2015 Kia Soul EV Review: Making a solid case for electric vehicles

Soul EV lead

Electric vehicles are polarizing (no pun intended). People either love them or hate them. We love them because they make us less dependent on fossil fuel, but hate them because we need to rely on electricity instead. We love them because we can use the HOV lanes on the highway in rush-hour traffic, but hate them because they might leave us stranded or unable to take a long trip. We love them because we get tax credits when we buy them, but hate them because their use just might start the government taxing us per mile driven since we aren’t buying as much gas and aren’t generating tax revenue through fuel purchases.

Kia badgeIt’s a win-lose proposition. Living in Los Angeles, an EV is the best vehicle for running around town to do errands, but is the worst vehicle for long commutes since we don’t know if the traffic tie up will be 15 minutes or 15 hours. Which is why hybrids seem to be the more popular option. Plus, with most EV batteries, you lose a lot of cargo capacity, which no one can afford to spare.

soul eco badgeThat brings us to the Kia Soul EV. This is Kia’s first attempt at an electric vehicle, and to easily sum it up, it done good. Although it’s recommended that most EV owners install a 240-volt station in their garage to speed up the charging process, we refrained from that expense and trouble as we only had the Soul EV for a week. The good news is that the Soul EV takes a 120-volt charge as easily as a 240, but obviously takes longer to get to full juice.

soul plugWe’ve had two bad experiences previously with EVs: the Nissan Leaf had such limited range that on a rainy, cold day, halfway to the radio show 45 miles away, we had to turn around and grab a gas-fueled vehicle as we were afraid we wouldn’t have enough power to get home. Same with the previous Toyota RAV4 EV. Forget about using the climate controls or any radio power if you don’t want to walk home.

soul badgeSo it was with healthy trepidation that we spent a week with the Kia Soul EV. We had driven the Soul EV a while ago at the introduction, but only spent a few hours driving around. That was barely enough time to burn any power. We did, however, really like what the rest of the vehicle had to offer. To read how it all works in detail, check out John Matras’ review here for the first drive.

push startOur test version was the Plus (+) model, which means it had a handful of features above and beyond the base version, including leather seats, Park Assist with front and rear sensors, heated seats, foglights, and a few more goodies. The Base trim starts at $34,525 including destination, and our + model was $36,625 (with carpeted floormats for $125). It’s not the least-expensive EV (Mitsubishi iMiEV, Smart ForTwo EV and even the Ford Focus cost less), nor is it the most expensive (think Tesla for six figures). But at $35,000 you get a lot of good for the money.

wheelWhat we liked: the Soul EV is a quiet vehicle. Beside the fact that there’s no engine, there’s also no whine from the electric motor or the one-speed transmission. Even the 16-inch tires didn’t transmit an abundance of road noise.

treeWe also liked that once we saw how well the Soul EV managed the power, we were able to manage our range anxiety just as easily. We did more than a few trips on the freeway, and even without babying the throttle we still managed to keep the range out of OMG territory. The Soul EV has a city MPGe of 120, and highway of 92. And unlike the Leaf we had where if you blinked the ranged dropped dramatically, it took actual effort to make this needle move. Granted, we had good weather, and didn’t turn on the AC or the heat often, we did use the radio regularly. Economical driving is rewarded with leaves on a tree. Judging by our photo, we aced it.

portAnother feature we liked/appreciated was the location of the charge port. While we think Ford’s illuminated charge port on its EV and plug-in hybrid vehicles is best, the Kia is a close second with the port located in front. It makes it really easy to pull in the driveway and plug it in the outdoor 120v socket. Plus you have three indicator lights that illuminate to let you know it’s getting power. The Prius plug-in hybrid is the big loser, with the charge port on the rear passenger side. It would be how easy to see how someone might jump in the vehicle and forget that the plug is attached. The Soul EV also has a quick-charge port next to the Level 2 outlet, but we didn’t get a chance to try it out.

charge screenSpeaking of plugging in, the lowest we got the range down to was about 50 miles after considerable driving time, and just plugging it in overnight on the 120-volt outlet brought it right back up to max the next morning.

cargoBecause the battery is located under the floor, there’s no loss in cargo volume. It’s 18.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 49.5 with the seats down — same as the gas-powered Soul. The only giveaway on the inside that it had a large battery is the slight hump that the seats sit on. You do lose about 3 inches of rear-seat leg room, but it’s still plenty of space unless you’re Blake Griffin.

engine

For a small SUV, theKia  Soul EV does well in the power department. It has 109 horsepower, but the 210 lb-ft of torque is the more important figure, since that’s what you need to get going. Because it’s an EV, you get 100 percent of the torque at zero rpm, making takeoff instant and rewarding in this small people mover.

screenAfter spending a week with the Kia Soul EV, and putting on a few hundred miles, we would be delighted to add it to our family, as long as we had another ride we could take on long journeys. Someday, battery technology will improve to the point that range anxiety will be obsolete. When that happens, the Soul EV will be an excellent full-time companion.

 

Photography © Scott Killeen/Team Killeen