-air experience with the My Sky removable roof panels.


There are still many questions that remain about the 2015 Kia Trail’ster e-AWD concept, the most important of which centers around Kia’s production intentions. The only downside to the Trail’ster e-AWD concept is Kia’s history of not bringing its Soul-based concepts to life – e.g., the 2009 Soul’ster Concept (a cool little Soul-based pickup) and the 2012 Track’ster Concept (a three-door hatchback that did end up inspiring the design of the second-gen Soul). As popular as the second-gen Soul has been, and as long as rumors have been spreading about a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Kia Soul, all signs point toward a pretty good chance that this could finally be the one to make it from the glitz and glamor of the auto-show circuit to the rough and rugged trails of the real world.

  • Leave it
    • What took so long to create a turbo, AWD Soul?
    • Kia’s track record of not producing Soul-based concepts
Justin Cupler
Justin Cupler
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Press Release

Aligning form and function to conceive a uniquely compelling vehicle for the city-dweller-turned-outdoor-adventurer, Kia Motors America (KMA) today took the wraps off the boldly designed Trail’ster e-AWD concept at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show. Based on the brand’s iconic Soul urban passenger vehicle, 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. With its rugged, functional and upscale approach to an active mountain-focused lifestyle, Trail’ster was dreamt up at Kia’s California design studio, birthplace of the unforgettable Track’ster and GT4 Stinger.

2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept High Resolution Exterior
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“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 Center of America (KDCA). “It takes the go-anywhere capability of an SUV and reimagines it within a compact and sporty package with an expressive design to match.”

Underscoring Kia’s focus on all-wheel drive capability, the Trail’ster enables a wide array of mountain activities, from skiing and snowboarding to camping, hiking and mountain biking. Whether it’s trekking up to a high, snowy summit or traipsing down a muddy fire road to a piney trailhead, the Trail’ster – thanks to a rear axle-mounted electric all-wheel-drive system – is all about surefootedness in the wild.

A Soul Searcher, Inside and Out
Based on the production Soul, the Trail’ster’s overall shape and size are unmistakable. But with family genes tied closely to the thought-provoking Track’ster and Soul’ster concepts — which pushed Soul far into new directions to realize its performance and lifestyle possibilities — the Trail’ster also takes a dramatic departure from its production-car roots with styling and drivetrain components that turn Kia’s popular urban passenger vehicle into a rugged runabout, further demonstrating that Soul is indeed the ideal platform for creativity and experimentation.

2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept High Resolution Exterior
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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 confidently through on its way to outdoor destinations high above sea level. The Polar Pearl Snowdrift exterior paint is a modern neutral color, against which the warm and contrasting 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 infuse a purposeful and sophisticated aesthetic to the Trail’ster’s precise design, taking inspiration from high-tech, high-performance outdoor sporting gear.

Overhead, the Trail’ster features a stylish 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 lighten the vehicle and lowers the center of gravity, promoting higher efficiency and improved dynamics. Integrated roof rack fittings with aluminum cross rails allow adventurers to tote mountain bikes or snowboards with ease.

The Trail’ster’s use of advanced LED technology creates a strong and unique lighting identity from top to bottom, front to back. Upfront, the signature Kia grille bars extend through the K900-style projector headlamps to create a full-width frontal graphic. And below, expressive fog light elements give the vehicle a bold personality while providing additional wattage for illuminating off-the-beaten-track excursions. The Trail’ster’s rear view takes on a tough-looking appearance framed by LED taillamps that are built into durable, ruggedized light housings. Highlighting its off-road prowess, the Trail’ster wears aluminum skidplates around the entire vehicle, providing a protective armor to shield the undercarriage from jagged rocks and ice.

Within, the Trail’ster’s color and trim palette combines brown leather and aluminum accents to relay an earthy but upscale environment that’s both durable and comfortable. Cabin materials are inspired by snow sports gear and equipment. “We drew from high-quality active lifestyle accessories like snowboarding gloves, boots and helmets to bring a premium level of craftsmanship and character to the interior space,” commented Kearns.

2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The focal point of this interior is a tactile and sturdy center console incorporating a thickset gear shifter, AWD controls and a bright red ignition button. Brown leather-trimmed seats feature a pillow-embossed textile for the seat inserts and the floor mats feature aluminum inlays for all-weather traction. Other interior finishes and details were also inspired by the top-quality materials of cold-weather sporting gear, like leather, high-gloss paint and metallic trim.

Being based on the Kia Soul means the Trail’ster also benefits from efficient packaging and an abundance of space for passengers and their cargo as they head out on their next adventure.

Ready to Roam Anywhere
The Trail’ster is primarily powered by a robust 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine outputting 185 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission, matched to an electric all-wheel-drive system on the rear axle intended for low-speed assist, enhanced launch acceleration and improved traction in inclement weather or off-road situations. In addition, this approach helps mitigate turbo lag by providing instant torque. The system also improves fuel economy over standard all-wheel-drive setups by operating only when needed and serving as an energy recovery mechanism. Further defining the near future perspective of Soul as a capable and efficient all-wheel-driver runner, the Trail’ster arrives as a “Through-the-Road” hybrid, which means it has two power sources (a front gas engine and a rear electric motor) that make up the hybrid system and meet “through the road,” as opposed to inside the transmission with a common driveline connection. It requires all four wheels being driven in careful coordination, but there’s no mechanical link between engine and electric motor. The link between the two is the road itself.

"This powertrain strategy of a downsized turbo and ‘Through-the-Road’ hybrid power yields a dual benefit of increased performance – torque and traction – and optimized efficiency,” said Kearns. “This is AWD being done the advanced, intelligent and responsible way, while sacrificing nothing.” Should the Trail’ster find its way to production, fuel economy would be targeted at a 25-30 percent improvement in city driving and 5-10 percent in highway driving over the normally aspirated 2015 2.0-liter gasoline Soul.

2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept High Resolution Exterior
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The Trail’ster’s electric propulsion system draws energy from a 1.2 kWh Lithium Ion Polymer battery powering a 27 kW, 270 volt AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor outputting 35 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels and bringing total output to an impressive 220 horses and 285 pound-feet 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.

2015 Kia Trail'ster e-AWD Concept High Resolution Exterior
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For traversing tough terrain, the Trail’ster has been raised more than two-and-a-half inches over the production Soul. In addition, this mountain rover wears Pirelli Winter Carving 245/45-19 snow tires for enhanced traction and utilizes KSport coilover shocks to absorb the impact of rough, uneven ground and rocky surfaces.

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