Introduced last fall, the 2015 Kia Soul EV makes an arguable case to go electric with good utility and the highest EPA-rated range among all EVs not named “Tesla.”
Like any car, the all-electric version of Kia’s second-generation Soul comes with pros and cons though, and arrives at a transitional time for evolving EVs three years after Nissan’s Leaf and other sub-$40,000 EVS have set expectations, and with next-generation models on the horizon.
This will follow-up with more observations of the yet-California-only car driven two weeks on the East Coast where it’s not actually for sale yet.
Kia actually surprised itself with the first-generation Soul when from 2009 onwards its mini-ute began selling circles around the Scion xB and for an encore, it designed the slightly longer and wider Soul last year to be converted to all-electric status.
People have said Kia’s dancing hamster mascots intended to cull in gen-Y buyers are hip or cute or what have you, but more important is what the Kia Soul EV is under the skin.
Unlike converted EVs with batteries stuffed in the trunk like Ford’s otherwise competent Focus Electric, this one suspends a 600-pound, largest-in-class 27-kwh li-ion polymer pack under the car so as not to impede from the gas-version’s cargo space.
Chassis reinforcements and low center of gravity with optimal weight distribution make for a fairly graceful conversion raising questions over the virtue of purpose-made versus converted EVs.
The Soul EV is thus, you might say, purpose-made to be converted.
And, its three-more kilowatt-hours over the Leaf’s 24 kwh bumps EPA rated range to 93 miles versus 84 and this is not a case of over promising and under delivering, but it tends to over deliver by a small amount.
Propulsion comes from an 81-kilowatt liquid-cooled AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor. Its 109 horsepower coupled with 210 pounds-feet of torque again feels better than a jaded view of the spec sheet might suggest.
Of course this is a single-speed affair per customary EV practice. Maximum velocity is 90 mph and beyond the range estimate, the EPA says it gets 120 city/92 highway and 105 combined.
In part because it’s less aerodynamic, the box on wheel’s efficiency is lower on the scale, near the Ford’s 110/99/105, but the Soul’s 105 combined lags behind the midsized Leaf (114), “minicompact” Fiat 500e (116), subcompact Chevrolet Spark EV (119, or even BMW i3 (124 MPGe).
Good news is recharging is fast enough via a grille panel that pops open from a button inside to expose ports for the 6.6-kw charger, with a J1772 connector for 120/240-volt charging and supplied as-standard CHAdeMO port for 480-volt DC quick charging.
Using the latter, the Soul EV can be zapped to 80 percent full in 33 minutes, while a full charge at 240 volts will take 4 to 5 hours.
Using our Bosch Xpress EVSE limited to 24 amps on a 30-amp dedicated circuit at 247 indicated volts, level two is as advertised five-times quicker than level one house current.
The Soul comes with a 120-volt charger, but its 24-hour recharge time is glacial by comparison.
Those hamsters are meant to dazzle youngsters into feeling this is one cool ride, and painted up as ours was, it does overlay hipness with otherwise sensible standard fare.
More plain colors like white or gray can let you escape standing out in a vehicle that’s otherwise not very distinguishable from the near-ubiquitous Soul gas version, or there’s also a black version with red roof and accents.
In re-doing the Soul, Kia did not otherwise deviate too far from the formula that works with short overhangs, roomy interior, nice split-fold-down rear seats with privacy/security cover in the rear.
EV specific badging, a blocked-off grille, aero undertray and special wheels help to define the EV package.
Dash layout is functional, materials are a respectable assortment of soft and hard-touch, and instruments – including EV-specific gauges and infotainment – are arranged logically enough.
The net result is a familiar automotive experience, if not exceedingly upscale for our upper level car of two available trim packages pushing over $37,000 before taxes and tags.
As Kia positions it, the zero emissions car is fanciful and fun, as indicated by a European and a U.S. commercial:
Opulent it is not, but when you look closer, touches like electric retractable mirrors, heated and cooled perforated leather seats, 8-inch screen, and energy-saving functions like Driver-Only HVAC and exotic energy saving heat pump show you are getting something special.
The package works too and proves comfortable for daily running around and occasionally stuffing things in back, even an 18-inch frame mountain bike with front wheel removed and all the gear.
100 Miles Range Can Be Enough
The EPA says 93 miles, but we’ve logged up to 110 miles with four to spare, 90-100 miles is not too tough in combined driving, and others have verified this too. Prior to EPA certification, Kia initially said up to 120 miles range would be possible in announcing its first EV outside its home market, probably based on its own sedate testing, as this might be achievable at turtle pace.
Considering U.S. government studies say the average daily drive is under 40 miles, this means if you fit that profile, you may be immune to range anxiety unless a longer journey is required.
Personally, I about fit that profile, and had the Soul EV for a luxurious two full weeks and the car started to grow on me.
Once I got the new Bosch EVSE up and running to make recharging faster, I realized I had range to spare. Each day I’d come in with 50-60 remaining miles and it was no worries. The recharge was between two and three hours.
