Kia Soul EV 2014 review

11 Nov, 2013 5:00pm Steve Fowler

The Kia Soul electric supermini shows promise, as we drive a prototype version in Korea

Verdict

4
If Kia can fix the ride and over-sensitive brakes, the Soul EV could be one of the most impressive electric cars yet. Its promises on range are appealing, and it’s fun to drive and good-looking. Quality is decent and it’s reasonably practical, plus, of course, it’ll have a seven-year warranty.

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.

Kia Soul in-depth review

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.

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This sounds impressive for teir first effort. I hope Kia learns from Leaf, Zoe and Focus, then develops something that ticks more boxes. I've been after an EV for a few years but have yet to be able to fit in any of the drivers seats comfortably yet. An improvement in the space for the driver and a slight range improvement, would see me heading down to the showroom.

Are you sure? The Soul EV is nothing more than a compliance car for California at this stage. If it's true, then it'll be a welcome addition to the European market! Especially how it's CHAdeMO compatible. Speaking of charging, it's not that advanced compared to everyone else. Its charger is likely a 6.6kW unit which the Nissan LEAF has that tops its charge from 0% to full in 4 hours, mainly the LEAF's 24kW battery having 3kW less than the Soul's.

Great pictures - a tent.

Why can't you fit in the seats?

Many manufacturers have limited seat travel, put the peddle at different angles or close together. It makes it difficult for taller people to drive. I'm only 6f4 but can't fit in many cars. Ford seem to be fine, as are BMW and Vauxhall with the Astra but Japanese cars and Korean don't suit.

There is no stopping this "little" Korean car maker - if magazines ratings are anything to go by.
Electric cars are slowly catching up but a lot still needs to be done for wider acceptance.
Longer range, easier and faster charging times and lower prices, to name a few.

Key specs

  • Price: £20,000 (est)
  • Engine: 81kW electric motor
  • Transmission: Single speed
  • 0-62mph: 11.5 seconds
  • Top speed: 90mph
  • Range: Over 120 miles
  • Equipment: LED running lights, navigation system, climate control, alloy wheels
  • On sale: Late 2014

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