Kia's much-improved Soul is fun with a petrol engine. The Koreans have also been working on an electric version. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Following on from the success of the second generation Kia Soul comes an all-electric version. The price looks good, the engineering seems sound and the market is increasingly receptive.
Walk the streets of Seoul and aside from the being distracted by the street food and trying to figure out the public transport system, you'll need to watch out for Kia Rays. No, it's not some sort of ultraviolet radiation, it's a car. A car that you won't hear coming as you gawp at all that's unfamiliar. The Ray is an electric vehicle and in Seoul's noisy CBD, you just don't hear these mini-MPVs coming. Kia developed this car quietly for a couple of years before releasing 184 of them as part of an urban car-sharing scheme in 2013 and it's been assessing the efficacy of these vehicles ever since. The reason why is that bigger things are coming from Kia and that bigger thing is the Soul EV. You probably know the Soul. It's been around for a while, but in 2014 we got a second generation model. The first gen car looked great but rode really poorly. An all-new chassis has solved that issue but will an electric version play well to the British public?
The clever thing about the development of the current (no pun intended) Soul's chassis is that it was pre-planned to be compatible with a battery pack and electric motor. Like all electric vehicles, it's at its best in urban areas where the abundant torque from the electric motor and the zero tailpipe emissions weigh in its favour. The Soul EV claims a fun-to-drive character. Its electric motor develops 81.4 kilowatts - the equivalent of 109bhp in a combustion-engined model - with 285 Nm of torque available immediately upon drive-away. This makes the Soul EV particularly brisk in the kind of stop-start urban driving where it is designed to operate. It is also extremely smooth and silent - so quiet that it is fitted with a Virtual Engine Sound system at low speeds in both forward and reverse gears to alert pedestrians and cyclists that it is in the vicinity. The Soul EV has a top speed of 90mph and can accelerate from 0-60mph in 10.8 seconds, so it is perfectly capable of keeping pace with the flow of urban traffic. Of greater relevance, it accelerates on the move, cruises and tackles gradients with minimal power usage, which all contribute towards its long range. It can climb slopes of up to one-in-three. An operating range of 132 miles is promised. To help the driver maximise the car's range, the Soul EV has two different performance levels - DRIVE and BRAKE - both of which can additionally be operated in ECO mode as a further means of extending the car's range. The driver is therefore able to vary the recharging effect of the regenerative braking system and the performance of the car according to the requirements at any particular time.
Design and Build
There's evidence of some really clever thinking with this Soul EV. Early in the development process, Kia's engineers identified the need to dramatically reduce energy consumption of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. In a worst case scenario, the maximum use of HVAC under extreme cold conditions could potentially reduce an electric vehicle's effective range by up to 50 per cent, something Nissan Leaf drivers will know to their cost. To address this challenge, Kia engineers implemented a highly efficient new heat pump, smart air induction control, scheduled ventilation and, perhaps smartest of all, individual ventilation for the driver only. Think about it. Most of the time, these cars are driven one-up. Why waste energy firing up the passenger seat vents if there's nobody over there? This generation Soul features a longer 2,570mm wheelbase (up 20mm), overall width that's broadened to 1,800mm (increased by 15mm) and the same overall height of 1,610mm when compared to its predecessor. The EV's 96-cell battery is located beneath the floor, sending drive to the front wheels. The battery's location helps lower the car's centre of gravity. Extra cross bracing beneath the battery contributes to a 5.9 percent improvement in torsional rigidity over the petrol or diesel-powered Souls. It does bring a 200kg weigh penalty compared to petrol Soul models but you lose very little of the 354-litre boot as a result of the clever integration of battery and motor.
Market and Model
After subtraction of the government's Plug-in car grant, you'll pay around £25,000 for this Soul EV. That's reasonable value, although it's still a bit more than a Renault ZOE. It's more car though, so that's only fair. You'll recognise the Soul EV by its blanked-off front grille, different lights and bonnet, and bespoke dial pack. Standard EV features include an eight-inch touch-screen with European mapping, traffic messaging channel, a reversing camera and a charging point locator. There's also automatic air conditioning, heated front seats, a smart key with a motor start-stop button, projection headlights with LED daytime running lamps, front foglamps, privacy glass on the rear windows and tailgate, 16-inch lightweight alloy wheels with super-low-rolling-resistance tyres, two charge points and a Heat Pump system. The car is also supplied with a wallbox charger and Virtual Engine Sound. Also included in the standard specification are cruise control with a speed limiter, an electronic parking brake, front and rear electric windows, electrically folding adjustable heated door mirrors with LED indicators, solar glass for the windscreen and front windows, automatic light control with a follow-me-home function, an LED rear combination and high-mounted brake lights, plus a 3.5-inch OLED supervision instrument cluster with specific EV information display, a trip computer, front speaker mood lights, driver's seat height adjustment, a heated steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors and a luggage cargo screen plus retaining net. In-car entertainment includes a DAB RDS radio with MP3 compatibility, steering wheel-mounted controls, USB and AUX ports and Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming. Safety is taken care of by Anti-lock Brakes with Emergency Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Control, Vehicle Stability Management, Hill-start Assist, Emergency Stop Signalling, a Tyre Pressure Monitoring system and six airbags.
Cost of Ownership
Many potential customers love to fire up their spreadsheets and produce some involved calculations that attempt to answer the question of whether the electric model will work for them better than a diesel or petrol version over a representative ownership period. As much as I'd love to be able to provide some concrete numbers to help populate a few cells, the truth of the matter is that the numbers aren't available just yet, Kia still assessing battery suppliers to see who it goes with. Regardless of supplier, Kia's specs are set in stone. The battery will be a highly energy-dense lithium-ion polymer battery. Air cooled and good for 27kWh, a range of 132 miles is promised but in real world motoring, the battery is expected to yield a range of approximately 80-100 miles on a full charge. Those numbers are pretty much what we expect from a Nissan Leaf. The Soul EV gets its own set of distinctive 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped with specially engineered Super Low Rolling Resistance (SLRR) tyres that offer ten per cent less resistance than standard low rolling resistance tyres, helping to further improve range. In the front grille are a couple of charging points, one standard and one fast charge port. Using a UK 230-volt domestic power supply, the Soul EV can be fully recharged in 10 to 13 hours. With the wallbox or at a public fast-charge point, the time is reduced to around five hours. The Soul EV is supplied with a customised red adapter cable stored in a smart Kia-branded pouch for this form of charging. Alternatively, through a public rapid charger the batteries can be topped up to 80 per cent of capacity - the maximum permissible with this type of system - in 33 minutes.
Car manufacturers are now getting a lot smarter when it comes to developing electric vehicles and the Kia Soul EV ably demonstrates this. One chassis that's shared between electric and internal combustion models, clever energy-saving solutions, increasingly realistic real-world range capability and affordable asking prices are just the start. While the issue exists that there are many manufacturers and only a handful of credible battery vendors, what car makers do with the kWh available to them differentiates their wares quite markedly. We were very impressed with the second generation Soul in its more conventional guise and the electric model ought to build on these strengths. It's impossible to give too much of a verdict on the car yet as so many details still need to be ironed out but keep your eye on this one. It could be a corker.