Kia Soul EV review - at the heart of the electric revolution
Electrification looms large in any conversation with car makers at the moment. With new limits on average fleet emissions as well as the spread of low-emissions zones and changing public opinion, all eyes are on ways to bring down their CO2 levels.
Kia is already making big strides that way. It’s ditched two big-emitting models and there are plug-in hybrid versions of the Ceed and Sorento on the way. By next year it will also have three pure EVs on sale, emitting not a gram of CO2 between them.
The e-Niro, which sold out within a couple of months last year, is back on sale, with a far larger allocation this year to meet demand. And next year will see another all-new electric model.
Joining the line-up right now, however, is the Soul EV.
The Soul was actually Kia’s first EV, way back in 2007. It was a very niche car and while Kia has higher hopes for the new one, it’s still expected to play second fiddle to the e-Niro.
While the old Soul had a 27kWh battery and 109bhp motor, the new one shares its running gear with the e-Niro, meaning it has a healthy 64kWh battery providing energy to a single, front-mounted electric motor.
That motor is almost twice as powerful as the previous generation’s, producing 201bhp and 291lb/ft. That means that like most EVs the Soul has a turn of speed you might not expect. Sixty miles per hour comes up in just 7.6 seconds and it will reach 104mph, despite its peculiar shape.
Regularly use all that instantly available torque to win the traffic light grand prix and you’ll quickly eat into the Soul’s range. But behave sensibly and official testing says you should be able to cover 280 miles between charges. All Souls are fitted with a on-board fast charger, meaning a 0-80 per cent charge will take as little as 54 minutes on a 100kW charger. More common 50kW public chargers will take around an hour and a quarter while a standard 7kW home wallbox will take 9.5 hours for a full 100 per cent charge. At average energy prices, that equates to around £8 for 280 miles.
The Soul also uses multi-stage regenerative braking to recoup energy on the move, which enables one-pedal driving. It’s a similar concept to Nissan’s excellent e-Pedal and once you get a feel for how it behaves it becomes second nature, requiring only rare use of the actual brake pedal.
Once you’re used to the grab of the braking and the immediate response from the motor, the Soul requires no more effort or thought to drive than any other car. Progress is quick and quiet and the low centre of gravity (thanks to the floor-mounted battery) means it feels stable despite its boxy shape. There’s less wobble than you might expect and, like the Nissan Leaf, the driving feel is surprisingly direct. Unfortunately, like the Leaf, the Soul still feels a little unsettled at times. Sharp surface changes are absorbed well but longer bumps and undulations can see it bouncing along the road.
One of the reasons Kia expects the Soul to sell in smaller numbers than the e-Niro is its looks. Even Kia’s UK CEO admits the Soul’s styling will be divisive but I love it.
Kia describes it as an “urban crossover” and while it’s very similar to the old model it is pretty different from most other things on the market. If you were being unkind you might call it van-like - or compare it to a Stormtrooper’s helmet - but I’m a fan of the practical upright style, and touches like the two-tone paint and plastic side cladding give it character. In a world of generic SUVs it's refreshingly different as well as having practical benefits.
The boxy design means there’s plenty of space inside for passengers. Despite a relatively short footprint (it’s 10cm shorter than a Niro) there’s good head and leg room, and it will easily carry a family of four in comfort. The payoff for that cabin space is that the boot is pretty miserly. At 315 litres, it’s far behind an e-Niro or Nissan Leaf and even outstripped by the otherwise smaller Renault Captur and Ford Puma.
Like the exterior, the Soul’s interior is a bit different from other Kias. Apparently inspired by music, the doors feature bold textured panels, there are dash-top speakers and a huge circular binnacle for the media screen. It’s all a bit chunkier and more playful than other Kias but beneath the ambient lighting and unusual shapes there’s still a lot of black plastic festooned with buttons.
Kia is keeping specifications simple with a single First Edition trim, priced at £34,295 after the plug-in car grant. It gets plenty of equipment, ranging from heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging and automatic air conditioning to adaptive cruise control, lane follow assist, rear cross traffic alert and a head-up display. A 10.25-inch touchscreen houses the navigation and media system, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and DAB, and is connected to a 10-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system.
The Soul’s unusual styling won’t be for everyone but look beyond that and there is a huge amount to like. It’s spacious, practical and well-equipped and offers a real-world range that shames cars costing twice as much. Plus you’ll never lose it in a car park.
Kia Soul EV
Motor: Single 64kW electric
Transmission: Single speed automatic
Top speed: 104mph
0-60mph: 7.6 seconds
Range: 280 miles
CO2 emissions: 0g/km