Kia Soul EV

With up to 200 km in electric range, and a price tag of $35,000, Kia's EV hatch could be a game-changer

6/9/14 12:47 pm chumakdenis 2

Of all the vehicles in Kia’s inventory, none seem as well suited to pure electric operation as the Soul, a compact crossover that’s happiest scurrying about urban jungles. Making its global debut at  Chicago Auto Show, the Soul EV flaunts preliminary operating specs typical of most current electrics: a range expectation of 80 to 100 miles, recharging time (from fully depleted) of 24 hours on ordinary household current, and five hours on a 240-volt charger.Sounds great, isn't it? But, let's have a closer look and analyse everything.

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Exterior

First thing in this car that caught my eye was really unique design. The latter comes with a unique white body colour and a powder-blue roof. The latter is picked up in the accents as well. 

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Interor

Inside, apart from the light grey interior with glossy piano white accents, it’s really only the instrumentation that gives the game away. The left dial features a charge/discharge meter along with a “fuel” gauge that indicates the state of charge of the 360-volt, 27-kilowatt/hour lithium-ion polymer battery. There’s also a distance to empty readout and some additional features built into the navigation system - it gives an outline of the drive in terms of the energy used and overall efficiency.

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Dimensionally, nothing changes from early prototype. In fact, the only meaningful difference is that the rear seat riders have less toe room under the front seats because the battery’s cooling system needs that space. The only other real change is found in the curb weight - the EV is 200 kilograms heavier because of its 282-kilogram battery. In all other respects, it is the same. The cargo capacity is rated the same 532-litres seats up, the area is nicely squared off, the 60/40 seats fold flat as usual and there is an under floor tray for the 110-volt charger and cable. In other words, it retains the flexibility of the gas-powered model.

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Powertrain

The Soul EV’s powertrain consists of an electric motor with a single-speed transmission and the power electronics that oversees everything. The electric motor and electronics sit up front in the engine bay, while the battery is mounted in the middle of the car beneath the floor. The placement keeps the centre of gravity low, which is good for the handling, and it protects the battery in the event of a crash. The safety aspect is underscored by the addition of extra ultra-high strength steel around the battery pack (it ups the body stiffness by 5.9%).

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One of the key improvements in the Soul EV is its battery. Kia says the energy density of the new battery is 30% better than the unit it replaces and it is up to 47% better than its competitor’s power packs (namely the Nissan Leaf). Using a 220-volt outlet, it takes four or so hours to completely recharge the battery. Switch to the regular 110-volt outlet and, true of any electric conveyance, the time soars to 24 hours. If and when the fast-charging infrastructure is expanded, the Soul EV can get an 80% charge in 33 minutes using a 50-kW charger.

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The liquid-cooled electric motor puts out 109 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque, which equates to surprisingly spry performance. During the drive, It was really easy to clock the run from rest to 100 kilometres an hour at 11.4 seconds, which is more than four seconds faster than the Nissan Leaf. The important part here is the strong launch off the line pull, something that carries on through the mid-range and up to highway speeds. The Soul not only whirred along quite happily at 120 km/h on the highway, it accelerated from 80 to that speed in nine seconds.

The better news is found in the driving experience. All the extra weight the EV is carrying does not impinge on the driving characteristics -  with the steering set in sport mode it felt as crisp and responsive as the regular Soul. As is true of any hybrid/electric vehicle, the Soul EV uses regenerative braking as its first braking stage - the transition to the hydraulic system when more stopping power was called upon was seamless. It also had commendably crisp pedal feel - so many feel vague and rubbery under foot.

The one area that does need to be revisited is the choice of tire. Kia is equipping the EV with P205/60R16 Super Low Rolling Resistance (SLRR) tires. They may give adequate grip in a warm clime, but the instant it cools off here they will be for the birds. Yes, there’s 10% less rolling resistance, but when all is said and done resistance equates to traction. 

Driving

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There are four driving modes  -  “Drive” or “Brake Regeneration” modes in Eco mode “Off”, and “Drive” or “Brake” modes in Eco mode “On”. Frankly, the Eco mode is best left for those times when range becomes more important than the driving experience -  it lacks the crispness evident in Drive mode with Eco off. The Brake Regeneration mode retains the responsiveness of Drive, but ramps up the regenerative braking to capture more of the kinetic energy. It have been found to be the best mode, and simply because there was so much regenerative braking when the go pedal was lifted it all but negated the need to hit the brake pedal other than to hold the EV still at a stop light.

And so to the one thing that will see the Kia Soul EV set a benchmark at the affordable end of the electric vehicle spectrum. The driving range is longer than any of its peers, and that makes a big difference. Kia says the battery delivers a range of 160 km during normal driving and up to 200 km when driven in a conservative manner. The other upside is that when compared to the prototype produced a year ago, the electronics that oversee the driving characteristics have been honed to the point the EV drives just like its gas-powered sibling. It all bodes very well for Kia and the end-user.

The Soul EV is set to go on sale in September this year and it will carry an estimated price of $35,000 for the base and $38,000 for the full-zoot model. Apply the electric vehicle credits to those prices (where available) and it means a sub-30K ride, which, in the electric world, has to be viewed as a steal.

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