by Clever Dude
I drove Kia’s prior generation’s gas model 2013 Kia Soul and loved it, so I was really intrigued when asked me if I wanted to test a 2015 Kia Soul EV. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to both drive my first electric-only vehicle AND have it for a week. Now, this review will focus mostly on the electric powertrain and ownership of an EV because they’re still so new on the market, but I will talk about the Kia Soul itself near the end since this model isn’t too much different than the gas version.
During the 7 days I had the Kia Soul EV, I got asked the same 4 basic questions, so I may as well answer them briefly up front before digging into the review:
- No, it’s not a hybrid. It’s 100% electric.
- It has a 93 mile range, but several factors impact this estimate.
- It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours to charge, depending on the charging port/station.
- It drives like a grown-up golf cart (in a good way).
The Grown-Up Golf Cart
Since testing the Soul EV, Kia has announced that its success in California means it will definitely bring the model to more states. The Soul EV has the highest range in its class, and after numerous available tax incentives, doesn’t cost TOO much more than the gas version (although we can debate the comparison). But is it fair to compare it to a golf cart?
Well, when you have to describe how it drives, and how you need to maintain it, then yes, you need to think of an electric golf cart. If you’ve been at a golf course, you’ve seen their fleet of carts all plugged in and waiting for the next rental. In the same way, you’ll most likely have the Soul EV charging any chance you get, whether at home or away. Also, the driving sensation is very similar. You don’t hear the roar (or rattle) of an engine when you smash the pedal, just more of an electric whine or buzz, if anything (the Soul is very well-insulated from noise).
It’s the same sensation of instant acceleration but not overwhelmingly fast. It gets you where you need to go without scaring you from too much or not enough speed. And Kia FINALLY added a Sport option to the electric steering so it doesn’t feel like I’m driving a wet noodle! While you only have 109hp, which is extremely little for a 3200+ pound car, you do have 210lb-ft of torque available to you from 0rpm. What that means is you have all the “grunt” delivered as soon as you press the peddle. That does mean you can spin the tires if you’re not careful, but you’ll soon stop mashing the peddle once you realize the feeling of “range anxiety”.
Range Anxiety – Will it defeat the EV?
I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the Kia Soul EV, especially knowing how much cheaper each mile cost compared to a gas version, as well as being able to “refuel” at home and never stop at a gas station. However, the biggest deterrent we had to taking longer trips was “range anxiety”. While 93 miles is more than most people travel in a couple days, we couldn’t get past the thought that if we ran out of energy, we would need a flatbed truck to get home.
It was a silly worry, but probably the biggest battle for EVs (other than price) in the market today. I can get in my truck and go 300-400 miles before a refill, and know it would only take a 5 minute stop. I don’t feel anxious about the range of the gas in my tank because I know the next station isn’t far away. But in an electric car, you 1) have less range than most gas vehicles and 2) need at least 30 minutes to charge, if you can even find one of the “quick charge” stations. Otherwise, to get your full 93 miles back from empty, it could take anywhere from 4-24 hours. And you can’t guarantee you’ll be able to plug in just anywhere.
The Kia Soul EV comes standard with navigation, which is extremely useful in helping you find the next 240v or higher charging station. However, not all are free, and as I found on our longest excursion into the next state, the charging station might be in-use or out of order. Unlike at a gas station when someone is shopping for beef jerky and lottery tickets and they’re out in 2 minutes, you don’t know if the Tesla or Prius owner will be out in 1 minute or 2 hours. They could be having dinner or seeing a movie, so you’re stuck.
How do you charge the Kia Soul EV?
The Kia Soul has 4 charging options:
- Charge on a normal 120v outlet: Plug into a household outlet using the included EV charging cord from Kia. It plugs into any home socket and was long enough to reach from the outlet outside our front door to the driveway easily. But this takes the longest to charge from empty at 24 hours! Most people won’t get it down to empty, though, so you’ll probably charge overnight after work and be just fine.
- Charge with a 240v charging station: We don’t have one of these at our home, but you can find many free and pay-per-use stations around you at www.PlugShare.com or the Kia’s built-in station finder. I was able to use one briefly at the grocery down the street. A full charge from empty will take 4-6 hours on a 240v station.
