Kia Soul EV – don’t buy a Leaf until you’ve tried this first!

Kia Soul EV

The Kia Soul EV. Striking looking, particularly in this vibrant metallic blue.

Kia’s Soul is a fairly rare sight on Britains roads. The rather quirky styling of the first generation model inevitably put off some potential buyers, but the latest incarnation has a much more grown-up look about it, even though it still retains some funky features.

If the Soul is a rare bird, the all-electric Soul is even rarer. However, Kia have sensibly adopted a low-key approach to the introduction of this, their first full electric model into the UK, with planned first-year sales of only 200 from a handful of selected dealers.

So, given that the Government are keen to get us all using electric vehicles, is the Soul EV a worthy competitor to the more established electro-mobiles such as the Nissan Leaf?

First impressions of the Soul from outside are positive. It looks, somehow, more substantial than a Leaf, no doubt due to its square upright stance which sets it firmly in the mini-SUV camp, although the Soul is strictly 2-wheel-drive only and lacks any serious off-road pretensions. Apart from the Eco badging, a couple of features set the EV apart from lesser Souls with petrol or diesel power. What would be the radiator grille on the conventional car is now filled in, and neatly doubles as a hinged cover for the charging points, whilst the wheels are an unusual, but aerodynamic style.

Lifting the bonnet reveals the usual plethora of electrical gear, with only minimal routine service points such as coolant, screenwash & brake fluid to need attention.

Kia Soul EV

the boot of the Kia Soul EV – its usefulness diminished by the way the front of the cover hinges down into the boot space when open.

“The boot is both short and not particularly deep”

That square profile makes the best use of space inside the car, with plenty of head and legroom both front and rear, considering that it’s only 4.1 metres long. Inevitably, that short length means some compromise, and in the Soul it’s in the boot space, which is both short and not particularly deep, although there is a handy-sized hidden compartment under the boot floor. This underfloor compartment makes a handy storage location for the charging cables, again unlike the Leaf where they need to share the boot space with everything else. With the rear seats raised, the boot capacity is 281 litres, one of the few areas where the specification of the Soul EV suffers compared to the Leaf. On the positive side, the boot floor is flush with the rear bumper, making loading and unloading straightforward, unlike the Leaf where there is a large lip to lift items over. The boot is also quite wide, again scoring points over the Leaf. The rigid luggage space cover is a bit of a pain however: unusually, the forward part of the cover pivots down into the luggage space as it opens, catching on any luggage which is loaded directly under the cover. The cover can, of course, easily be removed if this is a problem.

Kia Soul

the front doors of the Soul EV open wide, giving easy access to the high-mounted seats.

Kia Soul EV

The rear doors of the Soul also open wide, making entry & exit very easy.

Entry and exit to both front & rear seats is easy, and the high-mounted seats are comfortable. Interior trim materials are generally pleasing, with soft-touch materials above waist height. The pale interior trim colour may not be to everyone’s taste, however, although it makes the cabin a light & airy place to be. Rear passenger windows are heavily tinted, which will be appreciated by rear-seat passengers. The door mirrors are particularly impressive, being almost square in shape and giving a great field of view. As well as folding in automatically when you lock the car, they can also be folded in using the switch inside the car. Whilst this is useful in some circumstances, it would be good if this was inhibited at speeds above walking pace to avoid the unwary  – like me! – triggering the folding action when driving whilst trying to adjust a mirror!

“Where the Leaf can feel a little flimsy, the Soul feels solid and well screwed together”

Where the Leaf can feel a little flimsy, the Soul feels solid and well screwed together. Controls and switches feel pleasantly robust and tactile. As indeed they should be: Kia’s products have come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years and now rival the class leaders for fit and finish.  Durability should be good, too, with Kia’s 7-year warranty, which extends to the battery.

The Soul EV is extremely well-equipped as standard, with such goodies as climate control, heated front seats and steering wheel, and a reversing camera. The guide-lines shown in the rear camera, incidentally, are fixed, and do not change shape to show the trajectory of the car, although unlike many Nissan products they are supplemented with audible reversing sensors which come into their own when the camera lens is obscured by dirt, as they inevitably become in wet weather. The 8” multimedia touchscreen features a decent sat nav system as well as a DAB radio. The easy-to-use multimedia system also includes an EV menu, giving a raft of generally useful information ranging from directions to the nearest charging stations to the range remaining. Confusingly, though, the list of charging stations it provides does not include at least one of the main networks – Ecotricity – and the distances it indicates to charging stations are not actual miles by road but are “as the crow flies”. On a motorway this can lead to the absurd situation where the system indicates that the nearest charging station is only a couple of miles away although it is in fact on another road altogether, away from the motorway and could easily take 25 or more miles to reach. In the meantime, you could merrily sail past a motorway service area which has several Ecotricity charging stations!

Kia Soul EV instruments

The dashboard of the Kia Soul EV. A bar graph, similar to the range indication on the left-hand gauge, creeps round the right hand dial as speed increases.

Ahead of the driver the instrument display is also electronic, with a digital speedo on the right, surrounded by what can only be described as a radial barchart which also shows your speed, although it has no markings and so is fairly pointless. The left hand dial shows, digitally, the remaining range, surrounded on the left by a power meter and on the right by another radial bar chart, this time showing the charge remaining. As with most electric cars, the result is to provide the driver with a lot of fairly unnecessary information, and most people will look simply at the two digital displays, ignoring the rest most of the time.

