By on April 16, 2015

 

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EV “conversions” make for strange bedfellows when it comes to competition. There is no gasoline Kia Soul that competed even slightly with Mercedes or BMW. Oddly enough however, when you electrify one of the least expensive cars in America, you end up with with a Kia on the same cross-shop list as the i3 and B-Class Electric. Obviously a Kia Soul EV vs i3 vs B-Class comparison table is at the extreme end, but I am surprised how many folks wanted to hear that comparison. It isn’t just the luxury-cross shops that become possible however, comparisons normally considered to be “one-tier up” and “one-tier down” become more reasonable as well. For instance, the gasoline Soul isn’t a direct competitor to the Fiat 500 or the Ford Focus, but in EV form they are head to head.

Exterior

The Soul’s boxy profile causes shoppers to frequently overestimate its size. At 163 inches long, the Soul is 16-inches shorter than a Honda Civic and just three inches longer than a Honda Fit. The relative size and the low $15,190 starting price (in gasoline form) are the key to understanding the Soul in general terms. You must also keep that low starting price in mind when thinking of the Soul EV.

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Although the boxy Kia isn’t very long, it is fairly wide. At 70.9 inches wide, the Soul is three critical inches broader than a Honda Fit. This extra width helps keep the Soul from looking too upright (like the Honda Fit) and, from a practical standpoint, it gives rear passengers a wider bench seat than many compact vehicles on the market.

To set the EV apart, Kia crafted unique paint options which include the two-tone blue/white model we tested. Aside from the desire to differentiate the product, the white roof actually reduces heat loads in hotter climates. Kia is a brand known for cutting corners. Last century Kia famously cut all the wrong corners, but lately they started cutting all the right ones. In order to keep the EV’s price, low Kia skipped fancy LED or HID headlamps and used that cash to give upper level trims front and rear parking sensors and power folding mirrors. That’s a worthy trade in my book since many EVs end up being city commuter cars where parallel parking is a way of life.

I have to admit I find the Soul’s boxy form attractive. Maybe it’s my love of station wagons, but the practical profile made me smile. The tweaked front end which ditches a true grille due to reduced cooling requirements makes the Soul look more elegant than in base form as well. While I wouldn’t call it a luxury look, the Soul EV is certainly better looking than the Spark EV or LEAF and it’s a more traditional alternative to the BMW i3.

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Interior

I found the Soul’s interior to be more polarizing than the exterior, but style and not quality is where people were mixed in opinion. With the latest redesign, all Soul models get a soft-touch injection molded dashboard but the feel of the cabin does change from the base gasoline model to the top end trims. The difference seems to be that rather than swapping nicer bits into the higher end cabins, Kia designed a $25,000 cabin and then subtracted to create the base models. Things like the fabric headliner, stitched instrument cluster cover, sort touch door panels and leather wrapped wheel get swapped for lower rent parts in that base $15,190 model. The result is a high-end Soul interior that looks cohesive and a low end Soul interior where interior parts look out of place. Surprised? Then you haven’t driven mid-range or upper trim levels of the latest generation Soul. Kia brought the cheeky box notably up-market in this generation and all EV models use the nicer interior parts.

For EV duty the Soul is available in two trims with essentially no options to choose. The “Base” model is $33,700 (before tax incentives) and the “+” is $35,700. You should know that both trims actually fit into the Soul’s hierarchy between the gasoline + and ! models in terms of features. The $2,000 bump buys you leather seats that are heated/ventilated up front and heated in the rear, heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, fog lamps, power folding mirrors, auto-dimming rear view mirror and leatherette inserts in the doors. The ventilated seats are unique in the EV segment and they are more practical than you might think. We have all heard that it consumes less power to heat the seats and steering wheel than heat the air, but the same goes in hot weather: ventilating the seat consumes less energy than cooling the cabin to a lower temperature. Having the Soul EV back to back with the VW e-Golf made this more obvious than I had expected. Although the Soul EV isn’t as aerodynamic as the e-Golf I was able to get similar highway economy figures by using the ventilated seats instead of the A/C.

