This 2020 Kia Soul EV is not, in fact, the first Kia Soul EV. Nor is it Kia’s only pure electric car. Truth is, the Korean manufacturer is ahead of the curve when it comes to the rollout of its EV programme.
Walk into one of its showrooms today and there’s the choice of this Soul EV or the highly regarded e-Niro, not to mention a range of plug-in hybrid and hybrid models. Outside on the forecourt, meanwhile, you might even find a used Soul EV for sale.
THE ORIGINAL KIA SOUL EV
Launched in 2014, the first-generation Soul EV perfectly demonstrates the advances that have occurred in electric car technology in the past six years or so. At launch it was among the most advanced battery electric cars on sale. It had a range of up to 132 miles between charges, and unlike the BMW i3, which was one of its biggest competitors at the time, it seemed remarkably conventional. Four normal doors, a decent-sized boot, and an interior that looked much like that of any other modern Kia were all part of the recipe.
To some extent this all-new Soul EV follows that pattern – only this time it has a range of up to 280 miles from a full charge. The styling is somewhat quirky, but in terms of packaging, interior layout, and the look and feel of the interior it could quite easily pass for a petrol or diesel Soul. Only it’s not – that much is clear partly because Kia doesn’t offer those in the UK any longer, but also because the price for a Soul EV First Edition like the one we tested is £33,795. And that’s after the government’s plug-in car grant has been factored in. Now, admittedly, most people will run these on monthly finance plans rather than buy outright, but even so it’s hard not to flinch at the idea of a Kia hatchback that costs the same as a brand new BMW M135i.
KIA SOUL EV BATTERY PACK
What you must remember, then, is that a large part of the cost of any electric car in 2020 is accounted for by the lithium-ion battery pack. And in the Soul EV it’s a sizeable one: 64kWh to be precise, which is way ahead of the 42kWh unit in the BMW i3s, and beats even the 62kWh battery in the Nissan Leaf e+. It’s what gives the Soul that 280-mile range in mixed driving. And that, incidentally, is more than you get in a standard range Plus version of the Tesla Model 3 – a car that just so happens to cost around £4,700 more to buy outright. A Hyundai Kona Electric, with what is basically the same powertrain as the Soul EV, costs from £35,100.
So on the miles-per-pound front the Soul EV looks very promising. It’s also a usefully practical car. OK, the luggage volume isn’t up to the standards of Kia’s e-Niro (451 litres in the e-Niro versus 315 litres in the Soul), but the Soul EV is £700 cheaper and 50kg lighter (albeit still 1,757kg), which might just make it modestly more efficient.
INSIDE THE 2020 KIA SOUL EV
The Soul EV also offers a sensible amount of passenger space. You can fit two tall adults in the front and still have room for another two tall adults in the back. Fitting a fifth person in will be a bit tight, but it can certainly be done.
Like its predecessor, the new Soul EV is typically modern Kia in the front. The difference being that even in the past six years expectations of a modern Kia interior have increased dramatically. The 10.25-inch touchscreen, for example, wouldn’t look out of place in a Jaguar or Mercedes, and is easier to use than the systems in either of those cars. There’s a few flourishes of design excitement, too, such as the concave and patterned pieces of trim where the doors meet the dash, and the gloss black surrounds for the air vents and centre console. The rotary selector that engages drive, reverse and park feels suitably futuristic, too.
Once on the move you’ll find that, for the most part, the way the Soul EV drives is good enough without being exceptional. That applies to the ride, the steering, the way the body leans gently in corners, the amount of road noise kicked up by the tyres… and on it goes.
AN EXCEPTIONAL DRIVETRAIN
The one area where the Soul EV does feel exceptional is the drivetrain. It has the smooth, progressive power delivery that’s typical of an electric car, which makes this Kia as easy to drive at low speed as just about any other car you could think of. With 201bhp and 291lb ft of torque it’s also got some go – even just using half of the available travel of the throttle pedal will get you from a standstill to 30mph in what feels like the blink of an eye. And there’s no drama, fuss, or noise – you just squeeze and go.
In truth it’s this brisk, merging-with-traffic type acceleration where the Soul EV feels at its best. Try to use all of the power and the limitations of the front-wheel-drive setup come to the fore, particularly if the road surface is wet. Slam your right foot to the floor and the wheels will spin before the traction control has to cut in. Do so midway through a corner and car will actually start to slide off line – nothing like a bit of power understeer to grab a driver’s attention… That’s on new, fully-treaded tyres, too. What one of these will be like as the tyres come to the end of their life is anybody’s guess.
More impressive is the way Kia handles regenerative braking, which can be adjusted via steering wheel-mounted paddles. Pull the left one and you increase the amount of regenerative braking in stages; at its strongest level you can do much of your driving without even touching the brake pedal. At its weakest level you’ll actively need to use the brake pedal to slow the car. Where the Soul EV differs from a BMW i3 is that it won’t come to a complete stop unless you either press the brake pedal or hold on to the left-paddle until the wheels cease to roll.
What we have in the Kia Soul EV, then, is another highly credible entrant to a fast-improving electric car market. Is it the best electric car you can buy? If you’re moving to an EV for purely rational reasons it’s certainly up there towards the top of the class. Whether in reality buyers will actually choose one over what might be considered to be more fashionable and perhaps desirable electric cars such as the Tesla Model 3 and MINI Electric, however, only time will tell.
2020 Kia Soul EV
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Top speed: 104mph
Range: 280 miles (WLTP combined)
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