Kia Soul EV: NGC Electric Drive
Kia has big plans for an electrified future but you can get a glimpse of it already with the Soul EV. The compact crossover is striking and grabs attention as you drive, despite looking almost exactly the same as its conventionally-powered stablemates. The same can be said for the interior, and it is under the bonnet where you will get clues as to how the Soul EV is powered. Next Green Car had one on test for a couple of weeks to find out what the Soul EV is like to live with.
Review by Chris Lilly
What is the Kia Soul EV?
Put simply, the Soul EV is an all-electric version of the Kia Soul, a practical tall hatchback with tonka toy styling and a striking electric blue paint job. Kia does offer the Soul EV in silver too but I must confess that I have never seen one on the road such is the popularity of the blue hue. Like the Soul, the EV is only available as a five-door hatchback, and there is only one power, battery and specification on offer.
There are a few tell-tale signs to passers-by that you are driving a Soul EV rather than a Soul, but they must be eagle-eyed members of the public. All but the very bottom of the front grilles are blocked off to improve aerodynamics, while there are special EV-only alloy wheels and a few discreet badges dotted about. But that's about it apart from a lack of fuel filler cap. To recharge the Soul EV, users can find the sockets behind a flap where the front grille would have been.
What's the performance of the Soul EV like?
The Kia is a pretty nippy machine, making the most of the electric motor's instant torque to pull away quickly when required. As always with EVs, acceleration is almost silent and seemingly unhurried, until you look at the speedometer and realise you're going faster than you might imagine. The Soul EV will complete the 0-62mph sprint in 11.2 seconds which sounds leisurely and it is. But practical acceleration tasks - out of junctions from stand-still or from 30-50mph for example - are dispatched effortlessly as the electric motor's 110hp (81.4 kW) and 285 Nm of torque pulls the car along well.
Again, like most EVs, the Soul is best suited to urban driving, using its zero-tailpipe emissions and electric drive to make a mockery of traffic jams. However, when you get the Soul EV up to motorway speeds, it performs better than many other EVs on the market, while also holding its charge well. Given a choice of family-sized EVs for motorway trips, the Soul EV would be right towards the top of my list. Ignoring the far more expensive Tesla's, it competes only with the Nissan Leaf 30 kWh which has a larger range to start with.
What's it like to drive?
With the wheels pushed out into each corner, the Soul EV's planted nature helps make driving the Kia quite fun, especially around town. The suspension isn't too stiff or soggy, with a handy usable balance that resists body roll but doesn't make you cringe in fear when going over speed bumps. Likewise,that ability to throw the car about helps in car parks and tight junctions, when you can rely on the pick up from the electric motor combined with accurate if light steering to run about the urban environment as quickly as is safely possible.
The handling is helped by the fact that, although the Soul EV is a heavy machine, it does at least have the majority of that weight - the battery - set low down into the floor of the car. There is the option to pick between different handling weights via a button on the steering wheel, but you will have to have the driving dynamics sensitivity of a racing driver to truly tell the difference between them. Of far more use is the driving mode button which makes quite a difference in throttle sensitivity between eco and normal modes, helping you eake out those extra miles.
Living with the Kia Soul EV
As mentioned, we had the Soul EV for a couple of weeks, but I also had a brief time with it before that, as one of the two man team driving in last year's MPG Marathon. That time we ran out of charge on the first of two legs, but it must be said that that was down more to a navigational error than a lack of usable range. I can confidently say what happens though when it comes to the very last ounce of charge - apologies for mixing units of measurement.
The Soul EV will warn you that you are running out of charge when the battery is down to about 25 per cent, and suggest navigating you to a charging point. Ignore this, and it will continue to display a message and make a noise at regular intervals to make sure you haven't forgotten. It gets annoying if you know there is a charge point within range but I suppose Kia does it to prevent complaints that there isn't enough warning. When the range remaining reaches zero, but it will bravely soldier on for a few more miles yet before it switches into turtle mode and you travel at little more than walking pace. You then have less than a mile of this before it will stop completely and you have a very long charge ahead of yourself. It might have taken a late arrival at an event to discover this, but we have done the hard work for you.
