Long-term test review: Kia Soul EV

Final report: Electric car spends a week on long-distance commute before leaving fleet

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Overall, we’ve enjoyed our time with the Soul EV. The car has been near-faultless, and takes short commutes in its stride. However, the range anxiety never truly goes away
when you attempt longer trips, and it’s hobbled by an incomplete charging infrastructure in the UK.

Mileage: 4,198Fuel economy: N/A

It’s fair to say our electric Kia Soul has been largely town bound in the nine months it’s been on the fleet. As its regular custodian is picture editor Dawn Grant, who lives in Putney, south west London, it’s rarely ventured outside the M25. As a result the battery-powered five-door has travelled just 4,000 miles, while many of our cars cover more than four times that. 

Although many of the Auto Express team commute from outside the capital, the Soul EV isn’t usually the first choice due to range anxiety or problems with charging at home. But I took the plunge for a week to see what it was like to do a 120-mile-a-day round trip from Newbury in Berks in an EV with a real-world range of around 96 miles.

As our car park chargers are out of action, topping up the range during the day was difficult as I had to rely on the network of 3kW Source London sockets close to Auto Express’s Fitzrovia office. These were more often than not already taken up by another electric car, and even when you did get a free space, parking was limited to three hours. 

So my alternative was to plan a route home that allowed me to stop at a rapid charger along the way to top up. Thankfully, the M4 motorway is well served by Ecotricity’s Electric Highway – a network of AC and DC fast chargers that use power from renewable sources. 

Plugging in for 30 minutes at Heston services at junction two on the M4 (or at my local services at Chieveley) gave the car an 80 per cent charge – more than enough to get me home. Even better, it also allowed me to chat with some fellow EV drivers, who are a friendly bunch. A few seem to share our concerns with the slow growth of the charging infrastructure, which is one of the biggest hurdles for drivers and the reason why plug-in hybrids are still far more popular than straight EVs.

Once home, it was just a case of popping the Soul on the driveway and plugging it into a household socket. Although the process isn’t exactly quick (a full charge this way takes over 10 hours), the bright LEDs on top of the dash, which change from red to green when fully charged, can clearly be seen from outside the car, so you can check up on its charging status when you’re in the house. 

It may seem like we’re talking more about charging the Soul than driving it, but the concern over range and time is ever-present on longer journeys. And that’s no bad reflection on the car: the striking blue Kia has proven a hit with all who’ve driven it because of its relaxing nature.

It really is a ‘Zen’ car to drive, thanks to the seamless tranquility of its powertrain and its comfortable cabin. If you’re in the mood, you can also surprise other motorists away from the lights thanks to 286Nm of instant torque (more than a Vauxhall Corsa VXR). And although the motorway isn’t the Kia’s natural habitat, it’s got enough performance to keep up with the pace of traffic.

It’s just a shame that the peace and quiet is spoiled when the range drops down. Just over 100 miles can be realistically expected, but adding passengers or prolonged motorway spells will shorten that. When the battery charge gets below 25 per cent, the Soul frustrates by constantly nagging you to charge it every 30 seconds, and throws warnings up in front of the sat-nav screen, which is trying to get you to the nearest charging point! Of course, most EV owners will be able to get a fast charger installed at their home, avoiding this issue.  

Other than a minor gripe with a warning light, rectified by a dealer, the Soul EV has proven trouble-free – and as the powertrain is so simple, we’re certain it would stay that way for a long time.

Kia Soul EV: third report

Electric city car is proving to be a mixed bag

Mileage: 2,914Fuel economy: N/A

Over the past six months I’ve really become attached to our Kia Soul EV, but I have to say it’s still a mixed bag running a fully electric car. The up and down ownership experience has more to do with the frailties of the charging network than the Kia itself, however.

In fact, the only issue I’ve encountered with the Soul was the mysterious appearance of the EV warning light I mentioned in the last report. Eventually my local dealer, Beadles in Coulsdon, Surrey, received the diagnostic results back from Kia which revealed it was a fault with the car’s climate control system. 

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It took a couple of weeks to locate the faulty part and get a replacement, but as the garage provided an identical courtesy car and kept me updated with developments, I had no cause for concern. Staff at Beadles even thanked me for the opportunity to learn more about the technology packed into the silent-running Soul.

Since its return, LG64 MGU has been a great companion for urban living. It’s comfortable, easy to drive and manoeuvre and it’s packed with kit. I’ve become accustomed to driving it in the B gear, which maximises the regenerative braking, but still provides smooth progress as it doesn’t apply the brakes as aggressively as other electric models. The parking sensors and rear camera make squeezing into narrow spaces simple, too – this is really handy as charging bays are often tight. 

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More importantly, the electric range has been steadily rising with every plug-in. The last time it was fully charged it was back up to 96 miles, which I’m putting down to a combination of longer days and warmer weather that demand less of the headlamps and heater. Yet while the UK’s charging network is better than it was 18 months ago when I ran our Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid, there are still plenty of problems.

Without the security of charging at home overnight I’ve relied on reviving the battery during the day, but in recent weeks the plug-in points in the office car park have been occupied by other electric vehicles.  

