2015 Kia Soul EV review – Kia’s First All-Electric Car Impresses

Kia Soul EV?

KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015-1632

If you’ve read my reviews of either the 2015 Kia Soul ConnectPlus 1.6 CRDi (long-term) or the first-generation Soul Quantum, you’ll know that I really like this particular Kia and its turbo-diesel engine. With hybrid and electric cars starting to become popular quickly, Kia introduces its first full-production all-electric car, ignoring the hybrid route altogether, and naming it the Soul EV.

Surprisingly, Kia states that they’ve been ‘engaged in EV for 30 years’, and as a test-bed in 2011 the company decided to build 2,500 electric versions of the Ray, a domestic-market urban runabout, some of which were made available to an electric-vehicle hire scheme in Seoul, South Korea. The feedback from users on what range, charge-time, performance and more was vital, and paramount when designing the Soul EV.

Currently, electric cars are expensive next to their fossil-fuel powered siblings, and the Soul is no exception at almost £10,000 more than the top-spec Soul Mixx. Okay, the UK government do offer a £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant (PIGT), and Kia often have offers on too, but it’s still a substantial amount more even after that.

The question is, is having the full-electric Kia Soul EV really worth the extra cost? Read on to find out…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015-1673

If you click on one of the links above to our other Soul reviews, you’ll see I love the unique styling of this Kia. It is boxy, quirky, and exudes character, and there’s elements of it being a compact SUV from certain angles.

People don’t want weird-looking electric cars, they want them to look like a normal model, and only a few points differentiate the Soul EV from its siblings: a set of distinctive 16″ lightweight alloy wheels with Nexen ‘Super Low Rolling Resistance’ tyres fitted, which save an impressive 10% of energy. The white inserts on the wheels are actually plastic, fitted perhaps not only to save weight but also for smoother airflow around the rims.

KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015-1636

The rear light clusters differ, and are in the shape of an E if you carefully. There’s also a slight re-design of the rear bumper, which I actually think looks better than the standard Soul’s.

Also different is the Caribbean Blue metallic with a Clear White roof colour choice, which isn’t available with the others. This is a highly noticeable paint scheme though, and over the week I had it, the Soul EV drew a lot of attention both driving and parked – more than I’d personally like, but there you go.

The other paint option is the normally-available Titanium Silver, and aside from the white wheels it blends into traffic much better. The only other real clues that this is an electric car are a couple of inconspicuous Eco Electric badges on the front wings and one on the boot lid.

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The front end is the most likely sign this is an electric car really, as there’s no grille (no need as there isn’t a radiator behind), instead replaced solid pieces, one side of which pops out to allow access to the charging points, which makes more sense than a side-mounted one as you can drive straight up the charge point, and have less messy cable length too.

It really bugs me when manufacturers bring out a hybrid or electric car and try to make it look futuristic or funky – they just end up looking unattractive, uncool and rather weird. What I really like is that the Soul EV doesn’t look any different to the normal Soul, and that’s an entirely good thing!

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

2015 Kia Soul EV review – All-Electric car front seats dashboard console 1

As with the exterior, apart from the trim there’s very little apparent difference between the Soul EV and the other versions. Noticeable is the special white interior trim colour and seat material: grey two-tone Eco Cloth with blue stitching. This is actually a very nice colour combination, which makes the cabin seem spacious and airy.

Although you’re not getting leather upholstery as you do with the normal top-spec Soul, the Eco Cloth material used looks good, is comfortable and has a premium look and feel to it. The front and rear seating is pleasant too, in line with other Souls. A word of advice though – do not let people eat or drink in the car, as the seats will stain and mark extremely easily, and I reckon it’d be a pain to clean too.

Instead of a large speaker on dash, the EV gets a blanking plate with three blue lights to denote the battery charge progression – a brilliant touch as it means you can just look at the front window from a distance instead of having to physically walk over to the car.

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However, the negative thing about this is just how super-bright they are. Charging the Soul EV at night, the pulsating blue charge LEDs were lighting the whole inside of the garage, and as I have a window in the garage it was even piercing from as I looked out from my house 30 feet away. They definitely need dulling, and in the end I even resorted to chucking a blanket over the screen to save embarrassing comments from annoyed neighbours.

Buyers of the Soul EV are likely concerned with contributing to being environmentally-friendly, and not just by driving a zero-emissions vehicle. Taking this into account, Kia have bio-based organic carbon content for 10% of its interior trim, and include bio-degradable plastic, bio-foam and bio-fabric in the construction of the cabin, leading to a UL Environment Validation from global independent safety science company Underwriters Laboratories.