Unless you have your foot on the brake, the power button sensibly needs a couple of presses to fully wake up the electrics – the first press simply activates accessory items such as the multimedia. With drive or reverse selected, and the electric handbrake disengaged, the EV creeps slightly, a feature which may not suit everyone and which it would be a nice touch to be able to switch off if desired. Once in Drive, a further movement of the selector lever backwards selects B mode, in which maximum brake energy regeneration is obtained. In this mode, the regeneration can be felt doing its thing when you lift off the throttle, although this is not too intrusive so is easy to get used to, and we kept the EV in B mode most of the time.

“Acceleration from a standing start is brisk”

Acceleration from a standing start is brisk, as with most electric vehicles thanks to the instant torque available on tap. Unlike some competitors though, the acceleration continues to be respectable all the way up to the legal limit, courtesy of the healthy 285Nm of torque on tap. Kia claim a reasonable 10.8 second 0-60mph time, and certainly the Soul EV was well able to keep up with other traffic, even in the default Eco mode. Just try that in a Nissan Leaf and you will soon be looking for the kill switch for Eco mode! The Soul EV does in fact also have an Eco-off switch, but we were more than happy to leave the car in its default Eco mode all the time.

Ride is pretty firm, and could occasionally be a little unsettled by bumps, however the trade-off is in safe and stable cornering, with body roll feeling well controlled. In general, the ride and handling feels not dissimilar to the much-acclaimed Skoda Yeti. The steering can occasionally feel a little vague in its softest setting, but weights up nicely in Sport mode, without becoming too heavy.

“the lack of engine noise makes the cabin a very pleasant place to be indeed”

Motorway cruising at the legal limit is very relaxed, the lack of engine noise making the cabin a very pleasant place to be indeed. Driving is made even easier by the cruise control and speed limiters which are both intuitive to use, unlike some systems.

Kia Soul EV

a clear, open road – not the best economical operating conditions for any electric vehicle

“we achieved 120 miles (range) quite easily in local running”

High speed motorway cruising is of course far from the ideal environment for getting the best operating range from an electric car, and the Soul EV is no exception. A 70mph blast down the M4 in miserable winter weather, with the heater, lights and wipers all working hard, and temperatures hovering just above freezing, saw the range drop to around 80 miles, which in truth given the appalling conditions was better than we were expecting. Once off the motorway, however, the range improved significantly. Kia quote up to 132 miles: we achieved 120 miles quite easily in local running, beating the 24kWh Leaf we tried earlier, which could manage only around 100 miles at best, compared to the 124 miles range which Nissan claim. Based on this comparison, we believe the Soul EV range is similar to that of the latest 30kW Leaf, which claims a 155mile range but is in practice likely to achieve around 120 miles.

“this makes the occasional motorway trip more feasible than you might expect”

Kia had the foresight to equip the Soul EV with the rapid charge 440 volt DC CHAdeMO system. CHAdeMO is an abbreviation of CHArge de Move, or move by charge. The name is also, apparently, a pun drawn from “O cha demo ikaga desuka” in Japanese, translating to English as “How about some tea?”, referring to the time it would take to charge a car. Since Ecotricity CHAdEMO connections are available in almost every motorway service area as well as other places, this makes the occasional motorway trip more feasible than you might expect as it gives the capability to recharge to almost 80% in 30 minutes.

The lithium-ion polymer batteries are mounted beneath the car, and are protected by a robust casing as well as additional floor stiffening. With a capacity of 27 kilowatt-hours, they are claimed to be more powerful, weight-for-weight, than competitors offerings, which appears to be borne out by the excellent range we achieved.

In most electric vehicles, use of the heater, or air-conditioning and other electrical loads saps the available range quite substantially. To minimise this, the Soul EV includes an innovative Heat Pump which recovers waste heat from various sources, including heat given of by the electrical components. It also includes a drivers-only control for the climate control so that it only heats or cools one side of the cabin.

Kia Soul EV charging points

THe Soul EV has two charging points, both hidden behind this flap. The orange one is for domestic / fast charging, the bigger black on is the rapid CHAdeMO 400v DC connection

Of interest to anyone who charges the car overnight at home, the Soul EV includes a facility enabling the car to be pre-heated or cooled whilst still connected to the mains, so that it is at the desired interior temperature before driving off.

The Soul EV is provided with two charging cables. One is a standard three-pin system for slow domestic charging, taking 11-14 hours to achieve a full charge. The second is a 32-amp Type 1 to Type 2 adaptor cable which can recharge the car in 4-5 hours through either public AC fast-charge sockets, or the 7kW domestic wall-box which is available from Kia. Both of these connect to the smaller of the two charging ports fitted to the car. The quickest charging system by far, however, as noted above, is the CHAdeMO 400 volt DC rapid charging system, which uses the larger of the two charging ports.

On price, there is little difference between the Soul EV and its main competitor, the 30kWH Nissan Leaf. Before the £5,000 Government Plug-In-Car-Grant, which is shortly to drop to £4,500, the Soul EV retails at £29,995 on the road against £29,490 for the Leaf in similar trim level. However, when it’s time to sell, the Leaf’s depreciation is presently horrendous, shedding some 2/3 of its value in the first 12 months. The Soul EV should however fare better, given its relative exclusivity, with year-old models presently retailing at upwards of £17,000 compared with half that figure for a Leaf of similar age.

Unusually, the Soul EV is not offered with a host of options. It is well-equipped as standard, with the only option being a choice of colour – Titanium Silver metallic or, as on the test car, a vibrant Carribbean Blue metallic with a Clear White roof.

So, if you are in the market for a small fully electric car, don’t buy a Leaf without taking a look at the Soul EV – you might be pleasantly surprised!

Interested: find out more here http://www.kia.co.uk/new-cars/range/compact-cars/soul-ev

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