By Frank S. Washington
DANA POINT, Calif. – The Kia Soul is the most successful alternatively shaped car (read: square box) on the road. Now the Korean automaker is attempting to transfer the vehicle’s popularity to the new Soul EV – that stands for “electric vehicle.”
Electric-powered vehicles are not as rare as you might think. There is a robust competition in the segment. There are 11 all-electric vehicles on the market and more are on the way. The 2015 Soul EV was the latest when it went on sale in early October.
The Soul EV uses a Lithium Ion Polymer battery. It has a range of 93 miles, better than all EVs accept the luxury Telsa S, and it has regenerative braking to help recharge the battery. But it is not a closed system. In other words, the battery must be recharged externally.
It takes 24 hours to recharge the Soul EV’s battery from zero capacity using a standard 120 volt electrical outlet. A 240-volt outlet will do the job in 4.5 hours. And a direct charge 490 volt outlet, not recommended for home use, will charge the battery to 80 percent of its capacity in 33 minutes.
The battery is engineered for use in warm weather, thus, it makes sense for Kia to first target California with the Soul EV. Los Angeles and San Francisco are the top markets for electric vehicles. However, for colder climes there is a battery warmer available.
You’ve got to know your Souls to distinguish a gasoline powered model from an electric variant. Our test vehicle still featured the Soul’s floating roof, square shoulders and windows that looked like wrap around tinted glasses. The difference was the grille; it was larger on the EV to accommodate the charging ports that were hidden behind it. A third of the grille panel swung out and over to allow charging.
The battery was underneath the car which didn’t cause much alteration to the interior. Thus, the Soul EV only lost 3 inches of rear passenger space that was cavernous to begin with. Cargo space remained at more than 18 cu. ft. with the second row seat up.
Electric vehicles are a new world. They not only include kilowatt hour readings but specifications on energy, power, volts (the Soul EV makes 360), battery pack watt hours, amp/hours and on it goes.
But some numbers were familiar. The car generated 109 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque. That electric motor was mated to a one-gear transmission. Oh, the torque was instantaneous and that one gear was more than adequate. These figures were not as piddling as they seem to be in print.
We test drove the Soul EV on a 68-mile route. When we were done, the gauges said we had 35 miles left in range and 35 percent of the charge remained. We took it easy during the drive because the electric automobile is an unknown entity. Still, the vehicle was quiet; we heard nothing but some wind noise over the roof.
It also had all the bells and whistles you’ve come to expect: heated and cooled front seats, and heated rear seats, a navigation system, satellite radio, auxiliary and USB jacks, Bluetooth, push button start, smart key, rearview camera, there was nothing missing.
Power was good; we once got up to 80 mph without noticing. The top speed is electronically limited to 90 mph but the car can’t go much faster anyway. The Soul EV can get to 60 mph from a standstill in 11.2 seconds and when it comes to towing, the spec sheet said it is “not recommended.” We took that to mean don’t do it.
Once, backing out of a parking space we heard the crossover (that’s what Kia calls the Soul) chiming gently to alert pedestrians as well other vehicles. Remember, this car runs virtually silent. That chime is supposed to sound off whenever the Soul EV is traveling at 12 mph or less to alert those on foot and other vehicles that it is there.
We thought the car handled extremely well. Kia engineers did a nice job in retuning the suspension to handle the 400 lbs. of extra weight. Though the Soul EV lost a gasoline engine and a conventional transmission, it gained a sizable battery, regenerative brakes and stiffer (read heavier) low resistance tires. What’s more, because of the retuning, the Soul EV’s center of gravity was lower and that made it hug the pavement even more.
It was a nice ride. But what Kia and other electric vehicle makers must overcome is range anxiety. Kia has opted to include a satellite feed to the Soul EV’s UVO system that tells drivers where the nearest charging station is in California’s fast growing electric charging infrastructure.
Since we didn’t need it we didn’t bother to check. But one of our colleagues got caught in a huge traffic jam on I-5 and could not go anywhere for more than an hour. He remarked that he was glad he was driving the Soul Sedona (another new Kia that was also tested) and we agreed.
But on reflection it occurred to us that getting caught in a traffic jam should not matter to the Soul EV. It is about range and battery charge. If you’re not moving, that does not impact either. A Kia official said that is right, unless you’ve got the air conditioner going or the radio playing and not moving, thus not using regenerative braking to recharge the 12 volt battery – the range could go down a little. But in stop and go traffic jams the regenerative brakes are being used – a lot.
Anyway, the point is that the public needs to be educated about electric vehicles; not by automakers but by owners of EVs. And Kia has a good one in the 2015 Soul EV; prices start at $33,700. Our test vehicle had a sticker of $36,625 including an $800 freight charge.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.