The battery pack is hidden underneath the floor of the Soul EV, and apparently it ‘was a major challenge for Kia’s designers and engineers to reshape the floor without affecting passenger space and versatility.’ Because of the batteries, there would normally be an 8 centimetre (3.14″) reduction in rear-seat legroom, but that’s been cleverly compensated for by changing the materials used in the seat’s construction. Boot space is compromised slightly, losing 31 litres storage (down to 281 litres), because of the charging adapter storage space.

Climate controls on the KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015

While you’re naturally paying a premium for the Soul EV, you do get all the luxury equipment of the normal Soul top spec, which includes heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, an 8″ touch-screen with satellite navigation (which has superb map graphics), DAB, AUX & USB ports, a traffic messaging channel and reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors, cruise control with speed limiter.

There’s also rear tinted windows and Solar Glass (which reduces glare and heat transfer into the cabin) for the fronts, an electronic handbrake, an apparent world-first air conditioning system which allows you to save battery power by heating/cooling the driver side only, a heat pump to recycle air already heated or cooled and a Smart Air Intake Control system which allows just enough fresh air in to maintain the desired temperature and humidity, plus a really neat feature: Scheduled Climatisation, which allows you to set the temperature of the Soul whilst it’s on charge, also saving battery power once you’re driving.

Funky instrument cluster on the KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015

One final thing that differentiates the Soul from the rest of the clan is the funky instrument cluster, which I really like because it’s simplistically laid-out, and neither shows too much or too little – a good balance. In with these is an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display, which features a load of useful power usage info.

Clearly, although this is an eco-friendly electric car, Kia haven’t skimped with the luxuries by any standard. You’re paying a good amount more, and instead of going all hippy minimal, Kia have embraced the fact that perhaps electric cars are the future, and they want to lay a good groundwork with early adopters of their battery-operated cars. Good call.

Electric motor

The electric motor in the Soul EV was developed and is manufactured by Kia themselves. It puts out 81.4 kilowatts of power – the equivalent of 109 bhp – while 210 lb ft (285Nm) of torque is available from the instant your push the accelerator, all of which is driven through the front wheels.

Open the bonnet, and you may be surprised to see an electric motor about the same size as the 1.6 litre engine on the petrol/diesel Soul.

KIA EV 2015 electric car motor-1731

The batteries are of course hugely important, and especially how much power you can get out of the size. Likening it to a fuel tank on a normal car, the more batteries there are, the further you can go. The problem with that is that the more batteries you add, the heavier the car gets and the room in the car is compromised, and in the end you’re just using that extra milage to haul the extra weight of the batteries about.

So, alongside another company, Kia has developed a 27 kilowatt-hour, 360-volt lithium-ion polymer battery pack with class-leading energy density. Energy density can be expressed as the relationship between energy storage capacity and the weight and size of the batteries, and in the Soul EV it equates to 200 watt-hours per kilogram.

Power is rated as 109 bhp (81.4Kw) between 2,730 – 8,000 rpm, and torque 211 lb ft (285Nm) between 0 – 2,730 rpm.

The batteries are slung beneath the car in a protective casing to stop damage from road debris, and it also means that they’re easy to access should they need maintaining.

0 – 60 mph is done in 10.8 seconds, which is only just short of what the Soul 1.6 CRDi turbo-diesel does it in. Top speed is 90 mph, which is fine for this car.

Charging is easy. Simply press a button and a front section of the grille pops open. Then it’s just a case of plugging the necessary cable into the car and charge point (a 3-pin AC 230V Charging Cable and AC Adpator Cable are included with the car).

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Charge times are as follows: Standard 3-pin, 220-volt, 16-amp output power supply gives 100% charge in 11 – 14 hours. An A/C domestic charger with a 220-volts, 32-amp output gives 100% charge in 4 – 5 hours. A DC rapid charge station kicking out DC 200 – 500-volts and 63 – 125-amps will give an 80% charge in just 33 minutes.

Currently (July ’15), there are over 14,000 Fast (AC) stations and 600 Rapid (DC) Chargers in the UK, but planning your route for any distances is recommended. If it’s going to be tight, I’d even go so far as to phone the place with the charge point to see if it’s working.

Official stats say the battery range is up to 132 miles (212 kms), although other sources at Kia say in real-world environments you’re looking at around 125 miles. Of course, it can entirely depend on a variety of conditions, such as the weather (a bad winter means the heating on constantly, a hot summer the air conditioning), or if you live in a particularly hilly part of the country.

The satnav shows how far your current and max charge will take you.

I tested the EV at the end of May, and the weather wasn’t cold (around 15˚C), and the areas I drove it weren’t really hilly. I did mostly city driving with the occasional short motorway run. What I did notice was that the distance-to-empty (DTE) stated on the display was really accurate. Check the DTE before starting and it reads say, 80 miles. At a normal, easy-ish pace in city/outer limits and in light traffic, taking in 30, 40 and 60 mph roads, over the next 10 miles that DTE should drop to 70 miles. You might even gain back a mile through the regenerative braking and decelerating.

