Published on October 28th, 2017 | by Kyle Field0
Kia Soul EV Review (CleanTechnica Exclusive)
October 28th, 2017 by Kyle Field
Regulation initially drove the introduction of electric vehicles for many automotive manufacturers, with certain states on the lucrative West Coast of the United States adopting zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates that required automakers to sell zero-emission vehicles or buy ZEV credits from competitors. In particular, California was the big dog that automakers had to appease with cleaner vehicles if they wanted to keep selling gas cars in one of the biggest auto markets in the world. Its ZEV mandate spawned a series of so-called “compliance cars” that represented the minimum effort required to comply with the regulation.
Since that time, a handful of automakers have developed truly superior electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that have shown customers that electric vehicles have the potential to be more than just glorified golf carts. The instant torque that electric vehicles offer make driving them a ton of fun, eliciting smiles of satisfaction from many first-time drivers and passengers. The smooth and silent ride of EVs reduces stress by reducing cabin noise, background noise, and rumbling that drivers have come to expect in internal combustion vehicles. As I write this, I am on a bus down to the airport that comes with significant background noise and vibration that simply does not exist in the electric shuttles and buses made by outfits like BYD, Phoenix Motorcars, and Motiv, among others.
Electric vehicles are evolving extremely quickly, with vehicles finally coming to market that are more than just compliance cars. In order to fully understand where the electric vehicle market has been and where it is going, I personally find driving as many electric vehicles as possible to be extremely helpful, as each automaker has a different take on EVs that makes them better and worse in their own ways.
The Toyota Prius Prime, for example, is a beautifully integrated vehicle that is, surprisingly, one of the best EVs I have driven. It seamlessly integrates Toyota’s mastery of hybrid drivetrains and logic with a larger battery that allows it to drive as a fully electric vehicle for the first 25 miles or so of a drive. On the flipside, Audi’s A3 e-tron is a laughable entry into the plug-in vehicle market, as it poses a serious challenge to anyone looking to milk even a few fully electric miles out of it. The slightest acceleration invokes the gasoline engine, kicking it back into a hybrid mode.
Introducing the Kia Soul EV
With that lengthy backstory, I reached out to Kia to see if I could spend some quality time with the Kia Soul EV. It is a funky-looking vehicle that packs a surprising 93 miles of range. As a first-generation EV for Kia, that speaks to the brand’s desire to deliver a product that packs the most bang for the buck for its customers. Having said that, the Kia Soul EV does fall short compared to the generation of new electric vehicles hitting showroom floors today, like the Hyundai Ioniq with its 124 miles of range and the Chevy Bolt at 238 miles of range.
- All-electric range: 93 miles
- MPGe: 105 average, 120 city, 92 hwy
- Efficiency: 5 kilometers/kWh | 3.1 miles/kWh
- Onboard charging speed: 6.6 kW J1772 — Level 1&2, CHAdeMO DC Fast Charging
- Motor power: 109 horsepower | 81.4 kW
- Torque: 210 lb-ft
- Battery capacity: 27 kWh
- Battery type: Lithium-ion polymer battery
- Base price: $31,950
Driving the Soul is pleasant, but the actual size of the vehicle shows itself, with an accelerator that masks some of the fun most EVs bring to the driving experience (largely as a function of the extra mass). That results in a sluggish pedal that drives much more like a gas economy car than a modern electric vehicle. It is still a very smooth ride and is much quieter than its internal combustion siblings, but the EV experience is muted.
The less responsive accelerator pedal is also likely an intentional move by team Kia in order to squeeze out as much range as possible. I don’t get the feeling that Kia drivers buy a Kia Soul because it’s the sexiest vehicle out there, but rather, because it is a very economical vehicle to drive. Maximizing the efficiency of the vehicle speaks to that core value, which some customers will like and some won’t. I personally prefer to have the option to go fast … or not.
The Kia Soul EV marks up an efficiency of 3.1 miles/kWh, which is not terrible for a vehicle not built from the ground up as an EV.