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Speaking of air conditioning, Kia decided to use a more expensive heat pump in the Soul EV instead of a standard air conditioning and resistive heater setup that you find in most EVs. Heat pumps are becoming more and more common because they drastically reduce the energy consumed in heating the cabin. If you live in a colder climate, the reduction in energy consumption can potentially mean 5-10 miles more EV range.

The Soul’s front seats are upright and comfortable, but not as adjustable as the gasoline Soul ! which has a 10-way power seat and adjustable lumbar support. This is a shame because it would have made the Soul’s cabin more welcoming than any of the other EVs on the market save Tesla’s new seat design. Headroom and legroom are surprisingly generous thanks to the upright seats and tall roofline. With the front seats adjusted for a 6-foot 5-inch friend, I had no troubles sitting in the back seat. Because the Soul is wider than your average subcompact it has three snug seats in the rear, one more than you’ll find in the 500e, Spark EV or i3. Because most EVs are weight conscious (read: full of hard plastics), only the Mercedes and Tesla offer interiors that feel overtly higher rent. The i3’s interior is difficult to compare as parts are high quality, but the kneaf/plastic blended door and dash panels don’t feel particularly expensive

Infotainment

Perhaps the most attractive feature in the Soul, aside from the ventilated seats, is the 8-inch UVO infotainment and navigation system that is standard on both trims. Kia builds on their easy-to-use software with perhaps the most EV specific information available in a car this side of a Model S. In addition to the standard fare of range and nearby charging stations, the UVO software will let you see where your power is going, score your driving, tell you how much farther you could go if you turned off the AC, and give you charging time estimates. None of these features are unique to the Soul, but not every EV out there gives you ALL of this information in one unit. In addition Kia has a smartphone connected app that will do much of this from afar.

On the downside, UVO still lacks voice command of your media library like you’ll find in most of the mass-market competition from Chrysler, GM, Toyota, Ford and to some extent Honda, but the is the only serious omission in this software. Again however the EV comparisons make even this contrast difficult since the EV’s from those companies don’t include this feature either. The UVO interface is snappy, supports scrolling/drag motions with your fingers, includes a built in cell modem for connectivity features and the voice recognition software is intuitive. The display is large and easy to read in strong daylight and the user interface is sleek and modern. BMW’s iDrive is still the most elegant entry, but only in top end trims as the base i3 gets a less elegant iDrive implementation. Mercedes COMAND is pretty, but lacks UVO’s feature set. Sadly EV owners cannot get Kia’s up-level Infiniti sound system with a center channel speaker, subwoofer and color-changing speaker grills that beat in time with the music. Rocking hamsters need not apply.

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Drivetrain

Powering the electrified Soul is a 109 horsepower AC electric motor capable of 210 lb-ft of torque.  The motor sends power to the front wheels via a single-speed automatic transaxle. (Many of you asked why we call it a “transmission” when it is little more than a reduction gear set with a differential. I don’t have a good answer for you, I call it a transmission because the company that made it calls it a transmission.) Although the curb weight of the Soul EV is a hair lower than the e-Golf (3,286 vs 3,391) and the motor isn’t really much more powerful, 0-60 performance was inexplicably better at 8.5 seconds vs 10.03 seconds. Perplexed by the fast sprint to highway speed? So was I. Many publications have simply quoted Kia’s vague 10-11 second range for the acceleration run, but we tested it several times with the same 20Hz GPS based accelerometer and got the same numbers. The difference is likely due to the gearing and hopefully we’ll be able to get some 0-60 comparisons on other models soon to confirm this, or not.

BMW’s i3 is one of the lightest EVs, tipping the scales 751lbs lighter than the Soul. However, not all the weight difference is explained in the ultra-modern carbon fiber and aluminum BMW construction, the Soul EV carries a battery that is a whopping 44% larger in usable capacity. At 27kWh the Soul’s battery is (at the moment) only outclassed by the B-Class and Model S. Sadly, the laws of physics don’t allow the Kia to have 44% more range than the i3 thanks to considerably wider tires, the heftier curb weight and less aerodynamic profile. For 2015 the EPA says the Soul will cover 93 miles depending on your driving style, about 12 more than the i3. BMW’s numbers were about right, getting around 83 milesin my tests but the Soul EV is rated conservatively (likely due to the brick-like aerodynamics) but I averaged 4.2 miles per kWh which translates to a 113 mile range on my daily commute. Not willing to push things, I did manage a 90 mile trip with about 16% of the battery left.

