2015 Kia Soul EV. Click image to enlarge
By Michael Bettencourt
As un-aerodynamic as the Soul appears, it seems a strange choice to become the Korean brand’s first foray into the emerging battery electric vehicle market in Canada. But that’s exactly what Kia has in store for this fall – and it just may be the most impressive non-luxury BEV available here yet.
The square-edged Kia Soul looks more like a Rubik’s Cube on wheels than a futuristic green machine, but this particular urban runabout gives the planet a bear hug courtesy of a few key missing pieces: the engine, transmission, gas tank, exhaust system, and pretty much everything else under the hood of most Soul models. Indeed, anything that touches oil, gas or its combusted waste is now out, though what will likely impress potential buyers most is the resulting silence: on the road, yes, and perhaps even at the cash register for some buyers.
Hopping into a Soul EV prototype for a brief half hour sampling, its digital gauges prominently displayed a 193 km claimed range at Kia Canada HQ as it sat in a heated garage. Unlike the predicted kilometres left to travel in a regular gas tank, this number takes centre stage in a vehicle with no engine backup, since it takes about four and a half hours to fully recharge from empty. That time is using the usual 240-volt EVSE most BEV buyers install in their garage or driveway, usually to simply plug in and charge overnight, though folks can also “trickle-charge” on a regular 110V outlet if need be, though a full charge from empty could take up to 24 hours.
If you’re out on the road and need a quick juice boost, the Soul EV features a much faster CHAdeMo port up front, which offers an 80 per cent quick charge from nada in less than 30 minutes. The network for these rare beasts is growing most quickly in Canada in BC, ironic because that province just ended its consumer rebate that saved plug-in buyers up to $5,000.
I kept a close eye on this Soul EV’s range prediction, and on resetting the trip before we left, to help judge how accurate this estimated range truly is. With temperatures on this early spring morning hovering around five degrees, I knew from experience in our Leaf that this number tended to plunge once the driver turns on the heat – there’s a reason Leaf owners have dubbed it the “guess-ometer.” But the Soul EV uses a heat pump climate control system that draws less energy from the main battery, just like newer Leafs, and thus eating into the all-important range less.
2015 Kia Soul EV engine bay & gauges. Click image to enlarge
On the road, the Soul EV is eerily silent, like most BEVs, and you’d need the radio off to strain your ears to hear the 109 hp, 81 kW electric motor. That may be down quite a few ponies from even the base engine in the gas Soul, but combined with the BEV’s much healthier 210 lb-ft of torque that’s available at the nearest toe nudge, this Soul EV feels both more relaxed and more responsive than the 2.0-litre, 164 hp Soul that won the Best New Family Car under $30k award in AJAC’s 2014 mega-test.
2015 Kia Soul EV cargo area. Click image to enlarge
Unlike the Ford C-Max Energi, the Soul EV’s cargo area is not seriously hampered in its after-the-fact conversion to a plug-in model, the slightly higher floor still allowing for a useful 532-litre of space, as well as folding rear seats that fold flat. The rest of the interior is largely similar to the gasoline model, with refined materials that look good in a mid-$20-ish car, but starts to look plain once you’re in 40k territory.
Yes, the Soul EV will start at about $35,000 says Kia, and closer to $40k for the top end model, though exact prices have yet to be finalized. Planned for sale in September 2014, similarly equipped gas Soul models start between 23 and 27 large, the Soul EV’s pricy 27 kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery pack making up the lion’s share of the cost premium. The U.S., the U.K., most of Western Europe, China, India, and Japan (among others) all offer some form of national financial incentives to help reduce this cost to consumers, with the U.S. debating increasing their maximum tax rebate from $7,500 to $10,000, but with nothing on offer across the country here, this is one of the few automotive policy areas totally unaligned in Canada.