The most impressive thing about the 2015 Kia Soul EV has nothing to do with its emissions or green-car credibility. What anyone who tries the new Soul EV will be most struck by is how great a car it is to drive. This vehicle may well be the most balanced and enjoyable car to drive in the compact car segment at any price, and of any design, electric vehicle (EV) or not. Off the line, the 2015 Soul EV is snappy. If you turn right at a stop sign and floor it the Soul EV will spin a tire. Like most EVs, the speed is not linear. The Soul EV is quickest from about 0-40 MPH. However, in real-world driving that is where you usually lift off the throttle to avoid being ticketed, or because you are now coming up behind another vehicle or approaching a turn or stop. In suburban driving, the Kia Soul EV is very fun to push around and is also a happy cruiser. Highway on-ramps and passing at highway speeds are not a problem.
The ride quality is also fantastic. Over rough roads, the Kia Soul EV is comfortable, and the car feels solid as a rock. When you turn the car, it handles flat. There is very little lean. Perhaps the heavy batteries low in the car’s floor help, or maybe Kia just went to great lengths to get this car’s handling right. Either way, given the car’s price point, size and mission it is spot-on perfect.
Part of why it is so good may be the “normal” sized, 205mm/60/R16” tires the Soul EV uses. In addition to being the size and shape of typical car tires, Kia suggests a conventional 33 psi inflation pressure. The reason we mention this is because one of Kia’s peers in the EV world, the BMW i3, uses custom, super tall and super thin, “bicycle” tires, pumped up to high pressures. Kia can achieve its efficiency numbers using tires you can replace easily at any tire shop in America.
Braking feels completely normal in the Kia Soul EV. There is almost no tell-tale regeneration feeling. Many will consider that a good thing. For those that want to feel the regeneration effect more, there is a mode for that. Many EVs and hybrids have oddly non-linear brake feel particularly when the vehicle is just about stopped. There is none of that nonsense in the Soul EV.
In addition to being a great car to drive in the real world, the Kia Soul EV has a novel shape and style. Whether this works for you will be a matter of taste, but the boxy shape maximizes interior space. The high “floating roof” makes the car feel big inside. The vertical A-pillars are not in your line of sight like in an i3 either. Visibility is excellent. The vehicle also feels a bit higher off the ground than a low-slung Civic, and that is welcome. Getting in and out is easy too. The B-pillar is well back and out of the way of the front doors, and the seat height is perfect for swinging one’s hips into.
The back seat is normal for its class and the rear windows of this four-door hatchback go down, unlike the BMW’s. The trunk area behind the hatch is big enough to bring home groceries and one can drop the rear seats to make a very large cargo area. A higher-than-sedan load height makes using that space more convenient.
Inside, the 2015 Kia Soul EV will at first strike you as Spartan, or even plain. However, it is the style that makes it seem such. There is a lot of MINI Cooper in the layout. The center console of my $36,625 tester had everything a very well equipped premium car would offer. There was a touch-screen infotainment system with back-up camera, Nav, Pandora, Sat Rad, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, and UVO EV services. The Audio system was powerful and clear. Using the menus and features was completely intuitive, and my phone synched instantly.
The gray and white interior scheme may not be for everyone, but it has a purpose. Like the white roof of my electric-blue tester, the colors keep the car cool. Dark tinted rear windows also helped with that. In an EV, the HVAC system has to be used at a minimum to prolong range. All the design choices in the interior need to work towards that goal. For example, the Kia Soul EV has heated and ventilated leather seats, and a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel. “Why?” you might ask. Simply because those are more effective ways of making you comfortable than using the HVAC system. That system, by the way, uses a heat pump for efficiency and can be directed at only the driver with the touch of a button. The Soul’s interior design is well thought out, and most drivers will love it.
The dash of Kia Soul EV does not force you to look at cartoon vines growing or your efficiency score. That is a welcome change. It displays what you need and want in various menus. For example, I liked to view what my miles per kWh used were. Given my electrical rate of $0.20 per kWh and a rate used of 4 .2 miles per kWh, my cost per mile was 4.76 cents. Not very different from the approximately 5.4 cents per mile a Prius or other 50 MPG vehicle would have given today’s gas prices, but lower than a typical compact car with an internal combustion engine.
The range of the Kia Soul EV is about 93 miles according to the EPA. After a full charge, my tester showed 107 miles range on the screen. This puts the Soul Electric way ahead of both the Nissan Leaf (81 miles range) and the BMW i3 battery electric (83 miles). The Soul has a slightly lower efficiency rating than those two cars, but do you care?
Concerning charging, the Kia Soul EV has all the options one might expect. During my test, I discovered that the 120 volt charger only adds about 3 miles range per hour of charging. That limited how much I could use the car. An actual owner will not use 120v, but rather will pay an electrician to bring a higher amperage 240v line to the car’s charging spot at home. Owners can buy a home charger from Bosch, Leviton or AeroVironment. Out in the wild, Kia says the Soul EV can couple up to “An SAE J1772 port for Level 1 and Level 2 AC, or a CHAdeMo DC fast-charging port (480v).” The charge port is located in the front bumper, which seems to make sense.
Kia has launched the 2015 Soul EV in California, and throughout 2015 will be adding it to select electric vehicle-mandated markets. Having driven the BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf, it seems like Kia has developed another excellent alternative to each. It is more fun to drive and styled quite differently from the top-selling Leaf. It is much less expensive than the BMW i3, while offering a similarly enjoyable driving experience. If one can take advantage of the full $7,500 federal tax credit and $2500 rebate offered by California or another state, the Soul EV seems like a great deal given its content. Leasing EVs makes more sense, so shoppers would be wise to look closely at these three cars and at what the lease deals are before deciding on one based on MSRP.
The 2015 Kia Soul Electric is a thouroughly enjoyable compact car. The Soul EV proves that electric cars need not be super high priced nor punishingly boring to drive. That has been the previous choice when choosing an EV. Our takeaway from this 5-day test over about 200 miles is this: If automakers can double the energy density of EV batteries at the current cost and current size, battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) will start to earn significant market share within the green-car market. Until that happens, expect cars like this excellent Kia Soul EV to be held back by a range that is about half of what mainstream buyers want. Until that happens, hybrids and plug-in hybrids will continue to outsell the BEVs by a huge margin.