Review: 2021 Kia Soul EV
The 2020 Soul has an all-new chassis, shared with some of the corporate cousin Hyundai models
There’s an old real estate adage that says you’re better off buying the cheapest house in a rich neighbourhood that the most expensive one in a less affluent area.
That concept came to mind when I drove two versions of the Kia Soul recently. The first, the red one in the photos, was a 2020 model, the range-topping “GT-Line Limited” which listed at $29,545 (base list $29,295 plus $250 for the trick red paint). The second was a 2021 Soul EV battery-powered electric (there were no 2020 Soul EVs due to an issue with battery supply), again in top of the line “Limited” trim, which listed at $51,595, plus again special paint ($250) for a total of $51,845.
Yet from 100 metres, especially from the rear, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. So, the Soul EV costs roughly twice as much as the gasoline-engine version. Is it worth the extra cash?
I first drove the gasoline-engine model. The 2.0 litre four-cylinder runs on a modified Atkinson cycle – and changes to the intake valve timing result in better fuel consumption at the expense of some low-end torque. The numbers are modest – 147 hp at 6,200 r.p.m. and 132 lb-ft of torque at a fairly lofty 4,500 r.p.m. This meagre torque output is mollified considerably by a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) which helps keep the engine running closer to that torque rev peak than a conventional autobox would. Should you peek at U.S.-based websites, note that neither the 1.6 litre turbo four engine or manual gearbox is offered in Canada.
This drive train provides decent if hardly mind-blowing acceleration, a zero to 100 km/h time of around nine seconds, although the engine’s eagerness makes it feel peppier than that. Massaging the gears yourself – pull the shift lever to the left – unfortunately shows they got the pattern wrong. It should be – has to be – back to upshift, forward to downshift.
The 2020 Soul has an all-new chassis, shared with some of corporate cousin Hyundai models. It is fractionally longer, overall and in wheelbase, than before, although interior space is about the same. The car’s tall profile allows for easy ingress and exit, and offers nice upright seats that offer more legroom than you might guess from the car’s external dimensions. The high ground clearance gives it an almost SUV-ish stance, and provides more ground clearance for rough roads.
Loads of room for stuff, improved even more when you split-fold the rear seat backs.
The dash has all the modern conveniences, including a large touch screen that as usual will take some time to figure out. All the driver assistance and safety systems are present and accounted for, including emergency braking. If you’d rather drive yourself, you can shut most of them off. The Soul offers spritely handing and decent ride comfort, and is a thoroughly entertaining car to drive under any conditions.
Now for the Soul EV.
A permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor is fed from a lithium ion polymer battery which offers 39.2 kilowatt-hours in the “Premium” trim car, and 64 kWh in my Limited tester. Yet peak torque is the same for both, at 291 lb-ft from zero to 3,600 r.p.m. Peak power for the electric is given as 201 horsepower from 3,800-8,000 r.p.m.
The EV also weighs some 400 kg more than the fuel-powered car, which damps things a bit. Still, the zero to 100 km/h sprint will take about two seconds less than its fuelled stable mate. The peak torque of any electric motor comes in at zero r.p.m., so initial launch feels even quicker.
And because there is no transmission as such – it’s a single reduction gear – throttle response in cut-and-thrust traffic is immediate.
There are “paddle shifters” on the steering column. With no gears, what are they used for? Well, you can use the right one to increase the degree of electrical regeneration to one of four settings, from no regen at all to max regen. You use the left paddle to increase that level. Or, hold that left one down and it uses electrical regeneration braking, becoming effectively a one-pedal car, which is quite handy in heavy traffic. And yes, the brake lights do come on when you decelerate this way. The added weight of the EV model doesn’t seem to affect ride and handling much – the engineers have done a good job here.
The dash will take even more getting used to in this car than in the gasoline-engine version, with about a thousand displays to choose from. As has been my experience with electric cars, finding a recharging station seems a bit of a mystery. I live about 10 km from the first of Petro-Canada’s planned Canada-wide “electric highway” of recharging stations. But when I looked on the Soul EVs dash for a recharging station, it pointed me to a Best Western hotel.
I plugged the car in at home – 120 volts. The dashboard said the battery was 79 per cent full, giving me 327 km. It also said it would take 14 more hours to get to 100 per cent charge – and unlike gas tanks, the amount of juice a battery can take reduces rapidly is it approaches “full”. Eventually, it said it was full – sometimes it said 100 per cent, sometimes 99. Regardless, the total km showed variably as 411 or 413 km, both more than the 383 km the press kit promises. For an electric car, this is pretty good. Everything I said about the styling inside and out, the interior, and the handling of the regular Soul still applies to the EV model.
My niece up in North Bay has owned a Soul for a long time. Loved the car. When she went looking for a replacement, another Soul was her first choice. Should she go electric?
She drives a lot from North Bay to Toronto. Google maps say that’s about 360 km, just enough for an electric Soul to make it. When she factored in the recharging time, not to mention the monthly payment being about double because the car costs twice as much, she opted for the gasoline-engine car.
Even so, for the handful of people for whom an electric car can make sense, the Soul EV is one of the more attractive.
The vehicles were provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.
2020 Kia Soul / 2021 Soul EV
BODY STYLE: compact hatchback 5 seats
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, Continuously-variable transmission / front-mounted electric motor, front-wheel drive, single-speed direct-drive transmission
ENGINE: 2.0 litre in-line four (147 hp @ 6,200 r.p.m.; 132 lb-ft of torque @ 4,500 r.p.m.)
MOTOR (electric): permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor (201 horsepower @ 3,800 – 8,000 r.p.m.;
291 lb.-ft. of torque @ zero to 3,600 r.p.m.)
FUEL ECONOMY (gasoline, City, Highway, Combined, litres / 100 km: (regular fuel) 8.6 / 7.1 / 7.9
ELECTRICITY USAGE, gasoline equivalent: 1.9 / 2.4 / 2.1
CARGO VOLUME, litres: 1,758 rear seats folded / 663 rear seats in place, floor lowered / 550 rear seats in place, floor lowered
TOW RATING: TBA
PRICE: Soul GT Line Limited – $29,295 + $250 special paint, total $29,545 / Soul EV Limited – $51,595 + $250 special paint, total $51,845.