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Kia’s balancing act between features and keeping costs in check can be seen in the drivetrain as well. The trade-off for the hefty battery capacity is a standard 6.6kW charger which is not slow, but it is slower than the 7.2kW in the e-Golf, 7.4kW in the i3 and 10kW in the Mercedes. Thankfully all Soul models come standard with the CHAdeMO DC fast charge connector up front (the large connector on the right in the picture above). The new SAE (aka CCS) connector may be slimmer and newer, but CHAdeMO outnumbers the newer stations by more than 4:1 in the SF Bay Area and the charging rate is essentially the same. Charging at 120V will take you over 24 hours, at 6.6kW 240V that drops to 4 hours and the little blue box will race from 5% to 80% in under 30 minutes at a coffee shop with a CHAdeMO station.

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Drive

The Soul has never been a driver’s car. The prime reason is Kia’s decision to use a semi-independent suspension in the rear to improve cargo room and load capacity. This means the rear of the gasoline Soul gets upset over heavily broken pavement when driving in a straight line, and in corners rough pavement leaves it unsettled. By adding 500lbs to the vehicle and shifting the weight balance nearer to 50/50 to the rear, the Soul EV delivers improved feel without any major mechanical changes. Because the Soul’s wheelbase is still fairly short the ride can feel slightly choppy on freeway expansion joints, but the added weight brings added polish with it and actually helps settle the rear in corners.

There isn’t an EV out there that excels at handling (even Model S tests on the skidpad yields lower numbers than the gasoline competition) and the Soul is no different. The EV Soul has unquestionably better balance than the gasoline model, and that is obvious on winding roads, but the 205-width low rolling resistance tires and extra weight mean that handling comes in just above the base Soul model (which wears even skinnier tires.) I found the Kia more engaging than the Nissan Leaf, but less engaging than the Focus Electric and e-Golf. In sheer road holding numbersm the Soul and i3 are quite close according to independent metrics, but the the i3’s RWD layout makes it more fun. The Soul’s steering wheel gives precious little feedback but the effort level is adjustable in three levels and no EV’s steering is a “team player” anyway.

Driving dynamics aren’t the Soul’s Forte (see what I did there?) but then again, no EV on the market today does terribly well in this area either. Instead, the Soul EV checks all the practicality and usability boxes from a large and practical cargo area to energy saving features like the standard heat pump and available ventilated leather seats which you don’t find on even the i3 or B-Class. Making the Soul EV perhaps more compelling is Kia’s long standard warranty and the bottom line. If you qualify for the maximum in incentives, the Soul EV ends up being only $1,000 more than a comparable gasoline Soul while costing $800 less to operate on a yearly basis. It may be a low bar, but the Soul EV is easily the best all-around EV on the market today. The more surprising takeaway however is how well the Soul actually stacks up against the high-end competition despite being based on a $15,190 econo-box.

Kia provide the vehicle, insurance and one battery charge for this review. Nissan provided a free charge via one of the Nissan CHAdeMO charging stations in Redwood City.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 3.3 Seconds

0-60: 8.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 82 MPH

 

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21 Comments on “Review: 2015 Kia Soul EV (With Video)...”


  • avatar
    John R

    “Nissan provided a free charge via one of the Nissan CHAdeMO charging stations in Redwood City.”

    Well. That’s magnanimous of them.

  • avatar
    madman2k

    Good review. My wife is happy with her ’14 Soul (! model). Maybe sometime down the road I’d consider an electric model to replace my Prius for commuting.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Does the charging cable lock to the car and then automatically unlock when charging is complete?

