The label of “veteran,”
in the context of electric vehicles, doesn’t mean much. After all, mass-produced EVs have a history that dates back less than a decade.
But in terms of looking at how far EVs have come in such a short time, the concept carries a lot more meaning.
For instance, take a look at the specs for the first-generation Kia Soul EV from when it launched in 2014: it had an 84-kW motor – that’s 109 hp – with 291 lb-ft of torque, plus a range of 167 km, which at the time was the best city driving rating on the market as determined by the EPA.
Compare that to what you’ll find in the second-generation 2020 Kia Soul EV and the progress is genuinely impressive: a 150 kW (201 hp) motor with 291 lb-ft of torque, and a peak range of 383 km, which is more or less average for long-range EVs these days. The times, they are a changin’.
It must be noted, though, that these figures are for the Limited model, which is the higher-priced version of the Soul EV that rings in at close to $54,000 before incentives are applied. The Premium model – which is the one with the base price that comes in under $45,000 to meet the requirements of the federal government’s iZEV rebate program – has significantly lower numbers at 134 hp and a range of 248 km.
It’s not as though the Soul EV is the only electric vehicle on the market with pricing structured this way. But it’s something potential buyers will want to be very clear on before they go into a dealership, lest they leave disappointed.
At any rate, this review discusses the Limited model, which is clearly the standout of the two – at a price premium of more than $10,000, it ought to be – and adds yet another excellent EV to the arsenal the Korean brands currently have on the market.
Riding on a Shared Platform
I’ve raved on the record about the Hyundai Kona Electric
, which is just about the modern-day pinnacle of the gamification of driving. The 2020 Kia Soul EV is based on the same platform, as is the new Kia Niro EV. That means all three of these vehicles are similar in size and all benefit from nimble drive dynamics, long-range battery packs, and very similar drive systems that are adaptable and easy to operate.
This includes multiple drive modes including Sport, which enables wicked acceleration, Eco, and Eco+, the latter doing a much more effective job of preserving electric range by activating a speed limiter of 90 km/h and softer pedal response. There’s also a three-level adjustable response rate for the regenerative braking: you can recover more range if aggressive braking doesn’t bother you, or you can soften it considerably to make it more natural.
What’s present in the Kona Electric that isn’t equipped here is the ticker that shows how much energy you’ve recovered in a single braking activity in Eco+ mode. That’s one of my favourite features in the Kona Electric, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t play with it again in the Soul.
The Kona Electric also uses slightly less power, at least on paper: the Soul EV is rated by NRCan at 16.8 kWh per 100 km in city driving and 21.1 on the highway, versus the Kona’s 16.2 and 19.3 respectively. That said, my final measurement at the end of a week of testing came in at 13.5 kWh with liberal use of Eco+ mode, so a lot depends on how you want to drive it.
Made to be an EV
If there’s any car on the planet that looks like it’s ready-made to be electrified, it’s this one.
Sure, the electric green doesn’t hurt. But there’s just something about the elongated LED headlamp design, the all-around taillights, and the shape and proportion of the Soul that makes it a natural fit for this conversion. Some cars start to look weird when they lose their grilles and gain airflow-friendly wheels, including this car’s own cousins. The Soul, on the other hand, makes the switch very naturally – perhaps simply because it’s already delightfully weird as it is.
As for the interior, the quality and design are both light-years ahead of the previous-generation Soul, electric or otherwise – and quite nice without those comparisons, too. That is, as long as you don’t mind black-on-black with plenty of glossy surfaces since there’s no optioning your way out of it.
What might lead some people to prefer the Soul EV over the Kona or Niro is its better use of space. It’s just as well-proportioned for urban driving, but the adjustable floor in the cargo area lets you drop the rear seats for one nicely level (if a little high) load floor, or move to the lowest setting for a maximum cargo capacity of 663 litres. That’s more than 100 litres higher than the Kona and almost 35 litres more than the Niro. Those boxy dimensions pay off from time to time.
A Few Key Features
What else does the Soul EV get right? Heated rear seats. Two-staged, in fact. That’s a big deal since electric heating is far more efficient in EVs than the HVAC system and, inexplicably, the Kona EV doesn’t offer heated rear seats at all.
Kia’s premium Harman Kardon sound system is equipped on the Limited model and sounds better than most EVs – which is helped by the fact that the Soul’s cabin is extremely quiet, even by electric vehicle standards.
The 10.25-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality is attractive and user-friendly, although it’s simply been ported over from use on smaller screens in other Hyundai and Kia products. Some slight redesign in some areas for the wider dimensions would have been thoughtful such as the radio presets, which display only five per page but could easily fit more using a tiled rather than horizontal graphic layout.
Plenty of safety technologies are included (and are standard equipment on both models): blind spot detection, lane keep assist, driver attention warning, forward collision avoidance assist, and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist. The Limited model comes with a head-up display, and as an added bonus, a wireless phone charger is included on both models as well.
Kia’s got a solid strategy going on its electric vehicles: the Niro EV is as good a choice as you’ll find anywhere in the market for a relatively affordable battery electric for the conservative set, while the Soul EV might only be considered by people who don’t mind driving something with slightly quirkier looks. Those who lean that way, or who are willing to give it a chance, will find plenty worth changing their minds over.
Even when comparing against the Kona EV, while it’s difficult to leave behind the Hyundai’s longer 415 km range and slightly more engaging driver information system, the Soul brings surprisingly practical elements to the table such as its larger and more flexible cargo space that are likely to win some people over.
I wouldn’t hesitate to choose any of these vehicles, but that extra touch of usability makes the Soul EV one of the strongest cases on today’s market for giving up the gas pumps.