Envisioned as a performance-oriented variant of the Soul compact car, Kia unwraps the 3-door, turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Track’ster concept vehicle today at the 2012 Chicago auto show.

The emerging brand seeks to deliver a bold design that “would change people’s conceptions of what a sporty Kia could be,” Kia Motors America design chief Tom Kearns says in a statement.

While the orange-and-white Track’ster has a tough-looking, bulldog-type face, it also is “approachable,” Kearns says.

The Track’ster’s turbocharged 2.0L gasoline-driven 4-cyl. engine generates 250 hp, well north of ratings for the production-model Soul’s naturally aspirated I-4s: a 164-hp 2.0L and a 138-hp 1.6L. It is equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission.

Featuring Kia’s signature tiger-nose grille, the Track’ster boasts a carbon-fiber-trimmed air intake. Deep-recessed lenses emphasize trapezoidal motifs repeated throughout the vehicle.

Kia also points to the large lower-intake as a central grille-design element. It features integrated light-emitting diode driving lights with billet-aluminum surrounds.

Orange accents on the carbon-fiber-trimmed valance give the Track’ster a posture Kia describes as “menacing.” The Soul’s suspension has been lowered and retuned for the concept vehicle to improve track performance.

Like the Soul, the Track’ster has an angled roof. Its doors are lengthened and feature smooth, billet push-style handles and a billet fuel-filler door.

Side valances have functional intakes to cool the vehicle’s rear brakes.

Unique HRE-K1 monoblock billet performance wheels are trimmed with 19-in. Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 high-performance tires.

The horizontal orange “backpack” panel on the hatch emphasizes the vehicle’s stance, which is 5 ins. (13 cm) wider than a production Soul. The Track’ster’s wheelbase is almost 1 in. (2.5 cm) longer.

Inside the concept, Kia designers further developed the color scheme with deeply-bolstered seats swathed in orange suede and “Granite Gray” suede on the steering wheel and door panels.

In lieu of rear seats the Track’ster has a fully integrated equipment tray and spare-tire well, as well as large paneled bins suited for racing-gear stowage.

Kia says there is no plan to produce the Track’ster.

Brand officials once were high on Soul variants, having shown a convertible concept, the Soul’ster at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

But a Kia U.S. official told WardsAuto in 2010 that a production version was unlikely because a convertible Soul would be a niche model and require a different body structure.

The Soul last year became Kia’s No.2 seller in the U.S. behind the Sorento cross/utility vehicle, and the brand’s second model to surpass 100,000 deliveries in a calendar year. The Soul accounted for 102,267 units in 2010, a 52.4% increase from prior-year, according to WardsAuto data.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com