Drive it hard, and that DTE will drop rapidly though – but that’s only to be expected, the same as when you drive a normal fuel-powered car.

A big negative was the fact the charge lead doesn’t lock into place when plugged in. People will undoubtedly un-plug the car for their own amusement when it’s left charging in a city (I’ve seen this happen already), and when that happens and you’re low on batter power, you’re screwed. Kia, you’d best make a locking lead then, just like Porsche have.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

Push the power button on the centre console, and the Soul EV comes to life. There’s no noise or fuss, it’s just… ready. Pulling the automatic shifter into drive and manoeuvring out of a car park space, I notice there’s a strange noise being emitted. Is it from inside or out? The bemused looks from people walking past the Soul indicate the sound is coming from outside.

At low forward and reverse speeds (under around 15 mph), the Soul EV puts out Virtual Engine Sound (VES) to give people an indication it’s moving about. The noise is alien-like, and quite melodious and angelic – rather like a soundbite taken from the track An Ending (Ascent) on Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks album.

Drive sector on the KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015

Pulling away, the Soul EV’s 81.4kW electric motor provides instant torque from the moment I press the throttle, and the car glides forward strongly, and entirely smoothly. The experience of driving an electric car is still a little surreal, and even though I’ve driven plug-in hybrids (PHEV) before – such as the Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV – unlike these PHEVs, no engine kicks in when you floor the throttle hard and you’re pulled along in utter silence, entirely on electricity.

During the Nineties, electric cars started to appear thick and fast, thanks to a ruling in California regarding the emissions vehicles had to adhere to. This was unfortunately (and ridiculously) killed off fairly rapidly by the some car manufacturers and other bug companies with a weighty swing. The electric cars produced, such as the GM EV1 and Toyota RAV4 EV, were good, and people who drove them loved them, but most were also killed off – aggressively so in the case of the EV1and that was the end of the electric car being mass-produced, putting the world back decades on EV technology. (See the film: Who Killed The Electric Car?)

My point is this: if it wasn’t for that entirely unnecessary EV massacre, it’s entirely likely that most manufacturers would be selling EVs and we’d be seeing many different types of electric vehicle on the road, such as pick-up trucks, vans, SUVs and even big haulage trucks, and travelling in them would be the norm. As it is, being in an EV is still a grin-producing novelty to many people – many of whom have never been in an electric car of any kind – but interestingly, myself and my passengers quickly came to like, and get used to, the near-silence of the Soul EV.

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Should you have ECO mode on, power under your right foot is noticeably dulled, but it does genuinely help preserve battery life. Switch ECO off, and there’s an instantaneous difference, and the power is then more akin to the CRDi’s.

The more I drove the Soul EV, the more impressed I was at its turn of speed. Certainly, rolling acceleration feels on a par with the 1.6 CRDi’s, and rather than having to wait for the power to kick in at a certain rpm, the Soul EV gives instant satisfaction with a decently strong surge forward.

Getting up to motorway speeds quickly and competently is absolutely not a problem either, and just because this is an electric car does not mean you’ll want for power. From around 40 miles per hour upwards, the EV progresses more as a hastening – like riding a long wave, rather than it being a shove from behind. Actually, it’s a nice way to get up to speed, and quite bizarrely it reminds me of the way a luxury car such as the Lexus LS 600h does it. Albeit  not as quickly, admittedly.

Once up to 70 mph, the Soul EV will sit there very happily. It doesn’t struggle to maintain the speed, and in fact you can overtake upwards of seventy surprisingly rapidly. I said it’s still a slightly surreal experience driving an electric car, and a motorway run only emphasises that further, as acceleration is unbelievably hushed. Kia have done a very good job with the sound deadening, as wind and tyre noise is well subdued.

KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015-1705-2

A feature I liked is the hefty decelerating the regenerative system gives when you pull the gearstick back in to ‘B’. This slows the car down really rapidly, puts decent charge into the batteries, and also applies the brake lights when doing so for safety, and there’s then little need for using the brake pedal on motorways if you time it right.

While it’s got good enough power and torque for city, country and motorway use, I would think that a trip to the mountainous Lake District or similar would be a bad idea. Kia state the Soul EV will tackle gradients of ‘up to 1:3’ (around 30˚ or 33%). That’s respectable, and very few roads will be that bad, but I imagine should you try tackling them you’ll quickly drain the battery power.

The Soul EV’s max kerb weight about the same as the Soul with the 1.6 CRDi diesel engine, except the EV has the advantage of batteries that are slung low, and which sit across the central of the chassis, giving good weight distribution which is biased further to the rear of the car than the normal Soul, and it’s also 27% more rigid too. Kia go so far as to say the EV even has ‘more engaging’ handling than the combustion-engined versions.

