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Kia Trail'ster is the hybrid off-roader of your green dreams

Auto Show SUVs

To call the quirky little Kia Soul a big seller is an understatement of the highest order.

Kia moved over 145,000 of them last year, enough to slot it into the #2 spot in the company’s lineup, just a couple of thousand units behind the popular Optima midsize sedan.

This despite the fact that the compact crossover isn’t available with all-wheel-drive, which would likely broaden its appeal in many parts of the country.

Well, that might change soon if the Trail’ster concept unveiled at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show is any indication. And not in the typical way.

The Trail’ster is fitted with an electric motor that drives the rear wheels, which is powered either by the engine or a small 1.2 kilowatt-hour battery.

With this configuration, it can operate as a conventional front-wheel-drive vehicle, using its 185 hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an all-wheel-drive hybrid if things get slippery, or a rear-wheel-drive electric, but only for two or three miles at a time.

When both ends are pushing, the Trail’ster has a combined output of 220 hp and a potent 285 lb-ft of torque, while its hybrid operation also improves fuel economy up to 10 percent on the highway and 30 percent around town, Kia says.

To go along with the high tech 4x4 system, the concept also features wide fender flares, oversized round fog lamps, aluminum skid plates and a fully retractable canvas roof.

No plans for production have been announced, but many styling elements from the 2012 Kia Track’ster concept ended up in the current Soul, and with the tiny trail rated Jeep Renegade getting tons of attention, don’t be surprised to see something like the Trail’ster making tracks to dealers soon.