For the few of you continuing to think the electric car is something new, know that the 1st-gen electrics were on the streets before the term ‘1st-gen’ had been invented. At that point the 20th Century was young, the War to End All Wars had not even started, and the only Roosevelt in the public consciousness was Teddy. And Alice. In short, the hubbub regarding the pros and cons of automotive electrification is nothing new; rather, it simply endured a rather long interruption. That Korea – in the form of the Kia Soul EV – has introduced an all-electric runabout is new, and it’s news.
If you don’t remember Kia’s Soul you haven’t been paying attention. By my (informal) count Kia and its dealers have retailed roughly a zillion since the car was introduced to the U.S. in the 2010 model year. Most, of course, are the cooking, internal combustion Souls, with a choice of 1.6 or 2.0 liter engines, a manual trans for those that want it, and a few trim levels for those that just can’t see themselves spending less than $20K on a car. I, of course, can – and continue to regard a mid-level Soul with a reasonable (and reasoned) degree of affection. With a redesign in 2014 the Soul, with a nod to the now-iconic Energizer Bunny, just keeps on going. And that, of course, is the bottom line when discussing its all-electric variant: How long can it k-e-e-p-o-n-g-o-i-n-g?
According to the info coming from Kia, the Soul EV enjoys an EPA estimated range of 93 miles. Giving it our 110 outlet connected to the Kia-supplied cord, we obtained an indicated range of 89 miles (99%) over some twelve hours of charging. And while that’s perfect for a weekend of area errand running, it didn’t supply enough range for my wife’s daily commute (some 70 miles roundtrip) in the absence of a charging station in her office building. (The building just installed flushing toilets…but never mind.) The charging station – of course – should come, but it’s not there now. In short, she stuck with her gas-swilling Jeep for the week.
As a package, Kia’s two-box architecture is absolutely perfect for urban environs, which typically place a premium on a compact footprint, reasonable utility and decent visibility. With an overall length of just 163 inches on a wheelbase of 101 inches the Soul is perfect for tight streets and their (typically) tight parking spots. Inside, the 5-passenger (my *ss!) Soul offers 97 cubic feet of passenger volume, similar to what you’ll find in Nissan’s Leaf and slightly more than you would enjoy (or suffer) in Ford’s Focus. Cargo volume with the rear seat up is almost 19 cubic feet, but a quick trip to Central Market seemed to have consumed most of that. We’d rate the Soul’s interior package as good for people or stuff, but not so great for people and stuff.
From a driving standpoint, the Soul EV combines prodigious torque (210 lb-ft) with 3300 lbs. to generate instant off-the-line responsiveness, a 0-60 that feels faster than it is (11.2 seconds, per Kia) and a reported top speed of 90 miles per hour. We didn’t try it. On the freeway the Soul’s suspension and that ‘road-hugging’ curb weight combine to supply a truly substantial feel, something the gas-powered Soul approximates – but certainly can’t match.
What we perceived when piloting the electrified Soul was an upright compact with more than adequate ‘giddy up’, absent the light, tactile touches that make you giddy. In our brief time with a Leaf the Nissan product felt livelier and – if this is the word – more tossable. It was the diff, back in the day, between M-B and BMW. The BMW was better to drive, while the Benz was better to be driven in. The Soul EV is the Benz – and that’s not bad.
One with vastly more experience behind the wheel of an electric is my Seattle/Tacoma-based sister-in-law, Bridget. An owner of her 2014 Nissan Leaf for some fifteen months, and having driven in that time over 13,000 miles, it is her primary vehicle for a daily commute that is 50 miles roundtrip. And with a daily range of between 88 and 103 miles (the Soul EV is – again – rated at 93 miles) there is more than enough range for both the commute and occasional errand running at the end of the day.
Bridget admits to benefiting from the climate in the Pacific Northwest, where both winter and summer temps are generally mild. That means heated seats and steering wheel will typically moderate the winter chill, without having to tap into the range-depleting HVAC. And the same, of course, holds true in the summer – except, of course, this summer, where it’s hotter than the norm. But even ‘hotter than is typical’ in the Seattle area means the A/C can stay off in the morning, leaving plenty of range in the afternoon. Would she lease one again? In a nanosecond.
As this is written, Automotive News reports Nissan is on the cusp of introducing an updated battery to the current Leaf, part of a mid-cycle refresh. With an estimated EPA range of 125 miles, in a real world application Bridget could (potentially) make two roundtrips before recharging with the newer Nissan. According to the same report, the next-gen, all-new Leaf could see a range of 300 miles, which is 50% greater than the upcoming all-electric Chevy Bolt.
Of course, all of this is taking place as fuel prices remain moderate, early Leafs come off lease and many states are rolling back – or eliminating – their incentives for an EV purchase. Buyers still have the federal government’s $7500 incentive, which serves to partially ameliorate the Soul EV’s $36K sticker; this remains a substantial step when compared to the gas-powered Soul, which typically transacts from the high teens to low $20s. If, however, you like your carbon footprint small and can’t QUITE swing a Tesla (or buy a car from a guy named Musk…) the Soul EV is one very valid alternative. In short, it can be a soul mate…with utility.
Price and key specifications on next page…