► First drive in electric Kia Soul
► Pricey but parsimonious?
► Soul EV costs £30k...
This is Kia's first stab at a global electric car, shoehorning some clever battery tech into the oddball, upright stance of the Soul. Is it a hatchback? Is it a people carrier? A borderline SUV? We're still not quite sure, but here is our first drive of the new 2015 Kia Soul EV.
What's new on the electric Kia Soul?
As you can see from our photos, this is stock Soul with a few telltale giveaways. There's no front radiator grille (why would there be?), the wheels are space-age smooth spin-a-disc retro rims and there's a smattering of EV badgery. Otherwise, it's a typical Soul silhouette. Which is to say a cool, American-flavoured tallboy.
The clever stuff is mostly under the bonnet. Instead of a petrol or diesel engine sits an 81kW electric motor, driving the front wheels. That’s roughly equivalent to 109bhp and a stout 211lb ft of twist means that Kia is able to quote some reasonable performance figures.
So how fast is the Soul EV?
Kia claims the 0-60mph sprint takes 10.8sec, which is competitive with the class benchmarks, and a 90mph top speed (which is not).
But for a battery-powered car, the Soul is brisk and quite quick enough in day-to-day driving. Hell, it'll even chirrup its front wheels if you pull smartly away from a junction and performance is quite adequate for most duties in town and in day-to-day rural driving.
Naturally, this car's preferred habitat is not the outside lane sitting at 80mph. Do that, and the range meter will do one, and enter freefall as in any other electric car. The difference here is that - other than a Tesla Model S - we've yet to drive an EV with such an honest range prediction.
The Soul EV didn't quote 70 miles at the start of a journey and then plummet to 30 after 10 miles; it seemed more honest in our week-long stint with the car and a genuine attempt at reasonable-minded driving. It's to be applauded.
The tech spec
There’s some clever tech on board: this car sports the very latest lithium-ion polymer batteries, whose energy density of 200Wh/kg is claimed to be class-leading. Don’t worry if you don’t have a degree in chemical engineering – this just means that Kia quotes a 132-mile range.
We'd say that claim is marginally optimistic, but that 100 miles is achievable in mixed use with a fair dollop of town driving.
Kia plans to charge £29,995 for the Soul EV. Which is a tremendous amount - and even the UK Governement's £5000 subsidy can’t remove that particular sting…
This is a big hurdle for the electric Soul to overcome, and explains why Kia forecasts just 100 UK sales a year. We predict that Soul EV v1.0 will be popular only among early adopters and councils/businesses wanting a distinctive car to brag about their green credentials.
Inside the Kia Soul EV
The cabin is as calm and cool as the exterior. There are few scary graphics and knobs to put off Soul owners, but we loved the hippy-ish but tactile hessian seat upholstery. We're less keen on the garish loudspeakers that glow at night in time with the music (yes, really) but overall it's a pleasant interior.
So you strap in, thumb the keyless-go start button, select Drive on the auto lever and pootle off. Here the Soul EV is in its element, with a smoothly calibrated driveline, no shudder and linear, consistent braking where other electric cars struggle.
It rides really well, with a well judged, plump ride entirely in keeping with the Soul's laid-back vibe. And it doesn't fall to pieces in the corners either; it's not hot hatch, granted, but then nor should it be. And it doesn't feel too top-heavy considering your packing 275kg of batteries onboard.
Here's one weak spot on the Soul: the boot is titchy tiny, at only 281 litres. Blame the Soul's design and the fact there are battery packs galore stuffed down there. At least the rest of the cabin is highly practical. There's no transmission tunnel to speak of, so you can get three adults in the back easily enough and children can slide in and out easily. The front is comfy, too.
The biggest hurdle of ownership will be a more fundamental problem: refuelling. It takes 13 hours to recharge on a domestic plug and you'll have to upgrade to a fast-charge station to do anything less day-destroying. Kia quotes a 33-minute top-up time on the fastest chargers, which sounds commendably quick.
As you can tell, there's much to commend the Kia Soul EV. This is a well calibrated, smooth-driving electric car and we're impressed by Kia's efforts on its first global EV. Only the sky-high cost and a limited recharging network limits its appeal. But limit it they do, and that's why the electric Soul is destined to remain a rare-groove car in Britain. Shame.