Hyundai-Kia arrived late to the EV party. But it appears that Kia made a careful study of the competition, and loaded its Soul EV with smart features for electric car drivers. For starters, it offers 93 miles of real-world range.
What’s most exciting about the Kia Soul EV, the company’s first all-electric model, is the styling. While its looks are not everybody's cup of tea, the design—employed in the gas-powered Soul and brought over to the electric model—has earned legions of devoted fans.
It has an undeniable quirky charm (while steering clear of the eco-geek gizmo design found in other battery-powered cars). Interior visibility is vast. There is ample cargo and passenger room. The overall package combines a small hip design, with a generous amount of everyday utility.
The gas-powered Soul stands out on the road, and yet its idiosyncratic design maintains a relatively athletic persona. It just takes one look to see how it contrasts with the quirks of leading electric cars like the LEAF or BMW i3.
The electric version will take on a few style variations from the internal combustion model—mostly aimed at better aerodynamics. The most dramatic change is in the front fascia where the grills get closed up, and turn into a slick sliding door for the charging port.
The Soul EV’s 81.4-kW, 109-horsepower electric motor is quite decent, but unlikely to earn customers by itself. Its level of performance is right in line with the leading competing small electric cars, with the exception of the Chevy Spark EV, which delivers an impressive 400 pound-feet of torque.
Kia’s website claims that the electric Soul has “class-leading” acceleration and a top speed of 90 miles per hour. That's hard to confirm, especially considering that the company also reports a 0-60 mph time of under 12 seconds.
In our ride, we experienced more than enough launching oomph and highway passing power. But the stand-out feature is the B (for braking) gear option, which results in maximum regenerative braking energy and single-pedal driving. That's the gold standard for EV driving, and puts the driving experience in the same category as the Tesla Model S and BMW i3, even if the Soul EV doesn't compare in overall road manners.
The key to EV driving range is the size of the battery. On this score, the Soul EV has a slight edge over the pack of small electric cars—which commonly have 21 to 24 kilowatt-hour packs. Kia goosed up the size of the Soul’s pack to 27 kilowatt-hours, effectively offering another 10 to 12 miles of range compared to the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus Electric. The Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive will offer 28 kWhs, but that’s a smaller luxury model (with a bigger price tag).
One ding against the Soul EV, in terms of efficiency, is its lack of a liquid-based battery temperature management system. That has become the standard best practice for ensuring optimal range during very hot and cold weather. Kia execs insist that air-cooling will be just fine, because the battery chemistry onboard is just fine in hot weather. Time will tell. The Kia Soul EV is likely to have about the same curb weight as the LEAF, but is not as aerodynamic, even with aero tweaks like the use of a full belly pan for better air flow under the body. All things being equal, the Kia Soul’s 12.5 percent bigger battery pack, allowing us to experience nearly 100 miles of range on multiple trips.
The Soul EV uses a 6.6-kW onboard charger for daily refueling. That rate, which is standard for today’s electric cars, adds about 20 to 25 miles of range in one hour. One thoughtful feature is the light that illuminates the charging port, making it easy to plug in at night.
The Kia Soul EV comes standard with a CHAdeMo quick charge port. That's fantastic. It allows a recharge from empty to about 80 percent in around 30 minutes—at compatible quick-charge stations. Kia is committed to installing free or low-cost quick chargers at all of its dealerships that sell the Soul EV. Pricing is at the dealer's discretion.
The Kia Soul earns high points for comfort and use of high-quality materials. The seats are considered supportive—which hopefully will carry over when the EV version uses bio-sourced padding and seat fabric.
The cabin, which seats five, is roomy for its class. The 2014 Kia Soul has 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in use, and 61.3 cubic feet with them folded.
Rear seats that split 60:40 offer greater versatility for carrying cargo.
Standard features in the gas car include: a six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth, satellite radio, USB and auxiliary inputs and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls. Options include a backup camera, an Infinity sound system, navigation, push-button start, automatic climate control and a panoramic sunroof.
The Kia Soul EV has not yet been tested for safety.
The starting price of the all-electric Soul EV is $34,500 (including destination charges). That puts the Soul EV in direct competition with the Nissan LEAF, Volkswagen E-Golf, and Ford Focus Electric. Any differences in pricing between the leading models will largely come down to the relative trim and option packages offered in these battery-powered models.
There are less expensive EVs, but those usually come in smaller packages—such as the Smart Electric Drive, Fiat 500e, Chevy Spark Electric, and Mitsubishi i. And there are pricier, although more luxurious, electric models in the form of the BMW i3 and Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive. But among the group of EVs priced in the mid-$30,000 range, the Kia Soul offers its iconic groovy design, a little more passenger space, and a slightly larger battery pack that offers about a dozen more miles of range.
The base-level Soul EV comes standard with navigation, rear camera, power windows, power driver’s seat, cruise control, and a 6.6-kW on-board charger. Every Soul EV also comes with an infotainment package that provides real-time battery-level status, distance to empty, and the ability to search for nearby charging stations.
The Soul EV Plus, which brings the price to $36,500, adds leather trimmed seats—heated in front and back—projection-style fog lamps and power-folding outside mirrors.
Leasing has proven a popular option among EV drivers. The expected introductory lease price for a Soul EV is $249 per month for 36 months with $1,999 due at signing. Kia said that the actual (rather than expected) terms of the lease will be announced when the vehicle is launched in the fall.