- Find a CHAdeMO station: There are very few of these around, but if you find one, you can get up to an 80% charge in just 30 minutes. The CHAdeMO port is a 2nd port on the Kia, separate from the 120v/240v port. I just found out (after turning in the Kia) that there’s a station just 2 miles south of me using the CHAdeMO Map.
- Regenerative braking. You don’t plug in the car for this; just drive. The vehicle will take the energy expended when slowing or braking and send it to the battery. There is the normal mode, but also a “B gear” you can shift into that brakes the vehicle extra to generate more energy for the battery. You definitely have to get used to it, though, as you don’t coast the same way in an EV as a gas vehicle. I have no idea how much this actually charges the battery though.
And while you may think that “hey, all buildings have an outlet outside”, you may be wrong. Even at our home, we didn’t have an outlet out front until a few years ago (and our house is 75 years old).
I think I plugged it in all but one night (because we didn’t drive it that day), and had a full charge by the next morning’s commute, so in reality, it’s a perfectly fine commuter. Most people drive no more than 40 miles roundtrip for their job, which is true for my wife (I work from home). So by the time you get home at 6pm, you’ll have 10-12 hours of charging before you leave for the next day.
Can the Kia Soul EV be your primary vehicle?
There’s the big question. Can an EV be your primary car? In our case, my wife has a MINI Cooper and I have a truck. My wife drives her MINI for commuting, and we take my truck for all other short/long trips. Rarely does wife will need her car for a long solo trip.
We went out for a 50-mile excursion from MD to VA and back (similar to her daily commute plus a few miles). We were driving in 20 degree temps (which lessened the estimated range to 87 miles), and my anxiety caused me to use the heater sparingly. She hates being cold, so that gave her a poor first impression. On the way home, however, I knew I had more than enough juice left, so I kept the heater on the whole way.
The heater tends to reduce the estimated range by 4-8 miles. For comparison, when you’re cruising around, you’ll use around 9kWh (kilowatt Hours) of energy just to move (it peaked at about 45kWh when I accelerated from a highway ramp). But the system showed the ventilation using an extra 5kWh on higher heat. The heated wheel, seat and infotainment showed less than 1kWh usage. So you can see how using the heater can reduce your range. It’s more mechanical parts moving AND you’re heating the air without the benefit of the heat from a gas engine. If you can get away with just your butt and hands being warmed, you’ll be fine on cold days. My wife would disagree, though.
My wife did drive the Kia Soul EV for a shorter weekday commute (only 10 miles roundtrip that day). On this trip, she knew she could blast the heater, and the heated steering wheel and seat were essential, so her opinion changed a bit. She felt that a 120-130 mile range is a better target that allows her much more freedom, or else we would need to install a 240v station at our home. I would agree, but your situation may vary.
So for us, the Kia Soul EV COULD be my wife’ primary commuter, if she was OK with driving my truck for her longer solo trips, but we would need to do the math to determine whether 1) buying something NEW as a replacement makes sense and 2) if the cost difference of an EV versus gas model also makes sense. The sticker price on this Kia Soul EV + model was $36,625 (only option was $125 floor mats). After the $7500 federal tax credit, you’re still a few grand off from a maxed-out gas Kia Soul, but that doesn’t account for state and local incentives. For example, there are two credits here in Maryland that would cut the price a further $4000 (found at PlugInCars.com).
One other factor is that we don’t have a garage. For one week, I was OK with leaving the charging cable outside. But longer-term, I would be concerned about it being stolen or damaged, and packing/unpacking it is way too inconvenient to do on each trip. If you have a garage, then leaving the 120v cable at home and ready to plug in is much easier and safer than without a garage. I don’t even know about people in cities who park on the street!
How much do you actually save?
Electricity prices don’t swing nearly as much as gasoline prices, so EV costs are more easily predicted at about 3.3 cents per mile. At 30mpg and $3.00/gallon gas (for premium fuel, which can easily go back up to $4), my wife’s MINI would cost 10 cents per mile. So right there, you can say the EV costs 2/3rd less in “fuel” than a gas car. For 15,000 miles a year, which is slightly more than my wife drives, that’s $1500 a year on gas versus $500 in electricity. I won’t even calculate for my truck because I know we wouldn’t replace it with an EV.
