Come on, you have to admit that those hip-hop dancing hamsters in their baggy clothes that pitched the Kia Soul soon after it went on sale in 2010 were cute. For the introduction of an all-new 2014 Soul, the little guys slimmed down and buffed up at the gym for the commercial’s sound track. Hey, let’s face it, these guys are hip.
And the all-new 2014 Kia Soul that the hamsters were pitching? Like those cute creatures, the urban hatchback also underwent a transformation: A new stiffer chassis, a little longer and wider with suspension upgrades that added a bit more fun to the driving experience.
All this boiled down to a great platform to electrify.
As for the hamsters, a new fully charged ad campaign has them continuing their hijinks as young bespectacled “auto-scientists” conducting an experiment. The result: a totally electric Kia Soul EV plus, one very alluring hamster girl.
Juicin’ The Soul
Check off the Kia Soul as one more choice in a growing list of small battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). Arriving late last fall, the 2015 Soul EV inserts an electric drive system as a replacement for the gasoline powertrain found in the 2014 Soul.
Like most car manufacturers who have added electric cars to their lineups, with the exception of the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, Kia used an existing model to electrify. Unlike the others, however, Kia didn’t just shoehorn an electric powertrain in the Soul without first thinking about it — the automaker planned for an all-electric version when development began on the second-generation Soul.
This forethought placed the thin battery pack beneath the front and rear seats for optimal weight distribution and a minimal loss of cargo space. To address the additional battery weight of around 600 pounds, five cross beams are used for support.
The drive system features an 81-kilowatt liquid-cooled AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor that generates 109 horsepower and a respectable 210 pounds-feet of torque. The output is comparable with leading small electric competitors, except the Chevrolet Spark, which produces a lusty 327 pounds feet.
Power from the motor is directed to the front wheels through a single-speed constant-ratio gear reduction unit. Kia says zero to 60 mph happens in less than 12 seconds and top speed is 90 mph.
Battery size is a major factor in electric driving range. Here, the Soul EV has an edge over the pack of small electrics, where 21 to 24-kilowatt hour battery packs are the norm. Kia opted for a 360-volt lithium-ion polymer battery pack that is rated at 27-kilowatt hours.
The Soul EV is good for 93 miles on the EPA cycle. For EV drivers, that effectively offers an additional 10 or 12 miles of driving range compared to Nissan’s Leaf or the Ford Focus Electric.
In fact that EPA 93 mile estimated driving range is tops in the EV world except for the more-than-the-twice expensive Tesla Model S. The MPGe estimate is 120 city/92 highway and 105 combined.
Kia’s lithium-ion polymer battery technology is different from the standard lithium-ion cells in most other EVs, and affords better heat management. Rather than using a liquid-based battery temperature management system to maintain optimum battery performance, particularly in cold weather, the Soul EV uses a battery heating system, which warms up the battery during charging.
To optimize battery life, Kia engineers added a heat pump to reduce load on the climate control system.
Standard is a 6.6-killowatt onboard charger and a CHAdeMO DC fast charge port. Recharging time for a fully depleted battery using a 120-volt electrical outlet is 24 hours. The time is cut to less than five hours via a 240-volt outlet, and on-the-go charging from a Level 3 public fast charger will give an 80 percent fill in just 24 minutes.
Like several other electric cars, the Soul EV has two drive modes: Drive and Brake. Selecting Brake dials up regenerative braking to capture more of the vehicle’s kinetic energy as electricity. This not only slows the Soul quite rapidly without using the brake pedal, it can add three or four miles of driving range between recharges.
Using climate controls, either heating or cooling, can reduce driving range by as much as 10 miles. To mitigate that, the Soul EV has a novel individual ventilation feature. Activated by a “Driver Only” button, it cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.
And finally, to squeeze a smidgen more efficiency and miles of range from the drivetrain, there’s an Eco button on the center console. It adjusts certain operations on the EV system, such as sensitivity to throttle input. Think of it as a built-in hypermiler.
When Kia restyled the Soul for 2014, they wisely didn’t stray too far from the original. Even though all of the sheetmetal was new, it continued with the same boxy bulldog look with the same abrupt windshield pillar and the slightly canted-back roofline.
The 2015 Soul EV’s exterior has few deviations from its 2014 gasoline-powered donor vehicle, and most of those are aimed at improved aerodynamics — the boxy shape needs all the help it can get to reduce drag. However, there is a dramatic change up front. The small horizontal grille is replaced with a sliding door for the charging ports.
“Eco Electric” fender badges replace the “Soul” fender garnish found on the standard car, and the EV has its own specific 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped with specially engineered Super Low Rolling Resistance (SLRR) tires. The tires give up some grip but offer 10 percent less resistance than standard low rolling resistance tires, helping to improve range.
Exclusive to the EV are four different two-tone color choices, an inspiration from the 2012 Track’ster concept vehicle.
