Yesterday, Kia unveiled their new, but not so different Trail’ster concept in Chicago, and while the design of the subcompact car was definitely a focus of the press conference, the biggest news to come from the Korean automaker has all to do with the electric all-wheel drive system that was announced—a system that would actually separate the Trail’ster from previous versions of the Soul and its derivatives.
An all-wheel drive Soul is not an entirely original idea. Kia has wanted to get all four wheels of the Soul train moving since they unveiled the performance-enhancing Track’ster concept in Chicago a short three years ago. That is not to say that the AWD system of the Trail’ster is not original, however. It is still extremely unique, and its originality lies in the way that it distributes power to the axles.
Kia Trail’ster Electric All-Wheel Drive System
According to Kia, the Trail’ster engine is the same size as the one found in the nose of the current Soul, but it’s not naturally aspirated. The turbocharged 1.6-liter engine of the Trail’ster puts out 185 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque, a significant improvement over the 130-horsepower powertrain we know now.
Unlike a traditional AWD system, however, that torque is split between the greedy pair of wheels up front, because in back, the power source is entirely different. The rear axle is spun exclusively by a 27 kW electric motor that puts out 35 horsepower and has the ability to direct 100 lb-ft of twist to the rear axle when needed. There is no link between the engine and the motor. They are completely separate entities.
It is also worth noting that the back set of wheels only spin when you tell them to. It seems a bit sleazy to define the whole operation as an all-wheel drive system when there is no connection between the axles and when the all of the wheels aren’t constantly in motion, but Kia has an explanation for this, explaining that “the link between the two is the road itself.” Real deep shit.
The AWD system proposed for the Track’ster would have required a complete overhaul to the drivetrain, and that is likely one of the major reasons that it was never added to the production list. Bringing all-wheel drive to the Trail’ster wouldn’t require nearly as much work, and for that reason, we wouldn’t be surprised if Kia followed GM’s cue with the Chevy Bolt and turned their Trail’ster concept into a production model.
With more power and increased fuel economy provided by the introduction of electricity to the powertrain, it is hard to find any reason that the Trail’ster wouldn’t be a welcome addition to the Soul lineup, but it’s difficult to picture the subcompact car as the off-road-capable CUV that Kia is positioning it as.
If they patch up that useless roll-back canvas top with a piece of steel and shave off that roof rack, I truly believe that they could find some success with bringing the Trail’ster to market. Again, although somewhat misleading, the electric all-wheel drive system does provide a number of appealing benefits, and for that reason, I say they should do it.
At the close of the press conference, Kia’s Michael Sprague said that the future of the Trail’ster will be left in the hands of the public. If we hear anything more, we’ll be sure to let you know.