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Kia Trail’ster concept unveiled at 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Do you remember the first-generation Kia Sportage?

Neither does anyone else. That initial four-wheel drive Kia belonged to an era when small SUVs were kind of hard to take seriously.

Now, though, tiny SUVs are big business, but with the Sportage all grown up Kia is looking to cash in with something a little different.

Debuting in appropriately wintery conditions at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, the Kia Trail’ster concept is a Soul with buffer styling and electric all-wheel drive.

The Trail’ster retains the production Soul’s boxy profile, but adds a new front bumper imitating a skid plate, lots of extra LED lighting, chunky red-accented wheels, and a rollback canvas roof. It also sits about 2.5 inches higher than a Soul.

On the inside, the Trail’ster is trimmed in brown leather and features macho touches like a bulky shift lever, all-wheel drive controls, and a big red ignition button.

Helping the Trail’ster live up to this rough-and-ready bravado is an “e-AWD” system that uses a conventional gasoline engine to power the front wheels, and an electric motor to power the rear wheels, making the vehicle a hybrid.

Power primarily comes from a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which produces 185 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Kia Trail'ster concept

Under certain conditions, a rear-mounted electric motor fed by a 1.2-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack kicks in, bringing total output to 220 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque.

Increased power and traction come with increased fuel economy, according to Kia.

Thanks to the hybrid system, as well as engine start-stop and an electric air conditioning compressor, the carmaker expects fuel-economy improvements of 25 to 30 percent in highway driving and 5 to 10 percent in city driving compared to a 2.0-liter 2015 Soul.

Kia won’t discuss production plans, but with its clever all-wheel drive system and the Soul’s already distinctive looks, the Trail’ster seems like it would do well against the likes of the 2015 Jeep Renegade, 2016 Mazda CX-3, and Nissan Juke.