  • avatar
    mcs

    Good review, but just one little technical detail. You stated “Heat pumps are becoming more and more common because they drastically reduce the energy consumed in heating the cabin”. While that is true, heat pumps also reduce the energy needed to cool the cabin. I have one on the car and house. Great devices.

    http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/TECHNOLOGY/OVERVIEW/heat_pump_cabin_heater.html

    I’d also suggest checking out the Leaf in SL trim for a handling comparison. With 215/50 17s, it’s not a bad handling car and the bigger tires don’t seem to hurt the range.

    • 0 avatar
      galaxygreymx5

      Sort of. A heat pump is, more or less, just an air conditioner that can run backwards.

      Because of valving the Leaf A/C, when equipped with the heat pump option, is measurably *worse* in efficiency when compared to the old (2011-12 and 13+ “S” model) A/C + resistive heating unit.

      This is well documented on mynissanleaf.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I would trade less efficient A/C for more efficient heat. The 11-12 Leaf heater is a real power sink.

        • 0 avatar
          galaxygreymx5

          It’s a welcome trade off for me as well. In the Soul on a 45 degree evening it’s pulling about 500W to pump tons of toasty air into the cabin.

          My Volt, with a resistive heater, used about 3,500W for the same amount of heat. Absolute range decimation.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            Ah, so that’s why the documentation says more efficient heat – but just says that it also air conditions without saying the air conditioning is more efficient. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    With that white roof it’s starting to look like a Ford Flex left in the dryer too long.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    “With the latest redesign, all Soul models get a soft-touch injection molded dashboard”

    All the plastics are injection molded, I believe the term for the soft touch process is: two-shot injection overmolding.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    An important omission in the article: For the time being, this is a compliance car with very limited availability in the US.

    If it was available, I’d seriously consider it as my Leaf’s replacement. With its nose-mounted charging port, I wouldn’t even have to relocate my L2 charger. By all accounts, the Soul EV is under-rated when it comes to range.

    “It may be a low bar, but the Soul EV is easily the best all-around EV on the market today.” I don’t think the bar is that low, but this sentiment about the Soul EV is echoed by many reviewers. Too bad Kia isn’t more serious about the car.
    http://insideevs.com/kia-expands-soul-ev-availability-additional-u-s-states/

    Also, I’m stunned at the acceleration. The motor’s output is nearly identical to my 12 Leaf’s – as is the weight – but it’s 1.5 seconds quicker to 60 than the Leaf.

  • avatar
    SC5door

    Curious to see if KIA will then start to offer the E-AWD system they showed before, sort of rounding out the lineup. Soul, Soul EV, Soul AWD.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      With Kia adding capacity with a new Mexico plant, wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Taril’ster (with e-AWD) joining the lineup.

      The Soul EV looks better in Titanium Grey (the grill cover looks better in the grey).

  • avatar
    galaxygreymx5

    I have a Soul EV and it’s been a wonderful car for the last six months. I took a gamble getting one of the first units on the ground here but I am enjoying the car a lot.

    The reason that the Soul EV seems under-rated in range for its 27 kWh (usable) pack is because the car has the option of an 80% and 100% charge mode. When a vehicle is so equipped, the EPA averages the two and the sticker ends up with range at what would be a 90% state of charge.

    Many of the EVs with smaller packs have eliminated the 80% charge option to boost EPA range ratings and so the Monroney range is for 100% charge. The Spark EV, ’14+ Leaf, 500e, and e-Golf all default to 100% charging.

    Soul EV EPA range at 100% state of charge would be just over 103 miles. In my particular car I have no problem getting 100+ real world miles with no hypermiling.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      On my 12 Leaf, 80% is the norm. Nissan’s annual battery checkup gives you demerits for too many 100% charging events.

      I find it ironic that 100% charging is now the Leaf’s normal mode.

      Of course, as with any battery pack, 100% isn’t really filling the cell to 100%. The designers leave some reserve untouched to prevent damage. I think the Volt 2.0 designers commented about how they reduced the reserve to gain more usable energy.

      I’m jealous of your Soul EV; I wish you many happy miles.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I just compared manuals. They removed the first 2 paragraphs in the 3rd column on page EV-23 of your 2012 manual that refers to 80% charging recommendations. Maybe it’s the new formulation that allows it?


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