Kia Soul EV first drive

Kia’s Soul EV was one of the earliest models available in the EV market, offering a range that challenged the likes of Nissan’s Leaf, but in a stylish yet practical crossover shape. Where the Leaf - plus other rivals from BMW, VW, and Renault - have seen new batteries added, significantly improving range, the Soul EV has had to make do with a far smaller battery upgrade. Instead, Kia has focused on electrifying other models in its line-up, with the Optima and Niro ranges getting first a plug-in hybrid option, and in the case of the Niro, an all-electric model too. Now Kia has returned its attention to the Soul, with a second generation Soul EV due for launch, promising a long range and excellent levels of kit. NGC attended the European launch to see what it’s like.

Review by Chris Lilly

PERFORMANCE

Like the Kia e-Niro, the Soul EV is available in two different versions - a mid-range model and a long-range version. Except it isn’t; not in the UK anyway. Kia has replicated its approach with the e-Niro and is offering only the long-range Soul EV to British buyers, initially at least, which gets them a 150 kW electric motor, powered by a 64 kWh battery. Drive goes to the front wheels, and sees the 0-62mph sprint dispatched in 7.9 seconds, so it’s no slouch. In fact, the set-up is identical to the e-Niro, but since the Soul EV is slightly lighter - by a little over 100kg - the Soul EV feels a tad more sprightly than the larger model. Putting the Soul EV into sport mode makes the Kia extremely responsive to throttle inputs, leaping forward at the first hint of a prod of the right foot. Even in normal mode, the Soul EV still feels like a quick car, and it will pull hard even at higher speeds. The low-down torque available is the basis of this performance potential, and the Soul EV is well suited to town work, with a rapid change of pace able to see the Kia thread into even the tightest of gaps in traffic. On the open road the Soul EV will make a twisting A or B road fun, and motorway work is despatched with ease thanks to the powerful motor. It doesn’t feel out of breath at higher speeds as some EVs do, and the Soul EV can keep up with anything on the motorway in a manner that belies its electric powertrain.

HANDLING

The new Soul EV handles nicely on the whole, with a reasonable amount of feedback through the steering wheel, and stiff-ish springs that resist body roll and help with agility. In tight confines, the Soul EV is easy to pilot, and the handling allows drivers to dart in and out of traffic confidently. Because of the low down weight - thanks to the battery in the floor - and the stiff set-up, the ride can crash a bit over rough surfaces, particularly at speed. A poorly surfaced stretch of autobahn showed up the ride quality a little, something that would be easy enough to replicate on many UK roads. At anything under around 50mph, the ride is composed, but hit a rough patch at motorway speeds and the Soul EV will prove less refined than the e-Niro for example.

BODY STYLE

This is now the third generation of the Soul and the newest version is certainly part of the family. It’s chunky looks give it real presence in the crossover market, with sharpened styling elements freshen up the look nicely. The new Soul EV is a little longer than the previous model, but retains its square stance, and the shape makes for a practical interior. The space for occupants is good throughout, particularly in the rear, where room for two adults is plentiful. Head and leg room is excellent for a car the size of the Soul EV, and the contrast in rear occupant space between the Kia and its group stable-mate - the Hyundai Kona Electric - is stark, with the latter certainly more cramped in the back. The boot space is reasonable, though not spacious, with a high floor providing a flat load area. There isn’t much space beneath the floor though for additional storage, but enough for a few odds and ends such as charging cables.

COMFORT & CONTROLS

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The new Soul EV features a high-tech interior, with a lot of equipment fitted for a car in this crossover class. The central infotainment screen is high definition, customisable, and able to show a number of different features at the same time. It reflects the driver’s digital instruments, creating the impression that the Soul EV is a car in the class above where it actually sits. The cabin isn’t made of the plushest materials, but then Kia isn’t a premium manufacturer, and you do get the impression that the Soul EV is well. Screwed together. There are lots of storage bins about the place, and the controls are well laid out and logical to use. Most features are controlled by the touchscreen, but the air conditioning controls have been kept separate, and the driving features have been placed around the drive selector dial. There are also a number of panels and lights that can change colour according to mood, or match the beat of the music playing. Overall, it’s a nice cabin; not one that is going to wow customers - barring perhaps the touchscreen system - but it is also not going to put any buyers off. It does everything well, and looks high tech at the same time.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