Suffice to say that during the extended road test, I was loathe to do the same thing and run out of charge. It can safely be said however that the Soul EV was put through its paces, covering about 1,650 miles during my time with it. Journeys were varied and challenging, including regular round-trip commutes of 110 miles, a trip from the Welsh border to London and back, and assorted other runs both in the country and around town. This is with an official range of 132 miles remember, and an estimated 'real world' range of 106 miles.
The good news is that the Soul EV dealt with all trips extremely well, even with the weather being nigh-on arctic and high winds hitting the country. It proved comfortable enough for long distance runs, though some more support from the chairs for that sort of trip would be appreciated. To be fair though, the Soul EV hasn't been designed with cross-country driving at the forefront of its design brief. For the commute - 45 miles one way, 65 on the return leg and about 70 per cent dual carriageway - a top-up in the small hours thanks to the Soul EV's timer gave me plenty of charge to make it to work. A four hour fast charge at the office then provided me with an indicated 110 miles most of the time, before a fast and hilly return leg never saw me drop below 20 miles of range left on the commute. I pushed the range further with other journeys but sometimes this was more because of out of order charge points than choice.
The Soul EV proved reliable in terms of range and you can comfortably get 110 miles out of the Kia without any hypermiling techniques. Use it around town repetedly and that figure will increase, though it says a lot about the Soul EV's ability that there is no hint of anxiety about taking it on the motorway that you can get with other EVs.
What are the costs like?
At £25,495 the Kia Soul EV is one of the more expensive EVs on the market - and that includes the £4,500 UK Plug-in Car Grant. You have to consider that the Nissan Leaf 30 kWh, which has an official range of 155 miles compared to the Kia's 132, is available for about £250 less, while the smaller but more luxurious BMW i3 is less than £1,000 more expensive.
Despite the higher initial purchase price, as an EV the electric Soul will cost a fraction of the amount to run when compared to a petrol, diesel, hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicle. There is no option to put any fuel in so you can take that out cost of the equation straight away, and electricity costs are very low compared to the price of fuel at the pump.
Charge overnight and it is likely to cost you about £2.50 per day at home. It might add £50-£60 per month to your electric bills, but many will save twice that when compared to the costs of fuelling a small petrol car. Try and do the majority of your charging at work or at public charge points and you will be even better off. Invest in a home charging point with help from the Electric Vehicle Home Charge scheme - the plug socket's equivilent of the Plug-in Car Grant - and it will cost you around £300, but make life much simpler to charge your car if you have off-street parking.
Since the Soul EV has no tailpipe emissions, there is no VED (road tax) to pay as it sits in Band A. Insurance costs for electric cars are coming down all the time, the car is congestion charge exempt, and maintenance costs are very low since there are few moving parts. Kia's excellent seven year / 100,000 mile warranty coveres the Soul EV, and Kia has also covered the battery for seven years.
How green is the Soul EV
The Kia Soul's NGC Rating of 34 is not the best when compared to other EVs, though that drops significantly to 12 should you source electricity from renewable sources. That said, the score is still good overall and the natural high efficiency of the electric motor plays a part in that.
Aiding the high energy density battery is the car's regenerative braking system - a standard feature on a plug-in car. Kia's is pretty useful and has a variety of settings when you get to know them. Lift off in normal mode and the car will slow down a little by recuperating some of the braking energy and charging the battery. Press eco mode and it brakes more strongly, gathering in more charge, while the final setting is B on the gearstick which gives you maximum recharging capabilities. This last setting is suitably strong and pitched very well in terms of braking strength - not scrubbing off too much speed but feeling as though you are not wasting potential energy. Switch between these settings and you will find that most of the time you are driving with your right foot on the throttle, your left thumb over the driving mode button on the steering wheel, and your right hand on the gearstick knocking it in and out of B as you gague the stopping distances - your right foot rarely having to use the brake pedal.
