Car Review: 2021 Kia Soul EV
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The Kia Soul is a funky compact car with a bumping stereo and ambient lighting that pulses to the beat of your favourite dub-step. It’s geared to a youthful audience and its mail truck aesthetic bucks tradition and is strange enough to be cool.
The Soul EV is very much the same and most will never know that they’re looking at anything different, let alone an electric car.
Basing a battery-powered car on a widely available platform is a good idea. People like what they’re familiar with and the Soul is a popular vehicle that has carved out a boxy little niche of its own.
Split into two trim levels, the Soul EV Premium starts at $42,995 and is equipped with a 134 hp motor and a 39 kWh battery good for about 240km of range. The Soul EV Limited is priced from $51,995 and gets a liquid-cooled 64 kWh battery, a beefier 201 hp motor, and can travel 383 km on a single charge. Torque is identical for both trims at 291 lb-ft.
Thanks to a charging rate of up to 100kW when connected to a compatible Level 3 DC fast charger, both Souls can be charged fully in about an hour. Level 2 charging will take 9.5 hours for the big battery and just over 6 hours for the smaller one.
If your eyes popped out of your head when you read that the base electric Soul costs double what the gas version does, don’t worry, I initially felt the same way. However its main competitors—think Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt—are priced similarly, and all are eligible for the federal EV rebate. And depending on which province you live in, there are further government incentives to take advantage of.
Good thing then that the Soul EV is very well equipped out of the box with a large 10.25” UVO infotainment system with embedded navigation, a 7” digital instrument cluster, smartphone integration, UVO intelligence connected car services, and a full suite of driver-assist tech like lane keep assist, forward collision assist, and smart cruise control.
The Limited trim adds the 64 kWh battery, leather seating, the aforementioned music-synchronized mood lights, a thumping Harman Kardon sound system, a head-up display, and ventilated front seats.
Instead of a standard gear lever, you get a rotary dial and there are a few EV-specific buttons on the dashboard.
As common as the Soul is, I’d be willing to bet that many don’t know an EV version exists, and that’s a bit of shame because it’s an excellent vehicle.
We had a go in the Limited version with the larger 64 kWh battery. Picking it up fully charged, the indicated range was a hair below 400 km.
Setting off is the same as in any other Soul, push the start button, put the car in drive, and off you go. In here, though, there’s no noise, and no vibrations coming through the firewall like in most internal combustion vehicles. Below 50 km/h, the cabin remains completely silent, but as you pick up speed, wind and tire noise inevitably takeover.
Thanks to the instant torque production of an electric motor, the Soul EV has a lot more pep than its numbers suggest. There’s enough to overwhelm the front tires and peel them out as you get pushed back into the seat. It makes the Soul EV feel like a tiny front-wheel drive muscle car.
Behind the steering wheel, there are paddle shifters, but these aren’t for shifting gears, the Soul EV doesn’t have any. Instead, tugging the left paddle increases the amount of brake regeneration you get when lifting off the accelerator pedal. Set it to level 3, and the Soul EV will quickly come to a near stop without ever touching the brakes. All the energy harvested from slowing down is then fed back to the battery to be used at a later time. A brake and hold system will bring the Soul to a complete stop if activated.
Four drives modes are available to use: “Eco” is selected by default; there’s “Comfort”, “Sport”, and “Eco+”. These modes adjust motor power output, regenerative braking settings, and climate settings. Eco+ is interesting as you lose all climate function and your speed is limited to 90km/h, in other words, not for highway use.
I’ve driven a plethora of electric vehicles and the Soul has quite a few nifty features to help you eke the most mileage out of a single charge. If you opt for the Limited trim you see here, it comes equipped with a heat pump. This innovative device can scavenge waste heat from the batteries and electronics and then feed that into the cabin, reducing energy consumption.
The Soul EV takes things a step further by giving the driver an option to quickly turn said pump on and off with the push of a button. You can also direct heat to the driver only, rather than warm up the entire cabin, once again to reduce energy consumption.
Even the navigation system will actively find nearby charging stations and list them along your route. The Soul EV can then, rather smugly, let you know how much C02 you would have emitted had you been driving a car with a tailpipe.
The extra weight of the battery pack doesn’t seem to affect the handling either. The Soul feels nimble and tossable, but pronounced body roll and feather-light steering keep the handling envelope modest. On the highway, the Soul is quiet and composed but the ride can get jittery at higher speeds.
At 6 feet tall, I had a ton of space in the front and back. And the boxy dimensions mean that things like head and elbowroom are generous for a compact. All controls are easy to reach and material quality is good for this class, but not quite on par with what you expect on a $50,000 vehicle. A strong smell of degassing plastics was also ever-present, but likely due to the newness of the Soul EV I was driving.
Charging the Soul was simple. The charge port conveniently mounted on the front bumper, accepts CCS connectors for either Level 2 or Level 3 fast charging. Kia claims a max charge rate of 100 kW but when hooked up to a 50 kW fast charger, I didn’t see anything higher than 25 kW. It could have been the battery’s state of charge or the ambient temperature, or one of a bunch of factors, but the point is I had to wait a bit longer than anticipated.
Entry-level electric cars like this Soul EV make a great case for themselves. During a week of putting one through its paces, I felt nothing that resembled range anxiety and I live in a downtown condo without the convenience of being able to plug in overnight. Safe to say, running out of juice wasn’t a concern and EV ownership is more viable now than it was even just a few years ago. As soon as the charging infrastructure catches up, there will be no stopping them.