The Soul EV comes with the same sort of headline making range figures as the e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric. Combined, Hyundai and Kia have singlehandedly moved the mass-market EV sector on by a huge margin, and the long-range models have a realistic range of more than 250 miles a comfortable target. The official WLTP figure is 280 miles on a single charge with an efficiency score of 15.7 kWh/100km. The range quoted feels easily achievable on a typical drive. During this first test, I calculate that the range available was 270 miles on a charge, which factored in a wide range of roads. Starting in the middle of a Frankfurt, we then headed out to the countryside via a stretch of autobahn, before returning via the same sort of roads in reverse. Even with some enthusiastic driving to test performance, a relatively hilly route, and high motorway speeds, the range available should comfortably be around 270 miles in clement spring weather. That will increase with additional town work, and decrease with colder weather, but first impressions show that between 250 and 280 miles will be a realistic score throughout the year. Kia has again offered a long-range EV that looks to match it’s claimed range. Looking at tax, the Kia will cost nothing in terms of VED, or at least it’s very likely it won’t. Prices haven’t been confirmed yet, but Kia want to offer the Soul EV for less than the e-Niro, which costs a little over the £30,000 mark. BIK will be in the lowest category too since it’s a pure-electric model.

GREEN CREDENTIALS

The Kia is a very green car, with no conventional engines offered in this third generation Soul in Europe - it’s pure-electric only. There are the usual features we have come to expect from EVs to help extend range and keep efficiency high. The Soul EV’s variable brake energy recuperation is also found in the Kia e-Niro - plus Hyundai’s Ioniq and Kona Electric - with five different settings available from nothing-to-smart. Use the paddles behind the steering wheel to alter the amount of brake energy recuperation depending on the setting, with ‘zero’ working well on motorways, and ‘four’ handy in town. Hold the left-hand paddle and the car will bring you to a stop without needing to put your foot on the brake, recapturing as much energy as possible. The Soul EV also has a heat pump for improved air-conditioning efficiency, improving range by 14% compared to a non-heat pump set-up in temperatures below 10 C. The battery also has a heat management system, allowing the pack to be cooled when used, or warmed in cold conditions. Four driving modes allow users to select between Sport, Normal, Eco, and Eco+, the last of which lowers the top speed of the car. Both Eco settings lessen throttle response and optimise the air-conditioning system to improve range. Kia has launched its UVO Connect app with the Soul EV, allowing users to access information and control systems via a smartphone, plus provide Kia with diagnostic data when the car is booked in for a service. Pre-conditioning, charging timer, charging limits, and range remaining are all available to view from the app, catching Kia up to the rest of the market in this regard - and technically overtaking the competition. The Soul EV is capable of charging at up to 100 kW on CCS rapid chargers, and is fitted with a 7.2 kW on-board charger for domestic and public charge points.

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

There is only going to be one trim level coming to the UK at the Soul EV’s launch, and it will be well equipped. Final specifications are yet to be decided, but Kia is waiting for the SUV Pack to be available, which will be added to all UK-bound Soul EVs. Kit likely to be found on the Soul EV when it does arrive will probably include 17-inch alloys, leather seats, heated seats all round with vented front seats too, electric front seats, mood light system, Harmon Kardon stereo, wireless phone charging, head-up display, 10.25-inch touchscreen system, TFT driver instrument display, and a suite of safety systems. Some features may be removed from the UK specification, or others added, but it’s an idea as to what will be on offer for customers.

MODEL SUMMARY

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Kia’s electric car line-up is now two-cars strong, and each is excellent. The e-Niro is a practical family model with a long range and high levels of equipment, while the Soul EV is a slightly more compact crossover, likely to cost less, but with no compromise in terms of range or drivetrain. The powerful motor helps make driving the Soul EV fun, and the handling is ideally suited for urban driving. A more in-depth review will come along once the Soul EV arrives in the UK, but early impressions are excellent. It’s going to prove a very popular EV indeed.

Model tested:Kia Soul EV
Body-style: Crossover
Engine / CO2:150 kW electric motor / 0 g/km
Trim grades:TBC

On-road price: TBC
Warranty: Seven years / 100,000 miles
In the showroom: TBC
Review rating: 4.5 Stars

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:9th Apr 2019

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