Kia is the archetypal counter-attacking team. It’s happy to sit back, see what the opposition is all about and then react with lightning pace.
While others have been forging ahead with electric vehicles, Kia has sat tight waiting for the right moment. And that moment is coming soon, with the Kia Soul EV due in the UK at the end of next year.
We’ve driven a prototype version on Kia’s home ground in Korea, and instantly the Soul appeals because it’s based on the more grown-up, but still decently funky, new Soul supermini – no weird-beard EV styling for this car.
There are a few aerodynamic tweaks outside, while Kia is threatening to limit the colour choices to what it thinks is an eco-friendly two-tone mix of light blue and white – let’s hope it sees sense on that one.
Inside, some of the plastics and seat fabrics are more eco-friendly, too, but the quality of our early cars looked good and there’s as much space as in the standard car that arrives here earlier next year – so decent passenger room in the back and an okay boot, too.
The batteries are under the floor of the passenger compartment keeping the centre of gravity low, although the extra 200kg means that the more comfortable ride of the new Soul is compromised. The EV’s quite a bone shaker over potholes and speed bumps, but Kia promises that it has time to tweak things before the car goes on sale.
The Soul EV’s trump card, though, is its range with Kia claiming ‘over 120 miles’. If that turns out to be realistic, it’ll have an instant advantage over its EV rivals that struggle to get near to 100 miles in real-world use.
It’s down to a higher-voltage battery than in a Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus EV, plus next-generation regenerative braking and a clever heating and ventilation system. So if there’s only one person in the car, the climate control system will only heat or cool the driver’s area – smart stuff.
Charging times are less than rivals’ too – five hours for a full charge and 25 minutes for an 80% charge from a fast charging unit. And, as is usual for EVs, you can control charging and ventilation via a smartphone app.
Let’s hope Kia ditches the annoying ice-cream van-like jingle that accompanies every start-up, but from then on it it’s quite fun to drive. Throttle response is good, the steering is quick to react and you drive along quietly accompanied by a gentle whirr – it’s quite zen-like at times.
The brakes are a bit grabby, but like the stiff ride, there’s still time for Kia to fix that. Otherwise it’s an enjoyable car to drive and an easy one to live with.
But will it be a cheap one to live with? We’re a year off the UK launch, but Kia’s whispering about a £20,000 price after the government chips in with its £5000 incentive. If it follows Renault’s lead with a battery lease plan rather than full battery ownership, that price could tumble by a few thousand.