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- Space for people and stuff
- 100-plus miles of real-world range
- Standard DC quick charging
- Standard 6.6-kW charger
- That Soul cool factor
- Only sold in California, today
- Interior could be toned down
- Numb electric steering
- Range anxiety still a barrier
The 2016 Kia Soul EV compares well to other small battery-electric cars, and its interior volume and slightly higher range give it an edge—but you can only buy one in limited areas.
The 2016 Kia Soul EV is adapted from the hugely popular gasoline version of the Soul, technically a five-door hatchback but really more of a tall, boxy wagon. The current Kia Soul was redesigned for 2014, building on the strengths of the first generation while addressing some of that car's flaws. Ride, handling, and comfort were all improved; it offers more standard and available features; and the Soul's space-efficient design was enhanced in useful ways.
Kia's Soul EV is the Korean maker's only battery-electric vehicle, now in its second year on sale—but only in a handful of U.S. regions. And that's a shame, because in some ways it's the best of the current crop of 70- to 100-mile cars on the market. It's roomier inside, has a little more real-world range, and for 2016, additional trim levels and new features.
In styling, the Soul EV retains the boxy profile and different look of the basic model, which offers more space for people and cargo than most small cars with the same footprint. The design's blunt front end replaces the grille with a blanking panel that includes the door for the charge port, while the roof appears to float over a blacked-out greenhouse. The tall taillights that dominate the back end have LED lights, as do the bug-eye headlights up front.
The big change, of course, is the replacement of a gasoline engine, transmission, and fuel tank with a large flat air-cooled lithium-ion battery pack in the floor, powering an electric motor that powers the front wheels. The battery's energy capacity of 27 kilowatt-hours is about 10 percent higher than that of the high-volume 2015 Nissan Leaf, at 24 kwh, and gives the Soul EV a combined EPA range rating of 105 miles—higher than the 2015 Leaf's 84 miles. The motor itself is rated at 81 kilowatts (109 horsepower), which gives it relatively quick acceleration away from rest and acceptable passing power on the highway.
The lack of an engine makes the Soul EV much smoother and quieter than the gasoline version, with acceptable pickup and seemingly accurate range ratings. While highway range is rated at just 92 miles, the city rating is 120 miles—and several of our test drives offered more than 100 miles of range in mixed use, albeit in largely temperate weather. Even that 10- to 20-mile difference can mean a lot in reducing range anxiety among daily drivers.
On the road, the Kia Soul EV is about average. For a tall car, it corners decently, and the suspension provides a smooth, comfortable ride while remaining taut enough to lend a feeling of security. Typical of Kia vehicles, the electric power steering system offers only limited feedback, and the three levels of weight—comfort, normal, and sport—don't add a lot to the driving experience.
The funky design of the Soul's interior has been adapted with some high-gloss plastics for the Soul EV. Soft-touch materials on the surfaces and dual-density foam and extended seat cushions all make the front passenger compartment a comfortable environment. The height and proportion make it quite easy to get in and out, in front or in back. The rear hatch opening is wide, and seats fold forward easily. Still, it's a small car, meaning width is limited despite the proportions—so while there’s plenty of head room and leg room, fitting three adults across in back isn't going to work.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS have tested the electric version of the Soul separately, and given its low volume, they're not likely to do so any time soon. The gasoline Soul gets five stars overall from the NHTSA, which gives it five stars in each category save for rollover resistance, where it scores four stars. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick. All models include six airbags, with dual front airbags, seat-mounted side bags, and full-length side curtain bags.
For 2016, the Soul EV has acquired a new third trim level. The three flavors are the base Soul EV-e, the mid-range Soul EV, and the top-of-the-line Soul EV+ (plus).
Commendably, every Soul EV includes a CHAdeMO DC fast charge port (with a new-for-2016 plug lock), a 6.6-kw onboard charger for 240-volt Level 2 charging (versus 3.3-kw chargers fitted to other electric cars), and heated front seats and a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, both in the service of minimizing cabin heat to maximize cold-weather range.
Kia says charging times vary from 24 hours for a fully depleted battery using a 120-Volt wall outlet to less than 5 hours when plugged into a 240-volt outlet. Kia has partnered with three different charging-station providers—AeroVironment, Bosch, and Leviton—to offer buyers a variety of home charging station options. As for DC fast charging, the battery can be restored to 80-percent capacity from empty in as little as 33 minutes using a 50 kw CHAdeMO fast charger.
Other standard features on the Soul EV are a 3.5-inch OLED instrument cluster, an illuminated AUX/USB port, smart key with keyless ignition, a driver-only ventilation function that closes the passenger vents to help maximize efficiency based on vehicle occupancy, and a system that adjusts steering feel.
Move up to the Soul EV and you add an 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen with a rearview camera display and the UVO infotainment system with special EV functions. It will search for charging stations, check state of charge and other vehicle status data remotely, and precondition the interior temperature while the car remains plugged in. The Soul EV also upgrades to a heat-pump heating and air-conditioning system, which uses less energy and improves real-world range in very hot or very cold weather.
The high-end Soul EV+ layers on ventilated front passenger seats, heated rear outboard seats, leather trim on all seats, front and rear Park Assist, and power mirrors that fold. A new, optional "Sun & Fun Package" bundles a panoramic sunroof, LED interior lighting, and speaker lights that pulse to the beats of the six-speaker audio system.
As of summer 2015, the Soul EV was offered in California, Oregon and Georgia. Customer interest was significantly greater than Kia had originally anticipated, an executive recounted, saying the company had been "kind of shocked" by how well the Soul EV was received. It is advancing plans to expand electric-car to New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Maryland late in 2015 or early in 2016.