In other words, the Soul EV is the hippest looking electric five-seat transporter in town.
Green Inside, Too
With the 2014 Soul makeover, inside is where Kia stepped up. The cheap, basic look was cast aside, replaced with styling that is sportier and feels more premium with soft-touch materials in all the right places.
For the EV, the automaker reduced its petroleum footprint by using eco-friendly materials. About 53 pounds of bio-base plastics derived from cellulose and sugar cane are used in door panels, headliner, seat trim, roof pillars and carpeting.
The cabin is roomy for the class and is a comfortable place to hang out like the hamsters do. Backside is 24.2 cubic of cargo space behind the rear seat. Since the battery pack doesn’t intrude into the cabin, the 60/40 spilt seats can be folded nearly flat to offer 61.3 cubes.
Sitting high with an excellent view of the road ahead, the driver can easily grab information from a pair of crystal clear gauges that use Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology.
The right gauge has a combination analog and digital speedometer. The left displays an extremely accurate driving range, as well as battery level and an eco-driving guide. A centered LCD displays trip information or audio sources.
Additional EV drivetrain information can be found on the 8-inch center touchscreen that features the navigation and Kia’s UVO infotainment systems. UVO can do everything from showing maximum driving range on top of a map to displaying how much juice is used when headlights, windshield wipers and turn signals are operating.
From UVO smartphone apps you can check current charge status, remotely start or stop charging and see the car’s location. Other apps connect with favorites such as Pandora, iHeart Radio and Yelp.
Kia offers two versions of its electric car: the base Soul EV and the Soul EV+ (Plus), both very well equipped.
The base model has an MSRP of $33,700, plus $850 destination charges, not including any federal or state incentives. Standard features include a 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.
Our Soul EV+ test driver had a sticker price of $35,700 plus, the $850 destination charge. It threw in leather seating; heated and vented front seats; heated rear seats; power-folding exterior mirrors; fog lights; and park-assist for the front and rear.
Chargin’ Down The Road
“Range anxiety” is a term now firmly imbedded into the electric car lexicon. The 2015 Soul EV eases that anxiety, and we found that 100 miles was easily the norm. After learning to use the B mode effectively, we tallied 110 miles on day four with the wagon, ending the day with the dashboard indicating 4 miles of range remaining.
The only time the EV failed to live up to its claimed rating was during a couple of hours of play time. That consisted of several zero-to-60 test runs as well as determining what kind of cajones, if any, the little electric-box-on-wheels had on one of my favorite backcountry roads with lots of twisties.
As it turned out, the Soul EV was more fun to drive than I anticipated. The battery pack’s mass was offset by its placement under the floor, and the low center of gravity gave a planted feel through corners with scant body lean. Combine that with engineering changes to the suspension and additional torsion rigidity, and other small EVs seem uninteresting and detached. That said, the steering is not tuned for sportiness, but the key words are, it’s fun to drive.
Electric motors deliver all their torque instantly, so the Soul had an always-eager feel around town with the single-speed transmission aiding in direct linear velocity.
Don’t be put off by its leisurely 0-60 mph spec of around 11 seconds. The Soul EV might take a couple of extra seconds to get to full highway speed from a complete standstill, but all-out sprints like that are rare. When already traveling at 50 or 60 miles per hour, immediate power is readily available to push the wagon to its top speed of 90 mph.
Whether traveling on the Interstate or in town, this is a very quiet vehicle with minimal electric motor whine compared to other EVs. Also appreciated, when bumps or potholes were encountered, we weren’t bothered too much.
When the Soul EV arrived, Kia said it would only be available in California, Oregon, Maryland, New Jersey and New York — all states that follow California’s zero emission mandate for automakers — and would expand sales to other states later on. That indicates this is a compliance electric vehicle.
Initially, it was only on sale in California and Oregon. Since then, the automaker quietly added Washington State in February — one dealer — and hasn’t commented about additional availability.
It may not be your cup of tea, but the Soul EV has an unmistakable quirky charm, which by its self will attract perspective EV buyers. Add the 93 mile (or more) driving range, spacious interior and the fun-to-drive factor, and it is a contentious competitor to all the other small top-selling electric cars: Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen’s E-Golf. Perhaps even BMW’s i-3.
In my opinion, the Soul EV, for the reasons above, is by far the best small electric car I have driven. If Kia ever decides to expand nationwide, it has the potential to cut into the Leaf’s market dominance.
Yes, the Soul EV’s base price is close to the Leaf’s top-end model, but it does have a boatload of standard features. And, for those who prefer leasing, the preference of most EV buyers, Kia’s best deal is $249 a month for 36 months compared to the Nissan’s $199 per month (California).
But wait, the Kia Soul EV has something the Nissan Leaf and all the others just can’t offer — fun lovin’, cool, hip hamster spokesmen.