UK Journalists Drive Kia Soul EV Prototype

Kia grabbed headlines this week by promising a “120” mile range for its converted 2015 Soul EV to be launched next year, and while a prototype is proving reasonably satisfying to drive, harder usage may see this number brought lower.

According to Autocar, the Korean automaker is shooting for “124 miles on a full charge in optimum conditions: similar to Nissan’s claim for the Leaf and more than the Ford Focus EV.”

“Optimum conditions” would likely not include a majority of highway driving, but rather slower speeds.

Not that 120 miles is a record, but for a car that could sticker for near or less than the Nissan Leaf, it would be a new benchmark at this level.

Its design as a compact crossover is also compelling to EV fans wanting more choices, and this much appears pretty well set, while other specs are still being fine tuned.

For example, Kia is still discussing with three battery suppliers which will get the contract for the Soul EV’s energy storage – to be tucked under the rear seat, thus not compromising cargo capacity overly much.

Weight however is up by over 440 pounds, and to mildly compensate will be the requisite low rolling resistance tires, as well as aerodynamic tweaks, a mildly reshaped hood, and for styling distinctiveness, the car will get new lights too.

Claimed performance figiures include a 0-62 mph time of under 12 seconds, top speed of 90 mph, and recharge time from 240 volts in under five hours with a fast charge option of 80 percent in 25 minutes.

Bear in mind the car driven was a test mule so initial road impressions, while telling, are subject to revision.

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The Soul EV is based on the wider platform from the Kia Cee’d. Wheelbase is 20mm longer, body is 29-percent stiffer than the first generation Soul, and the suspension is updated to compensate.

The actual range was never tested unfortunately, but with a spec calling for 27 kwh battery pack compared to the Leaf’s 24 kwh, EV fans are already bracing themselves for a possible case of over-promise, under-deliver, and more sobering numbers under the EPA test cycle.

Autocar says drive characteristics are otherwise within what one might expect. Initial takeoff is quick with the torque instantly available, and steering is light and ideal for urban regions.

At speeds the steering does the job but offers little feedback and regenerative braking is set so heavily that coasting to conserve energy is not much of an option for the test mule as set up.

Whether this is changed to an optional “B” mode for the production car according to industry practice was not reported.

Bumps in the road are handled OK by the prototype but handling at this point is “a touch ponderous” despite revised suspension geometry.

Kia’s marketing copy mentions a Virtual Engine Sound System (VESS) to alert pedestrians at sub-12-mph speeds and in reverse.

But don’t expect this to sound like a rumbling V8 – on the contrary, Autocar describes it as “akin to the chime of a distant ice cream van.”

While the UK journalists were able to poke and prod where possible, Kia is otherwise staying tight-lipped on any further details.

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The pre-subsidy price estimated in the UK is under £25,000 ($40,000) – within the price range of a well-equipped Leaf, and well below a £35,255 ($56,300) starting price for a Chevy Volt.

Initial import quantities to the UK will be limited, and as for the U.S., Kia refused to say whether it would be a limited-basis roll-out, nor longer term plans.

The small but effective utility vehicle does promise a new player in the EV category that could fill needs not met by the few present offerings.

EV fans can only hope the “124” mile range estimate told to UK journalists is not too far off real world attainability.

Autocar