Buying an EV at this time does mean you need to invest in a charging station at home, and could mean a change to your habits (like having to plug it in each night versus stop for gas once a week). But as I’ve seen so many Tesla and Nissan Leaf EVs roaming around town (I’m in a DC suburb), I would assume that many others have found a way to make it fit to their needs.
How is the Kia Soul EV as a CAR though?
So I’ve taken most of this article to write about the EV component of the Kia Soul EV, but what about the car itself?
Much like every other Kia I’ve tested previously, you get an amazing bang for your buck in options with the Kia Soul. I had the “+” (Plus) model, which is the top spec EV model, and comes with a slew of premium features such as:
- Heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, heated and power-folding side mirrors
- Projector beam headlights, fog lights, LED rear lamps
- Navigation on a very crisp 8″ screen, which includes current speed limit and numerous options to find destinations
- Every audio option (Sirius, Pandora, MP3, Bluetooth, USB, Aux) and steering wheel controls
- Keyless entry and push-button start
- Rear view camera AND park assist with front and rear sensors
- The first grey leather interior I actually liked, with blue piped trim, although the seat edges were already showing wear with less than 2000 miles.
And the EV option throws in a programmable scheduled climate control (if it’s plugged in to a live outlet). We used this on the morning of my wife’s commute so the car was toasty warm in the 20 degree temps outside. Just set the calendar like you do the alarm on your phone, and the heating elements turn on about 30 minutes before your scheduled departure time.
I will say one “feature” I didn’t like was the lack of a spare tire. I know it’s to reduce weight and maximize space, and many other automakers are doing it, but I’d so much rather have a spare tire than a can of fix-a-flat (as a flat tire in my new truck last fall proved).
As far as the drive and comfort, the Soul’s seating position felt like driving my truck (the window sticker even classifies it as a Truck), so it was easy for me to adapt. You have good visibility all-around, but I would have liked a sunroof option to get more light into the cabin. As with all Kia cars, it seems, there was no adjustable lumbar support, but the seats were still very comfortable. The mix of soft and hard materials seemed just right, and the choice of buttons and controls was intuitive enough.
I’ve complained about other Kias that the electric steering was way too vague and unpredictable, but in Normal mode, this Soul EV seemed to be just right. There was a Sport steering mode which tightened up even more, but I chose to just keep it in Normal as I wasn’t doing “spirited” driving in the EV, mostly to conserve energy.
The ride was firm, but I think thanks to the heavy batteries positioned below and behind you, the Soul EV didn’t shake or skip over most bumps like other small cars tend to do. And Kia did an amazing job of sound insulation. Without the sound of an engine, you would tend to notice road and wind noises more in an EV. But whether driving at 20mph or 70mph, it sounded the same inside the cabin, and that’s a good thing. I did notice some clinking and knocks that sounded like powertrain components, but they went away at higher speeds. Again, it may be something that also happens on a gas car, but I don’t notice due to the engine sounds.
I’m glad Kia kept their EV as a pretty stock Soul, and not some spaceship-looking Jetsons car that most electric concepts become. I would bet that 99.9% of other drivers didn’t even notice my car was different, and probably even then only other Kia Soul drivers would notice because of the different grill (where the charging ports are) or wheels (for aerodynamics).
All in all, I can see why the Kia Soul EV is extremely popular in California, and why Kia has decided to push it out to more dealers. While I seriously doubt that EVs will replace gas vehicles anytime soon, I do think that with more infrastructure, marketing and battery improvements, electric vehicles will become very common in large cities, especially among the wealthy and hipster markets. Moving beyond those markets will be the challenge, so perhaps electric vehicles with a “gas range extender” option (like the Chevy Volt and BMW i3) will be the first step for most consumers. The Kia Soul is a practical multi-purpose people-mover, and the EV option doesn’t take away any of the charisma and character of the Kia Soul.
Kia Motors loaned me a Kia for a week, included a tank of fuel and insurance, but in no way influenced my opinion or style of writing for this review.
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