Finally, Kia has worked hard on a holistic approach to the car's green credentials, using bio-degradable plastics and plant-based materials used in the cabin. The air-conditioning unit is more efficient than the usual systems, and electric seat heaters/coolers and a heated steering wheel come as standard, since it is more efficient to heat contact areas than a car's interior. Low rolling resistance tyres and the electric charge timer complete the eco-equipment list.
Interior kit and comfort
I have mentioned in passing a number of bits of the Soul EV's standard equipment list, however there is plenty more to talk about since the Kia comes well equipped. A six-speaker audio system is linked to an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with DAB, Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The system is clear, easy to use and has a number of shortcut buttons around the sides - with special EV range mapping, range advice and eco driving scores.There are controls for a number of features on the steering wheel including the cruise control, telephone, and voice commands, while a number of power sockets are available in the cabin too.
When it comes to comfort, the seats are comfortable but lacking in side support for a car that is relatively tall. However, occupant space is excellent for this size of car with five adults able to travel and only the fussiest having a complaint to make. Head room will never prove a problem, and leg and shoulder room are good. Load space isn't as strong which is down in part to the donor vehicle's design, and also due to the fact that the batteries take up a fair amount of under floor space. That said, the boot is easily usable with a fairly square load space and easy access from a wide boot lid. There is a false bottom which reveals a handy divided compartment beneath. This nicely fits the two main charging cables you will need - Type 1 to Type 2, and Type 1 to three-pin plug. There is a storage bag provided for the cables but, when using them all the time, having a convenient place to store them without getting tangled up with each other or flying about the boot is rather handy.
Getting the downsides out of the way first, the Kia Soul EV is quite expensive in a section of the EV market that has a good range of options. The long-range driving comfort is not the best around, boot space is not large for a car this size, and the range warning system gets on your nerves if you know better than the sat-nav that you can charge soon.
That said, that's about all that I can fault the Soul EV for. You don't feel as though the Kia represents poor value for money when you climb aboard, and the driving experience is fun and well suited to the Kia's natural urban habitat. Passenger space for a family of four is ample and the load space will easily cope with a large supermarket shop. It's simply long distance camping holidays and the like that will prove tricky logistically.
The interior is light, has good levels of visibility for the driver, and feels well put together even if the plastics aren't of the highest quality when considered in respect of the price. I was very pleasently surprised by the Soul EV's capability on long trips and the only anxiety became that of whether the planned charge points were working or not. The Kia reported accurately how much range was left and resisted seeing that figure plummet when at about 60mph on the motorway - something that can't be said about many other EVs.
Electric cars aren't for everyone but if you are tempted by EV ownership, you can do worse than a Soul EV which proves eminintly capable across a broad range of uses. It's reliable, cheap to run and reasonably practical, making it the ideal commuting tool for those with anything around an 80 mile round trip or less - whether you are fighting through traffic in town or maintaining motorway speeds.
Model tested: Kia Soul EV
Body-style: Compact crossover
Motor: 81.4 kW electric motor
Range: 132 miles (official) / 106 (est. real world)
On-road price: From £25,495.
Warranty: Seven years / 100,000 mile plus seven year battery warranty
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4 Stars
If not the Kia Soul EV, what else?
Plenty to choose from here. The previously mentioned Nissan Leaf 30kWh is slightly cheaper with a longer range, or you can pick the Leaf 24kWh for a lot less money - around £4,000 - and a smaller range. BMW's i3 is a more premium product but less practical inside - though you can opt for a Range Extended version for no range anxiety. It is between £1,000 and £4,000 more expensive depending on the model though. Finally, other EV options include VW's more expensive but more practical e-Golf - which is also better built but with a smaller range. Worried by the jump to pure-electric motoring? You could take a look at the likes of the VW Golf GTE or BMW 225xe Active Tourer - but you will have a premium of around £6,000 to pay. For some then the Soul EV will hit a sweet spot between cost and range that isn't covered elsewhere.