Monday, 1 June 2015

REVIEW - Kia Soul EV

With the shift in focus of the automotive industry- from speed and power to efficiency and sustainability- electric cars are on the rise. More and more manufacturers now sell hybrid vehicles, but it is the pure electric vehicles that really showcase the future of the car. As battery life increases and charging time decreases, these vehicles are becoming much more usable. And as much of a ‘petrolhead’ as I am, I’d like to think I’m also open minded to new ideas. So when Kia gave me the opportunity to take delivery of the new Soul EV for a week, I jumped at the chance. So after I got the extension lead ready in the garage, I set about deciding if this is the future of mainstream motoring…

Looks – 9/10

The Kia Soul has always split opinion with its exterior styling. On one hand there are people who see it as too ‘box-like’ and don’t like it. I though am with the other camp, who rather like the exterior styling. There’s enough rounding features to draw away from the basic square shape, and I like the defined wheel arches. The EV has maintained most of the standard car’s styling features which is a good think; if we want electric cars to be mainstream they have to look mainstream too. There are two colour choices on the EV; I much prefer the Titanium Silver over the Caribbean Blue with white roof. The wheels look odd, but they serve a purpose with the regenerative braking sytem. The only other noticeable difference to the standard car is the blanked-off front grille; this hides the charging socket.

Step inside the Soul EV and what you find is s normal-looking cabin. The colour scheme is a Grey ‘eco’ cloth with high gloss white finishers; the latter of which I wasn’t a huge fan of. I did really like the seats though, and find it remarkable that despite all the batteries under the floor the cabin doesn’t look any smaller. That’s because clever engineering has meant only an 80mm reduction in rear leg room. The dials look as close to a normal car as you could hope for and are crisp and clear. There’s a battery gauge, power meter and speedometer, plus the trip computer in the middle. The EV also gets an 8-inch touchscreen media system which can display anything from a satellite navigation screen to the EV information such as battery charge percentage, remaining range and even the nearest charging station.

Handling/Performance – 8/10

The electric motor in the Soul EV is rated at 81.4Kw- the equivalent of 110PS- and boast a whopping 285Nm of torque. Even more impressive is that this torque is always available, such is the nature of electric motors. 0-60mph takes 10.8 seconds and the top speed is 90mph, which I think is more than enough to make the Soul feel like a normal car. It does take some getting used to having no engine noise, but you soon forget this with the radio on. I found ‘B’ mode- which maximises regenerative braking- as by far my favourite. This encourages anticipative driving as the car will slow on release of the accelerator. It’s not quite a one-pedal system like in the BMW i3 but it is enough to make you drive more economically. The Soul is designed with city driving in mind, but I will also commend it for being more than capable of sitting on the motorway at 70mph.

The handling was also much better than I was expecting. The Soul sits on 205/60R16 tyres, which makes a great difference to the way it corners. Some electric cars can be on ridiculously skinny tyres, which are soon unsettled by mid-corner bumps, but the Soul has no problems here. There are a couple of issues though. Firstly the instantaneity of the torque means that should you accelerate with any lock on, the inside wheel will more than likely spin. And the electric power steering lacks feel despite the Flex steer system found in a lot of Kia models. Coupled to the tall 60-profile tyres and there is lean if you corner at speed. To balance this the ride is excellent and the elevated driving position gives good visibility on the road. And the added weight of the batteries hasn’t compromised the suspension comfort which is a big plus point.

Economy – 10/10

I’m sure this score doesn’t come as much of a surprise. CO2 emissions are 0g/km in the Soul EV, and given that there’s no petrol engine at all there’s no mpg figure to think about at all. You can say goodbye to the queues at the pumps, and give up worrying about the price of petrol going up. Range on a full charge is a class-leading maximum of 132 miles. And even using some of the Soul’s many gadgets I found everyday range to be 96 miles. Not bad at all. There are three charging options too. On a regular 3-pin plug a full charge is 10-13 hours. But should you own one of these cars you can have a wallbox installed which reduces this to 5 hours. And finally through a public rapid charger a 0-80% charge can be completed in a mere 33 minutes.

Practicality – 8/10

The Soul EV has one downfall in terms of practicality of ownership, and that’s the limited range. Although this car is great for your everyday commute, you’d struggle to make longer journeys in it. However I think this is something which time will improve as battery capacity increases and charging time decreases. Other than that you have a spacious family car with a comprehensive specification; with everything from a reversing camera to a heated steering wheel. You certainly don’t feel like you’ve had to compromise that’s for sure, and things like cruise control really make the Soul a nice car to live with. The boot is a good size as it’s not affected by the batteries, and as mentioned earlier rear legroom is still fine for adults.

Fun – 9/10

There’s certainly still a novelty factor with electric cars. I really enjoyed putting my eco hat on and using the regenerative braking mode. I also liked the looks of surprise on the faces of pedestrians as the Soul whooshed past in silence. And then anybody I took for a drive was immediately impressed as I explained the technology and demonstrated just how far electric cars have come. All this made the Soul great fun, and although some people didn’t like the way it looked they had no choice but to admit it has a lot going for it. Granted, most petrolheads will be greatly disinterested in this car and will probably be drooling over a picture of a BMW i8 mumbling something about sporty appeal. But think of it this way; drive one of these Monday to Friday and you could have some proper toy in the garage for weekends.

Concluding Remarks

So that’s my week with the Kia Soul EV. The exterior styling did split opinion, but the interior is a winner for me. There’s no compromise whatsoever in terms of equipment, and with a class-leading range the Soul represents a giant leap forward in electric vehicle technology. The only drawback is if you often travel more than 100 miles in one go, but then again it’s also rare for families to have just one car these days. The Soul EV is priced at £29,995 on the road, but do also remember that you get a £5,000 grant off the government for purchasing an electric vehicle, so that makes this car more reasonably priced. And I think you get a lot of technology for your money. The Kia Soul EV; a glimpse into the future of sustainable motoring.

Total Score – 44/50

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