KIA Insider

Kia Soul EV review: a sensible first electric car

In late 2019 and early 2020, the electric cars that caught the imagination – where demand exceeded supply by many, many months – were the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric.

These two vehicles alone showed that you didn’t have to spend Tesla money to own an EV capable of getting close to 300 miles between charges.

Now, fresh from being named a World Car Awards 2020 finalist, the Kia Soul EV joins the party.

Styled much like the earlier Soul, which didn’t find many followers in the UK but was loved by college kids in the US, it’s even chunkier than before. Modern, yes, but… well you judge by the images here.

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Key stats, then. The official range is 280 miles, which at present is highly competitive. The electric motor produces 201 horsepower, which is plenty, but that comes with the territory. Electric cars usually have more power than you’ll ever need.

The price is £33,795 after the government’s £3,500 grant is deducted. That buys the ‘First Edition’, the only Kia Soul EV on sale right now. It’s simply overloaded with features.

Importantly, getting one soon shouldn’t be a problem either, as long as you like one of just three colour schemes on offer.

Your first electric car?

If this is your first electric car, have no fear. The Soul EV is extremely easy to drive and live with. Your dealer will set you up with the basics, so you don’t have to worry about the myriad controls on the steering wheel, dashboard and touchscreen. Well, not much.

Push the start button, turn the large knob to select drive or reverse and you’re off. You sit up quite high, and the all-round visibility is terrific, so positioning the Soul EV in traffic is easy, despite its bulk. There’s plenty of adjustment to the steering wheel and seats, the latter fully electric in the First Edition.

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The experience is, perhaps disappointingly, not otherworldly at all. Your passengers might not even realise they are in an electric car. Even for the driver, it’s business as usual. This is an automatic much like any hybrid, and you quickly overlook there are no gear changes taking place.

The one big difference is the regenerative braking. This uses the electric motor to slow the car instead of the brake pedal (although you still have one of those). It only works in certain circumstances, and you can vary the effect by pulling on paddles behind the steering wheel. The system also helps put power back into the battery.

So, let’s talk tech

It seems a vain hope that the UK’s roadside charging system will make any more sense in 2020, or even 2021. The need to register separately with the provider of the charger, then being sure the one you drive to is vacant and not out of service, and having to pay a variable amount each time you charge, means you’ll want to do it at home as often as possible. As long as you have a driveway to make this practical.

The Soul EV comes with a ‘CCS’ fast charger built in, so if you find one of the rare 100kW public chargers, an 80 percent charge is possible in 54 minutes. The more common 50kW chargers (still classed as ‘fast chargers’) take 75 minutes. At home, the common 7.2kW wall charger will take nine hours and 35 minutes to achieve the full 100 percent. A regular three-pin plug? Come back in a day or two.

Are you going to love the Soul EV?

You’d hope so. First off, electric car owners always seem to love their cars. And the Soul has much to commend it. Significantly roomier than before, it’s a four-to-five seater with interior space that feels similar to a Kia Sportage, albeit with a smaller boot. The two-level luggage floor gives some flexibility, although charging leads tend to be stored there as well.

Kia’s interiors have been a strong selling point for a number of years, and anyone stepping from even a VW Golf is likely to be impressed. The dashboard and controls are quality items, with many functions still controllable via buttons or switches, rather than having to delve into menus and sub-menus on the touchscreen. That said, the screen has a terrific navigation display – and if you want to monitor every aspect of the battery operation, you can do it there.

Seats are leather in the First Edition: decently sized and comfortable. The suspension is a bit on the firm side, which seems to be a trait in many electric cars, no doubt partly down to the extra weight of those batteries. The climate control lacks a separate adjustment for the front passenger, which is a surprising omission, although you can turn the heating to passengers off to save power when driving alone.

Energy-saving details like this run through the Kia Soul EV, illustrating how these latest generation electric vehicles have undergone considerable fine tuning to maximise their possible range. The battery cell density and chemistry have been improved, while the latest electric motors are claimed to be 30 percent more efficient than those in the Nissan Leaf.

Fighting these efficiency gains are heated seats, a banging Harman Kardon 10-speaker sound system and tyres wider than the front rubber on my Porsche 911. It seems there’s no getting away from what buyers’ really want, even when they are wearing their environmental credentials on their sleeves.

Kia Soul EV: Verdict

The Kia Soul EV is an unequivocal contender. It kills most rivals with its range and the seven-year Kia warranty. It’s very nicely equipped in First Edition spec, and works well as a compact family car. However, the Kia Niro EV offers an even better package here, especially in the luggage area.

The exterior design will be an issue for some, we are certain, and in truth the Soul doesn’t have much in the way of, well, soul, when you drive it. It simply works like a versatile white good that happens to be a car.
The mid-thirties price will clearly be an issue for many, too. But look at the PCP rates and the Soul EV suddenly makes much sense.

2020 Kia Soul EV First Edition

Price: £33,795 after £3,500 government grant

Engine: 64kW electric motor

Transmission: Single speed automatic, front-wheel drive

Power: 201hp

0-62mph: 7.9 seconds

Top speed: 104mph

Driving range: 280 miles

CO2: 0g/km

Length/width/height: 4,220/1,825/1,605mm

Boot size: 315 litres