Kia has garnered a lot of fans for its Soul, a squared-off mini-ute that proves style and practicality can go hand-in-hand.
For its first EV marketed outside its home country, Kia decided to convert the funky box on wheels which breaks the mold of the more-often seen hatchback configuration.
And, after having driven it at a media road drive event, we can report that nearly everything we like about the internal-combustion version is intact. Although the Soul EV gives up a few inches of back-seat legroom, trunk space remains unchanged and the squared shape means there’s plenty of headroom front and back.
As a bonus, they’re even making commercials for it with the hamsters!
Kia has taken an as-you-like-it approach by offering four paint schemes.
If you want the world to know you’re driving electric, you can get your Soul EV in bright blue with a white roof, as shown in our photos, or jet black with the roof, grille surround, mirrors and chin spoiler done in bright red.
Prefer to play it cool? Then ask for your Soul EV in soul-less white or gray, in which case only the blanked-off grille and five-slot disk wheels distinguish it from the gas-powered version.
Inside, the Soul EV gets a glossy white center stack that appears identical to finishes found on cheap third-party iPod accessories – but the unique digital instrument panel packs a lot of information into an easy-to-scan graphical format.
Over 50 pounds of interior parts are made from bio-based materials, with many of the plastics derived from cellulose and sugar cane. These include things line trim panels, carpeting, headliner, and seat trim.
The Soul comes with a special EV version of Kia’s UVO eServices. With built-in connectivity from Verizon and an app on their phone, Soul EV owners can get real-time battery status and can remotely start and stop charging, heating or air conditioning. Drivers can also use the standard-fit navigation system to find nearby charging stations. UVO services are free for the first five years, and the Soul EV comes with a five-year Sirius TravelLink subscription as well.
So what’s it like? Well, to be frank, it’s a bit unusual. Power isn’t a problem; the Soul EV’s synchronous electric motor is rated at 109 horsepower and 210 pounds-feet of torque.
Like most EVs, the one-speeder with torque from zero delivers strong thrust with no waiting, unless you accidentally switch it into Active Eco mode, which chains up the amps in order to stretch battery life. If given full access to the juice, Kia says the Soul will scamper to 60 mph in 11.2 seconds and top out at 90 mph.
One thing we really like is the regenerative braking setup. With the shifter in “D,” the Soul EV responds like an ordinary car. Shifting into “B” (“Brake”) allows one-foot driving: Lift off the accelerator pedal brake, apply light pressure to drift, and gas it (figuratively speaking) when you want to go.
But the ride is a bit of a head-scratcher. Our test car pitched awkwardly over low-speed bumps, as if the engineers had beefed up the springs to handle the extra weight of the batteries but hadn’t spent much time or money fine-tuning the whole set-up.
Once up to speed, the Soul is smooth and commendably quiet. You’d think quiet would need no commendation in an electric car, but you’d be surprised: With no internal-combustion engine to provide a background rumble, things like tire and wind noise suddenly seem very loud. We did hear a trace of wind rushing past the Soul EV’s windshield at highway speeds, but that was about it.
One thing we heard more than a trace of was squealing rubber. While most EVs are shod with low rolling resistance tires, the Soul EV goes one step further with what Kia calls super low rolling resistance tires. Like the low-rollers of old, these SLRRTs (well, what else should we call them?) scream bloody murder if you try to whip the Soul EV around a corner, and give up their grip shortly thereafter.
It’s a shame, as having 600-plus pounds of batteries in the basement does wonders for the Soul EV’s cornering stability, and we can’t help thinking that with a good set of shoes, the Soul EV would make an interesting track car.
That aforementioned juice for the Soul EV comes from a 90-kw (27 kwh) lithium-ion polymer battery pack – an 8.5-cubic-foot package that fits neatly underneath the car. A panel on the grille opens to reveal twin power ports for the 6.6-kw charger, with a J1772 connector for 120/240-volt charging and a CHAdeMO port for 480-volt fast charging both fitted as standard equipment. Kia says the Soul EV can be fast-charged to 80 percent in 33 minutes, while a full charge at 240 volts will take 4 to 5 hours. The Soul comes with a 120-volt charger, but with a 24-hour juice-up time, you’ll want to avoid using it. Kia is installing 240- and 480-volt chargers at a handful of Kia dealerships in California, and for those who need to buy a home charger, Kia has established partnerships with Aerovironment, Bosch, and Leviton.
How far can you go on a charge? Kia reiterates an EPA range of 93 miles, which puts it ahead of most EVs save the Tesla Model S and the Toyota RAV4 EV. But in terms of efficiency, it’s near the back of the pack: With EPA ratings of 120 MPGe city, 92 MPGe highway, and 105 MPGe combined, the Soul is in the same ballpark as the Ford Focus EV (110/99/105) but well behind the Nissan Leaf, Fiat 500e, and Chevrolet Spark EV.
The Soul EV will first go on sale in California, with sales spreading to other states in 2015. Pricing starts at $34,500, including the destination fee but not including $7,500 federal tax credit, assuming you apply, and as-available state credits. The Soul EV Plus model , lists for $2,000 more and adds leather seats and trim, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, parking assistance, and a few other odds and ends. That makes the Soul EV more expensive than the Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, and Nissan Leaf, but more affordable than the Ford Focus Electric.
Overall, the Soul EV is a rather good effort. We like the choice of color options (stand-out or fade back) and we’re impressed by the range, though we’re also disappointed by the efficiency. And this being a Kia, we expected more aggressive pricing. The Soul EV is certainly very practical, but so is the Nissan Leaf, which falls about 10-percent shorter on range but is less expensive and more efficient. And if back-seat space isn’t an issue, we’d recommend the Fiat 500e, which costs less, charges quicker, consumes less power, and is very fun to drive.
The Soul EV is a perfectly good electric car, and as with the gas version, it’s worth buying on styling alone. But if you’re looking for the best-and-brightest in EV technology, the Soul might be a bit too much of a square.