There is an on-street charge point nearby, which is available in three-hour slots, but it’s often busy. On one occasion I was down to 10 miles of range, so I used the car’s sat-nav system to direct me to the nearest charging point. It turned out the first one no longer existed, and as I approached the second, the car informed me I was entering a restricted area – sure enough, it wasn’t accessible unless you worked for University College London. 

Luckily I had enough power to make it to a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Wandsworth – approximately a 40-minute drive away – where there are a total of 10 charging points. Many were out of action, but I managed to find one functional unit. However, on two more recent visits, all the stands have been out of order. 

This half-hearted charging infrastructure is infuriating, as the Soul EV is a good car. And it proves that radical change is needed if electric vehicles are to thrive in the UK.

Kia Soul EV: second report

We’ve wrapped up warm to get through winter in our EV

Mileage: 1,628Fuel economy: N/A

When I was handed the keys to the Kia Soul EV in November, I have to admit I thought it was the worst time of year to be running an electric car. Cold weather tends to adversely affect the amount of charge that you can hold in a battery, but with three months now under my belt, and spring on its way, it’s clear that I needn’t have worried.

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My daily commute is an 18-mile round trip, so I shouldn’t really stress about range anxiety, but when you’ve got the heater on full blast, it does play on your mind. As a result, I tended to leave the heater off and keep my coat on, although the Soul EV has plenty of clever kit to keep you warm without having to drain the battery too much. 

First up is the standard heated steering wheel. I frequently suffer from cold hands, and the wheel makes such a difference – much more so than the heated front seats. On other models, this extra usually comes with leather seat trim, but the Soul’s cloth seats don’t get that cold, even on frosty mornings. 

Kia Soul EV vs BMW i3

However, it’s reassuring to know that switching on either the seats or wheel doesn’t have as big an impact on battery range as the heater itself. Using it cuts the distance you can go by around six miles, while there’s a driver-only option for the heater if you’re travelling alone. 

Another neat feature is that you can set the heater to warm the cabin to a desired temperature 30 minutes prior to departure, as long as your car’s plugged in and charging. Of course, it’s not only the heater that affects the range, as the dark winter months ensure that the headlights are on most of the time, and the windscreen wipers are kept busy, too. 

The downside is that range when LG64 MGU is fully charged now reads a disappointing 76 miles, almost half Kia’s claimed 132-mile maximum, and around 15 miles less than we were getting when we first collected the car. 

But that’s with everything running, and lately I’ve started to drive in Brake mode, which boosts engine braking to recharge the batteries. It also blunts acceleration slightly, yet the Soul is still sprightly enough to sprint away from traffic lights without fuss. 

As yet, range hasn’t increased, but I’m hoping that the spring weather and longer days will see it start to climb again. I’ve also had an intermittent problem with the EV warning light coming on. Sometimes it disappeared when the car was restarted, but when it stayed on over two days, I booked it into Beadles Kia in Coulsdon, Surrey, for a check-up. 

However, a diagnostic check didn’t reveal anything. Due to the Soul EV being so new, the technician sent the information to Kia for further analysis, but as yet I haven’t heard anything and while the light has come on again, all seems well with the car.

Overall, the Kia has coped really well through winter. During the week, I wouldn’t swap it for anything, as it’s easy to drive, comfortable, packed with kit and eco-friendly. It’s pretty good for urban living at the weekend, too – it’s just when you want to venture further afield that you need to think twice.

Kia Soul EV: first report

We've picked up keys to stylish new electric car

Mileage: 642 milesFuel economy: N/A

Working for Auto Express and living in London means I’ve become familiar with a variety of electric cars over the years. So when Kia contacted us with the offer of running its new Soul EV on our fleet, I was the prime candidate to take custody of our new arrival. 

This is the first electric car Kia has sold in the UK, but the company is being realistic about its sales targets. A price of £24,995 is pretty steep, and Kia expects to shift around 250 Soul EVs in the first year, while only 13 of its 170 dealers will sell it. One of those franchises is Beadles in Coulsdon, south London, and that’s where we went to pick up our new car.

All the staff were very friendly and helpful, and I was shown around the Soul EV by salesman Mark McKaig. He’s had special training to highlight the EV’s key selling points, and I was impressed with his knowledge.

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There was plenty of kit to be shown, too, as the Soul is brimming with tech. Sat-nav, a six-speaker stereo, heated steering wheel and seats, front and rear parking sensors and climate control are all standard. In fact, there are no options at all as metallic paint is also included.

One particular highlight of the Soul EV is the sat-nav. It’s been programmed especially for the car, and if you plan a route that exceeds its range, it will suggest a charging point en route.

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Of course, a lack of charging facilities is one reason why many are put off by electric cars, but Kia is hoping to address that, too, by offering to install a fast-charging point worth £250 at every buyer’s home. It’s something that will ease range anxiety, although our car’s 90-mile range on a full charge is short of Kia’s claimed maximum of 132 miles. 

We’re putting that range limitation down to the cold weather, because overall, things are looking good for our new EV. The Soul is comfortable, easy to drive and pretty practical, so fits my needs perfectly as an urban cruiser.

*Insurance quote provided by AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.

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