Mental readjustment is necessary though. Unlike how it would be with a base $16,000 Soul, I could never have contemplated hopping in and taking the Kia back from the East Coast to where they actually sell them in California.
EVs like this are local runners, but the operating cost, no tailpipe, simplicity and drive experience are perks, the car is enjoyable, and on that note, we’ll share more on that…
With low center of gravity, and reinforced chassis to handle the extra weight, the Soul EV takes corners respectably composed, if not laden with g-forces.
Operation as one would expect is very hushed, and no squeaks and rattles that one might have heard were noticed to add to the thrum of the super low rolling resistance EV specific tires.
Part of the long range is this is not an overpowered beast. You can’t waste too many electrons if you tried, as is the case with powerful EVs meant to push you into the back seat and simulate a take-off in a SpaceX rocket heading to Mars.
No, the Soul is frugal, no nonsense, gets the job done, but never feels so slow as to be a safety hazard. On the highway, power is always available to run with and even ahead of the flow.
Zero to 60 around 11.2 seconds is maybe half a second or more slower than a current Prius – which is quicker than the former generation Prius – and in other words within range of standard deviation for eco cars.
A function on the transmission called “Brake” (B) common to electrified vehicles significantly adds regenerative energy and you might see range go up a mile or two with enough coast-downs.
It’s so useful, we wish there were regen paddles to activate it in lieu of a brake, as moving the shifter every time you come to a stop is burdensome, and may even wear out something in the mechanism over the years, so we would not recommend doing this.
The Soul also has an Eco function that’s progressively settable. It can so rein in the power as to initially make you wonder if the car is broken. Eco is not much fun, but will save some energy, that’s for sure.
Speaking of broken, it may have been a fluke, but two times the Soul EV inexplicably went into a limp mode with power drastically and immediately cut.
The first time it happened just as we came off a highway which was fortunate as the car would no go past 44 indicated mph. Dash lights came on to alert there was a fault, and we nursed it home.
We were afraid to shut off and reboot thinking it may just leave us stranded, but actually, when we arrived at our destination, we did just that, and just as mysteriously, the car began operating normally, capable again of chirping the front tires with the abrupt torque.
The next time this happened a few days later, we shut the car off, restarted, and it was fixed again. Go figure.
Is this a concern? One instance with this press fleet car does not an issue make, but we’re noting it.
The base model starts at $33,700 plus $850 destination charge. It and a $35,700 plus $850 destination Soul EV+ are nicely equipped and you can factor off applicable federal or state incentives.
The Soul EV is packed with options above a base gas version and with surcharge on top of that for the electric conversion. A base stripped Soul starts at below $16,000 and add a few thousand for a nicely equipped one.
Included standard are rearview camera, heated outside mirrors, tilt-telescoping steering column, heated steering wheel and front seats; power windows; navigation and infotainment system; Bluetooth connectivity; and a six-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary jacks.
To be sure, this is a luxurious car positioned at a youthful demographic, but really, its price is within league of the $30,000 and up Leaf and Focus and a few others and it’s thus competitive among peers.
A $7,500 federal tax credit and state incentives as applicable help, but as many other EV adopters have discovered, this car too may be a better candidate for a lease.
Leasing for as low as $249 monthly with $1,999 down could make this Kia more appealing. Leasing may make all the more sense too, as this is an awkward time for EVs.
Next Benchmark Coming
In February we noted three new EVs in the mid 30s are pending in the next 1-3 years that will offer 200-250 mile range.
These are the Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3 and second-generation Leaf. A rumor also has it that Nissan may update the 2016 Leaf with a 30-kwh battery for 105 miles or so range as a stop-gap measure before a full redesign the year following, and that also would make it more competitive next to the Kia.
That said, these promised cars are long on rumors, and short on specifics about actual performance, range, design, and much more. No one has even seen the next Tesla or Nissan, but the pre-production Bolt is out being road tested. GM has not confirmed the model year even for that.
So really, these double-the-range cars have as-of-yet uncertain launch dates and may not be available in 2017 or even 2018, though unofficial reports suggest they could be here in that time frame.
For those who want an EV now, leasing a Soul EV for three years could mean not having to wait a year or two more and potential downsides associated with ownership could be eliminated without having to wait.
Kia Is Still Very Competitive
The irony of the state of affairs in the sub-$40,000 EV market is Kia’s EV is just now rolling out to new markets. It’s later than others, but being spec’d marginally better and the only electric small SUV it may be one of the best EVs going in this price class, if you can get it.
The automaker for now sells it only in California. This summer, the Soul EV will go on sale in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Georgia – and actually at least one dealer in Olympia, Wash. has it already.
Kia hasn’t announced any other markets but has told us it will continue to review its next steps.
Thus our next step – with asterisk attached – is to reiterate we like what this car delivers and think for some it could indeed fill the bill.