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Kia Soul EV – more personality but less practical than the e-Niro

The latest Kia Soul EV comes with a much-improved range, plus it’s more powerful, functional and comfortable than its predecessor but is it the best EV for the money?

Discover EV expert verdict...

4 / 5

PROS
  • Great performance
  • Impressive 280 mile range
  • Well-equipped
CONS
  • Expensive to buy
  • Styling not for everyone
  • Small boot

Overview

Since its launch in 2008, the Soul has been a true innovator for Kia – it established the urban crossover segment and it broke new ground when it launched a zero-tailpipe emissions version to the class in 2014. Kia went on to sell more Soul EVs in Europe than petrol and diesel versions combined, and with distinctive design, more power and vastly improved range for its latest incarnation, the brand has high hopes for it. In fact, the Korean car maker is so confident that it’s only offering the Soul with an electric powertrain.

The new Soul EV retains the strengths that have characterised earlier generations of the model, offering outstanding value for money, offbeat styling, a roomy interior for five occupants and Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty (which also covers the car’s electric motor and battery pack by the way) – but with more competition how does it stack up against its rivals?

Driving

The all-new Soul EV is significantly more powerful than its predecessor offering 291lb-ft of torque compared to 210lb-ft, and 201bhp up from 109bhp, meaning it will accelerate from zero to 60mph in a respectable 7.6 seconds. It basically uses the same powertrain as the popular Kia e-Niro and sister firm Hyundai’s Kona Electric and will outperform a DS 3 Crossback E-Tense, Renault ZOE and Peugeot e-2008.

The Soul EV’s Drive Mode Select system allows drivers to choose from Normal, Eco, Eco+ and Sport modes. The two Eco modes are tuned to maximise vehicle range with certain power-saving measures, while Sport mode increases responses from the steering and electric motor to maximise the dynamic driving feel of the car and Normal mode is a balance of the three.

As the first generation of Soul to feature fully independent multi-link rear suspension, replacing the torsion beam rear axle on first- and second-generation models, the car is a lot more engaging, responsive and comfortable to drive compared to its predecessors. While it errs on the side of firm, it does a much better job of filtering out small vibrations when travelling over our poorly surfaced roads. In addition the latest version has benefitted from a marginally quicker steering rack ratio (now 60 mm-per-revolution of the wheel, compared to 55 mm/rev) which has helped to make the car feel slightly more agile.

With a centre of gravity more akin to that of a saloon or a hatchback thanks to how the electric powertrain is packaged (enabling a relatively equal distribution of weight) combined with a slightly wider stance than its predecessor, it feels more stable and composed on windy roads than its older sibling. While Kia says that it helps to prevent understeer and enables linear and predictable handling, the front wheels still spin up when you put your foot down, and in the corners the front end feels a tad light. The Volkswagen ID.3 and MINI Electric certainly handle themselves better.

Kia’s regenerative braking system is operated by paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and you can choose from four levels (none or one to three), depending on how much energy recuperation you desire. In its strongest setting it seems to coast for a second then kick in – the way in which is decelerates isn’t very intuitive or smooth.

Range and running costs

Kia say that the new-generation battery packs powering the long-range 64kWh Soul EV are up to 30 per cent more energy efficient than Europe’s current best-selling electric vehicle – which at the time of its press materials coming out (March 2020) was the Tesla Model 3. However, the official ‘energy label’ from the European Union for the Standard range variant (the most efficient car from Tesla’s Model 3 line-up) is 149kWh/100km, while the Soul EV has an official energy consumption of 157kWh/km.

Perhaps that’s why Kia didn’t commit to the make and model that they were comparing themselves too? That aside, it does have a decent driving range of 280 miles (a vast improvement on the original Soul EV’s 132) and like the Kia e-Niro it’s very accurate when you drive it sensibly. Without making any effort to be efficient we averaged around 3.5mi/kWh in cold weather, which confirms in warmer climes we’d get close to its official range.

A Combined Charging System (CCS) DC fast charger is fitted as standard too, essentially enabling shorter stops for charging. To that end, the battery can be recharged to 80 per cent battery life in 54 minutes using a 100kW charger, and with a 50kW charger, the battery can be replenished to 80 per cent in 75 minutes. A 7.2kW home wallbox charger (which Kia can install for less than £300, thanks to its partnership with Pod Point) will complete a full top-up in nine hours and 35 minutes. On a typical electricity tariff charging overnight, you will get you change from a tenner.