The exterior of the Soul EV is deceiving. My children know the brand and the Soul for the hamsters that roll around in the vehicle on TV, championing its fun-loving, light-hearted design, robust sound system, and turbocharged sibling that races around urban streets. Beneath that fun image is an extremely functional vehicle that is well suited for families and single folks alike. The boxy shape means it is effectively a slimmed down version of a minivan, but with Kia’s fun personality.
Having said all of that, the design is polarizing. People are either going to love it or hate it, with very few in between. I came into the review not expecting much and left my week with the car having a newfound respect for Kia and for its electric vehicle chops.
The interior of the Soul is spacious. I have a large frame — 6’ 2” and 205 lb — and found the Soul roomy, with plenty of space for me in all directions. It was comfortable to drive for long periods and functional enough for quick trips around town. Kia is not new to the car game and its experience in building functional vehicles is evident in the Soul.
The highlight of the interior is the glass roof. This car was an early entrant into the glass ceiling game and really found the sweet spot — adding a new dimension to the vehicle by opening up the vertical panel with glass without turning the car into an oven that cooks passengers for fun. I’m sure that’s still possible, but in my time driving the car around Southern California in the middle of the summer, it was pleasant and continually helped me to enjoy the car, the driving experience, and life in new ways. I spent lunch one day lounging in the rear area, just staring up at the blue sky as it was punctuated by palm trees, and couldn’t help but smile. It is an impressive feature that had an unexpectedly positive impact on my time in the car.
The rear area of the vehicle operates as you would expect. My 6- and 7-year-old boys were comfortable and able to get in and out without any issues. They liked the fun design of the car and enjoyed exploring the hamster car they had seen on TV.
Unfortunately, it’s not all fun in the sun in the Soul, as the infotainment system is pretty atrocious. Yes, it is functional, but any functionality that can be extracted from the infotainment system comes at a cost of trudging through one unintuitive interface after another. Hyundai and Kia share the same infotainment platform and it is equally unimpressive and uninspiring in both.
I have for the most part given up on automotive manufacturers producing an intuitive, functional infotainment experience, but am still holding out for someone to give an Apple, Samsung, or other similar company full control over the experience in the hopes of finally doing it right. The infotainment system works in the Soul and has most of what the average driver will likely need … and you’ll get used to it, but it doesn’t have to be this difficult.
Charging the Kia Soul EV
The Kia Soul EV is fully capable when it comes to charging. It can charge at Level 1 speeds with the included EVSE, Level 2 speeds with a 240v EVSE, or crank things up a bit to 480 volts with the included DC Fast Charging CHAdeMO port. Kia has done its part to educate drivers new to the world of EVs via a comprehensive EV charging site that talks through a lot of the nuances of EV charging.
In our testing, we charged on Level 1 and Level 2 and both worked seamlessly. As with most EVs, charging the Kia Soul EV at home was a breeze. The same applied while out around town at public charging stations. It’s easy and it just works.
The charging ports on the Kia Soul EV are located where the grill of the vehicle used to be. Kia pulled that out and put in a slightly larger panel that splits open at the push of a button, revealing the two charging ports. It’s a very functional location for most EV drivers. We found it especially functional in our nose-in garage situation as well as at most public chargers.
With Kia being a brand targeting more economically minded consumers, the current $31,950 price point of the Kia Soul EV feels a little steep. The landscape of available electric vehicles was very different when it first hit the market, but at present, there are much more competitive offerings available to consumers, making the Soul EV somewhat of a non-start when it comes to pricing for the value.
Looking back through history, the Kia Soul EV has seen quite a few price points that have been slashed over time. With that perspective, it is clear that Kia sees and is responding to price pressure from other EV manufacturers and sees the trend heading down as initial R&D costs are absorbed and lithium battery pricing keeps falling.
The Kia Soul EV is an impressive entry into the EV market for Kia and speaks to the brand’s ability to bring a solid EV to market. It is an extremely functional vehicle that packs a lot into what appears on the outside to be a small footprint. As an electric vehicle, however, it could use some love since the EV market has moved on since it was introduced to the market. The Soul EV likely needs a range increase and price cut to remain competitive in today’s EV market.