2015 Chicago Auto Show: Kia Officially Unveils Trail’Ster Hybrid Concept

At yesterday’s opening press day of the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, South Korean automaker Kia made good on its promise to unveil an electric all-wheel drive concept car intended to help trendy young urbanites explore the big outdoors at the weekends.

The Kia Trail'Ster Concept is a through-the-road hybrid.

The Kia Trail’Ster Concept is a through-the-road hybrid.

As we correctly suspected too, while Kia’s press releases have focused on a vehicle with electric all-wheel drive capability, the car in question — the all-new Kia Trail’Ster Concept — is not an all-electric car but a through-the-road hybrid, relying on a 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine as its primary source of power.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a through-the-road hybrid works by using an electric motor to provide power to the rear axle, while another power source — usually an internal combustion engine, electric motor or combination of the two — provides power to the front wheels.

Usually, through-the-road hybrids feature a moderately-sized battery pack, allowing them to be operated in all-electric mode as well as hybrid mode. So far, every through-the-road hybrid we can think of has made use of an on-board charging port to allow an all-electric range of up to 30 or 40 miles per charge.

The Trail'Ster is based on the Kia Soul, but hasn't been previewed in plug-in hybrid form.

The Trail’Ster is based on the Kia Soul, but hasn’t been previewed in plug-in hybrid form.

In the case of the Kia Trail’Ster concept however, an on-board charge socket isn’t included as standard. Instead, it makes use of a tiny 1.2 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery powering a tiny 27 kilowatt, 270 volt AC synchronous permanent magnet motor that drives the rear wheels.

At the front, a Hybrid Starter Generator capable of providing limited motive power is used in place of a conventional starter motor and alternator, allowing the Kia Trail’Ster to start and stop its gasoline engine as required. It also captures kinetic energy under breaking when required.

In other words, this concept operates as a conventional hybrid rather than a plug-in hybrid, with a very limited all-electric range of ‘a few miles’ and a fuel economy around 25 to 30 percent higher on the city cycle than the current 2.0-litre Kia Soul.

While there’s no plug on this show version however, there is at least some hope. As the attentive will note, the Kia Trail’Ster is based on the same body as the current generation Kia Soul, with about two and a half inches of additional height to aid its off-road, go-anywhere image. There’s also a two-tone paint job, obligatory aluminium skid plates and red-accented 19-inch wheels to complete the look.

Also worthy of note is the full-length cloth roof, which Kia says reduces the car’s weight and lowers its centre of gravity. This — combined with the rear-wheel electric motor — means the Kia Trail’Ster should at least in theory be capable of some sure-footed off-road action. Before you get too excited however, we’re talking a little dirt-track driving rather than full-blown extreme off-road trailing.

Although the concept car itself doesn’t have any plug-in capabilities however, there are some strong hints that should Kia decide to bring this vehicle to production it would come with a more expensive plug-in hybrid option. Like the Prius family of hybrids from Toyota, the Trail’Ster would only be offered in some form of hybrid drivetrain.

Do you like the look of the Trail’Ster concept? Would you like it to have plug-in hybrid capabilities? And how much would you pay for it?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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