The Soul EV is fitted with a range of energy-recuperation technologies to maximise driving range, including Kia’s energy efficient heat pump system. This scavenges waste heat from the car’s coolant system and features an individual ventilation and air conditioning system, which unlike other setups, shuts off cabin ventilation at the source to all seats except the driver’s.

In Europe there’s the option of a 39.2kWh Soul EV, but it won’t be sold in the UK as Kia says that the 64kWh electric motor has the most sales potential. It says that the choice of two power outputs and different maximum driving ranges could potentially confuse customers with multiple messages, and instead they wanted to concentrate on a single strong product. Personally we feel this is a little short-sighted with the potential for a cheaper model for those that don’t do high miles, and a little strange given Kia introduced a smaller battery for the e-Niro.

A £34,295 price tag puts it slightly above the Long Range e-Niro ‘3’ at £33,850 and on PCP with a deposit of £5000, you’re looking at monthly repayments of £439.66 over 37 months. Steep, right? Still, these sort of prices didn’t hamper sales of the e-Niro and when you factor in the low running costs (as with any EV you’ll benefit from zero-rate Vehicle Excise Duty, free entry to the London Congestion Charge zone and low benefit-in-kind company car tax for business folks) it starts to make more financial sense.

Servicing is required every 10,000 miles or once a year, whichever comes soonest, with a wide range of plan options on offer. Furthermore, every Kia dealer has at least two technicians trained in handling the high-voltage systems associated with electrified cars, which is real peace of mind, given a lot of dealers fall at the first hurdle – its sales team. In our experience and that of our readers, they are not always qualified enough, lack knowledge to sell EVs, and in some cases have even discouraged potential customers from purchasing an EV.

Design

Despite being inspired by a boar with a backpack after watching a television documentary (we kid you not), some people think the Soul is fresh and funky, and Kia’s senior designer Michael Torpey obviously won over the hip urban youths as it’s been a major hit, especially in the US with sales surpassing one million in September.

Every exterior panel on the Soul EV is new, yet remains instantly recognisable by staying true to its boxy origins and Kia say that it is the most futuristic, youthful and innovative iteration yet.

The restyled sculptured front and rear bumpers, blanked-off grille, LED headlamps (now integrated into the upper brow) with strake-style foglamps beneath them (replacing the round lamps) and bold new wraparound LED lamps at the rear, all combine to help give it a smoother appearance while improving aerodynamic performance. The charging socket is neatly integrated behind a small panel at the front of the car.

It’s grown too – now 80mm longer than before and with a wheelbase that’s extended by 30mm. Even the unique five spoke design alloy wheels have increased in size, from 16 to 17 inch on the latest car. It’s available in three bi-tone colours, with contrasting roof and door mirrors as standard. The growth spurt is enhanced visually by the newly designed rear pillar and glasshouse.

UK cars feature an SUV Pack as standard, which elevates the design of the Soul EV with the addition of SUV-like black side sill and wheel arch body mouldings, as well as a silver skid plate.

Inside, black leather upholstery is now standard and playing on the Soul’s overarching theme behind its design – music, in case you were wondering – this continues to be a core attribute of its persona. That means designers have gone with acoustic-inspired shapes and textures to apparently create a ‘full sensory experience’. They have also retained the signature tweeter speakers which bookend the dashboard, with the newest version of Kia’s 10.25 inch touchscreen infotainment system at the heart of it. At first the infotainment felt a bit unintuitive but it’s responsive and easy to use once you get used to it and has nice features – such as the split screen, whereby you can have the map on one side for example, and then swipe up and down on other side to access different functions.

Considering its controversial exterior, the interior styling is okay – nothing to shout about – just typical KIA. It’s devoid of colour and the overall finish is fairly poor, with a lot of black low grade plastics on show and the car rattled and creaked in places despite having covered less than a thousand miles. Cars of the same price, or less, are more visually appealing and use better quality materials.