Actually, the ride is pleasant, with the suspension balanced nicely between comfort and okay handling, soaking up the majority of harsh jarring from bad road surfaces whilst still maintaining easily-adequate posture through winding sections of tarmac.

KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015-1697

In conclusion to this section, I like that the Kia Soul EV provides exactly the same driving experience as you get the fuel-powered Souls. And that’s good. There has been no compromising on road and wind noise levels, or ride quality, or the power it makes, or the way it accelerates. Yes, you’re more limited because of battery power and charge times, but if you’re mainly doing commuting or don’t really stray far out of say, a 100 mile round-trip occasionally, the Soul EV starts to make a lot of sense. Especially when you look at the costs…

Price

The full retail price of the Soul EV is £29,995. However, take off the government’s £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) and that then drops to £24,995. Kia usually do a Customer Saving discount on their cars too, and this takes the EV to £23,645. That’s only about £1,500 more than the top-spec Soul Maxx 1.6 CRDi Auto.

I like the fact Kia only offer the Soul EV in one high-end spec, which has everything on it. Makes it easier to manufacture, sell, and choose.

A similar-sized rival is the Nissan Leaf at £21,490 – £24,740 (after £5,000 PiGT). However, even the top model isn’t anywhere near as well-spec’d as the Soul EV.

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is much smaller than the Soul EV, has almost half the power output of the Soul EV, still comes in at £23,499 after the PiGT discount, and to be frank it’s downright ugly.

After comparing the other electric cars out there currently, on spec level, looks and price the Kia Soul EV seems to be the winner hands down.

2015 Kia Soul EV verdict & score

Front 3/4 view KIA Soul EV battery eco electric car 2015

I was really skeptical about the Soul EV before it was delivered for test. I still believe electric cars to be very limited because of the range and charge times, and the fact they’re more expensive than their fuel-driven counterparts.

The range needs to be better and the charge times lower, but it’s on a par with the other EVs available in the same price range.

However, the Soul EV makes rather a lot of sense if you’re mostly doing commuting and city driving. It doesn’t cost much more than the top of the range Soul, only takes about £2.70 to charge fully, is well-refined and packed with the sort of stuff you’d normally have to option on other cars, and it drives and rides really nicely. Best of all it looks the same as a normal car, and not some ugly ‘futuristic’ thing nobody likes.

For Kia’s first electric car they’ve done amazingly well, and I’m genuinely impressed with it.

Do you own a 2015 Kia Soul EV, or have questions about it? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8
Interior  8.5
Electric motor  8
Price  7
Handling  7
Drive  8
Ride  8
Overall Score  8.0 / 10 

Specs

Model (as tested)  2015 Kia Soul EV
Spec includes  16″ lightweight alloy wheels with Super Low Rolling Resistance Tyres, Eco cloth seats, 8″ touchscreen with satellite navigation, reverse camera, DAB, Bluetooth, USB & AUX ports & voice recognition, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, LED running lights, smart keyless entry & start, rear tinted windows with front solar glass, front & rear parking sensors, cruise control & speed limiter, Flex Steer, Virtual Engine Sound (VES), Heat Pump System, Climate Control with Pre-Set Functionality, Electronic Parking Brake See website for more details
Safety spec ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) & Brake Assist System (BAS), Electronic Stability Control (ESC) & Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC), Emergency Stop Signalling (ESS), Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), Virtual Engine Sound (VES), front, front side & curtain airbags
The Competition  Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Price  (June ’15) £29,495 – £42,995. As tested: £43,640 with paint option
Electric motor, Battery pack  Motor: 360 volt Permanent magnet AC synchronous type | Battery: 360 volt Lithium-ion polymer battery. Capacity: 75 Ah | Energy: 27 kWh | Power: 90kW | Volume: 241 litres | 12 volt battery capacity: 45 Ah
Power, Torque, charge times  Power: 109 bhp (81.4Kw) @ 2,730 – 8,000 rpm | Torque: 211 lb ft (285Nm) @ 0 – 2,730 rpm | Charge times: Standard 3-pin, 220-volt, 16-amp: 11 – 14 hours | A/C domestic charger with a 220-volts, 32-amp output: 4 – 5 hours | DC 200 – 500-volts/63 – 125-amps rapid charger: 80% in 33 minutes.
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Front wheel drive | Constant Final Gear Ratio (8.206)
Range, energy consumption, CO2 emissions  Range: 132 miles (212 kilometres). Real-world range: Approx. 125 miles | Consumption: 147 Wh/km | CO2 emissions: Zero g/km
Top Speed, 0 – 62 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed: 90 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 10.8 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: 4/5 stars
Weight (Kerb) / Luggage capacity  Weight (min): 1,565 kgs (3,450 lbs) | Luggage (VDA litres): Seats up: 281 | Seats folded: 891
Websites  Kia UK, Kia USA, Kia worldwide 

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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