We put Kia's electric hatchback to the real-life test.
As more manufacturers enter the EV space, the novelty of battery-powered automobiles is starting to fade. Successful efforts such as Tesla's Model S have demonstrated that EVs can compete with conventional cars in performance, range and luxury, so long as price is of little concern.
So what of the lower end of the market? Hybrids thrive in this segment, boasting an ever-shrinking premium over their pure gasoline counterparts and having proven themselves over the past decade and a half as compelling alternatives to conventional cars and even SUVs. Can EVs offer enough of a value proposition to gain a meaningful foothold? We took the Soul EV into the suburbs for a week to find out.
What is it?
The Kia Soul EV is exactly what it sounds like—an electrified Kia Soul. It shares the same basic dimensions and specs with its gasoline counterpart, with some minor adjustments here and there to accommodate the electric powertrain.
In that sense, however, the Soul EV is noteworthy. While many of its electrified counterparts were noticeable compromised when re-engineered to include the large battery packs necessary for sufficient EV range and performance, the Soul's packaging is essentially unchanged. Rather than installing the pack in the rear hatch area of the vehicle, which is a popular choice in this segment, Kia engineers opted instead to go with a mounting location under the floor. The result? Rear legroom is a bit tighter (while still being best-in-class for EVs), but the use of the Soul's rear cargo area is uncompromised, which comes in handy when the electric hamster-wagon is away from home, as it presents useful storage for the Soul's portable charger. More on that later.
The electric powertrain in the Soul EV is good for 109 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque, and since we're talking about an electric motor rather than a gasoline engine, that torque is available instantly at any speed.
So what's the downside? Simply put, it's weight. At 3,289lbs, the Soul EV is by far the heaviest variant of Kia's versatile hatch, whose gasoline variants range from 2,714lbs with the 1.6L engine and a six-speed manual to 2,837lbs with the 164-horsepower four-banger and six-speed automatic. Torque or no torque, the Soul EV's powertrain makes it the weakest from a power-to-weight standpoint. And while it may be the most effortless to drive, it can only go so far on a charge.
Inside and out
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about modern EVs (the Soul included) is how little their EV-ness factors into the on-the-road experience. Older electric cars (which were really proof-of-concept trials more than they were real automobiles) surrounded you in their alternative-fuel cocoons. They weren't cars that just happened to be battery-powered. They were electric drivetrains strapped to electronics and wheels. Now? Not so much.
The Soul EV, aside from its powertrain, is entirely conventional. Everything from the electric system readouts to the gear selector is simple and intuitive to use—far more so than anything you'd find in a Prius, for instance. Put your 90-year-old grandmother behind the wheel of a Soul EV and she could make it to and from her bridge club meeting with no drama, so long as it's not too far away, of course.
The gauge cluster is perhaps the one area where the Soul breaks with convention a bit, but only in name of conveying the information you need in order to get the most from your drive. The normal stuff is there—charge level (think gas gauge), range remaining (distance to empty), speedometer, and a multi-function display which has become commonplace. Setting it apart are a lack of tachometer and a rather prominent readout indicating how hard you're working the Soul's electric system, indicating "Eco," "Power" and "Charge" modes, the last of which you enter whenever you brake or lift off the accelerator. If you want the car to charge more aggressively when you lift, you can put the Soul EV's gear selector in "B" for maximum regenerative braking.
Does it go?
The Soul EV's powertrain is a long list of compromises, but many of them shake out in the driver's favor. Take the weight of the battery pack, for instance. Yes, the EV is the porker in the Soul lineup, but the weight is down low in the center of the chassis, giving it a particularly low center of gravity and thus negating a lot of the penalty with improved handling characteristics.
The wonderful thing about an electric powertrain is the true immediacy of available power. There's no turbocharger to spool or power band to chase. Put your right foot down and the Soul EV will roast its tires from a stop or jump to passing speed on the highway. It's a right-now sort of sensation that even the biggest, many-times-turbocharged German monsters and supercharged American iron can't touch.
To a point, of course.
Enjoy the sensation of speed while you can, because reality sets in real quick. The responsive motor and ample torque can easily lull you into false sense of the Soul EV's capabilities. It feels quick from a stop, but 0-60 is actually in the 10-second range. The top speed? 90 mph. And if you try to explore those limits, you'll run into the EV's biggest "gotcha" hard and fast—its 93-mile range.
And then what?
And then you wait. And if you're unfortunate enough to be the borrower of a Soul EV and not the owner of it, you may be waiting a long time.
There are three ways to charge the Soul EV: a conventional, 120V household plug (with the included portable charger), a permanent, 240V household charging station (installed when you purchase the vehicle) or a Commercial fast-charging station. The speed of the charge goes in reverse order of those options. A commercial fast-charger will get you to 80% (limited to protect the battery pack) in roughly 30 minutes. The permanent household charger will get you a full, 93-mile charge in 4-6 hours.
The 120V, charge-anywhere option? 24 hours from zero to full, which means we spent far more time charging the Soul EV than we did driving it.
Leftlane's bottom line
For those with short commutes and ready access to charging stations, the Soul EV can work just fine—likely better than others in its segment due to Kia's focus on practicality and ease of access. In the select markets where Kia is launching it, the Soul will likely accommodate any buyer who is in need of a practical, fun city runabout. We just wish we could have spent more time on the road and less plugged into the wall.
2015 Kia Soul EV, base price, $35,700; Carpeted floor mats, $125; Destination, $800