Comfort and practicality

Currently, only a single, high-specification First Edition model is available, but in Kia’s words it is ‘feature-rich’ and they’re not far wrong. Inside creature comforts include sat-nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth, wireless phone charger, heated front seats (with eight-way power adjustability for the driver) and steering wheel, 10 speaker Harman Kardon sound system with subwoofer and amplifier, a 7 inch OLED colour display cluster (that sadly you can’t configure) in addition to a head-up display (HUD). Disappointingly, the HUD is shown on a piece of clear Perspex rather than the windscreen, which meant for my 6ft 3in husband the information was displayed on the bonnet – he didn’t even realise it was there until half way into his journey!

As well as a host of passive safety features, active safety technologies include High Beam Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Lane Keeping (and Lane Follow) Assist System, Forward Collision Warning with Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist and adaptive Smart Cruise Control, as well as Blind-Spot Detection with Rear-Cross Traffic Alert and a Reversing Camera System with rear parking sensor.

The Soul EV is the first Kia in Europe to offer the brand’s innovative UVO CONNECT telematics system providing the driver with invaluable information via the in-car touchscreen and their smartphone. Tackling the first of those – the Kia Live system – has its own eSIM chip to retrieve and update live data on the go, such as traffic information, weather forecasts, points of interest, and details of potential on- and off-street parking (including price, location and availability). It also shows charging station locations, charger availability and connection compatibility.

The second element of the system is the UVO App, designed for compatibility on Android and Apple smartphones, providing the usual diagnostic data about the car and the trips it takes and enables users to check battery charging status remotely.

The Soul EV is comfortable, refined and quiet compared to its predecessor, with more sound deadening material beneath the cabin floor, rear pillars and around the wheel arches, while wind noise is reduced thanks to a new aluminium battery housing reducing drag and wind roar beneath the body. Road noise is decreased by increasing steering knuckle stiffness and applying anti-vibration pads on the floor panel, but it doesn’t go entirely unnoticed at speed compared to other EVs.

Boot space is 315 litres with the seats up (1339 litres with them down), which is quite small for a crossover (and much less than the e-Niro’s 451 litres), but it does at least feature a split-level floor so you have somewhere to stash the charging cables. There’s no frunk, which is a big disappointment – it smacks of Kia retro-fitting an electric motor directly where the ICE engine would have gone, but there seems to be loads of space so we were a little surprised to find they didn’t utilise that and reconfigure it. Moving to the rear of the cabin, it is better than the e-Niro with more legroom and headroom and four six-footers and a child would be more than comfortable on a long journey. There’s plenty of storage too, from two cup holders and a large tray in the centre console with a deep cubby under the armrest, to a decent-sized glovebox and door bins that will each hold a bottle of water.

Verdict

The Soul EV sits in a segment that is set to grow enormously over the coming years, and depending on whether you love or hate the styling, the majority of people will find that it offers enough range, plenty of cabin space, great performance, comfort and tech.

It is a shame that a smaller range version isn’t offered for around £30k, and at £34,295 you’re paying a £445 premium over the more practical and larger but blander Kia e-Niro ‘3’. It also costs a whopping £4145 more than the broadly similar Hyundai Kona Electric. It is at least £415 cheaper than the highest spec Nissan LEAF e+ Tekna with 239 miles of range and we’d definitely take the Soul, but if it were up against the ID.3 for a grand more we’d take the Volkswagen. We’ve yet to test the Peugeot e-2008 SUV which in Allure trim level (middle-of-the-range) costs pretty much the same though has less range and isn’t as powerful. If you want to go much further on a single charge you’ll need to shell out another £12k for the Tesla Model 3 Long Range.

We suspect lower spec trims will be available in the near future, sacrificing equipment for a lower price tag – at which point it may become a more attractive buy. Ultimately it depends on how much you want to pay for a bit more character and to stand out from the crowd. It’s a great EV for a one car small family, but we suspect if roomier, more conventionally styled SUVs come out at a similar price and range, it may be fighting its corner. Time will tell.

Key Specs

2020 Kia Soul EV First Edition

Price (RRP OTR): £34,295 (including PiCG)
Top speed: 104mph
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Power: 201bhp (150kW)
Torque: 291lb-ft (395Nm)
Driving range: 280 miles
Charging time: 31 hours (2.3kW 3-pin AC, 0 to 100%); 9 hours 35 minutes (7.2kW AC, 0-100%); 1 hour 15 minutes (50kW DC, 0-80%); 54 minutes (100kW DC, 0-80%)
Insurance group: 34
Vehicle warranty (includes the electric motor and battery pack): 7 years/100,000 miles

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