We've been driving around London in the continent's first electric sports utility vehicle, the Kia Soul EV. Despite having our reservations on initially seeing the unique shape of the car we were soon impressed.
Even if this wasn't attractive because it's an electric car it’s also crammed with enough tech and modern car innards to keep us happy for very long drives indeed. Being full electric this car is of course limited, but not by enough to stop this being the ideal city run around.
Build and design
The SUV part of the Soul EV makes it a little larger in height than the average small car. The result is a rather box-like appearance on the outside which translates to a Tardis like interior with plenty of leg and head room wherever you sit. And when you take a closer look the aerodynamic design really begins to grow on you, this is essentially a big car crammed into an eco-friendly body.
In the driver's seat we were immediately shocked by how much kit is crammed into the car, considering the price and need to save battery power. From heated seats and steering wheel to individual seat climate control and an 8-inch touchscreen system with sat nav and reversing camera as standard. And that's not even mentioning the myriad controls on and around the steering wheel itself, including cruise control. There's certainly no feeling of making a sacrifice in mod-cons when going electric with the Soul EV.
The car comes in metallic Caribbean Blue with White Roof, which we drove, and a Titanium Silver also with metallic paint. Our car featured grey seats with the same blue colour from the body being used in the thread, a nice detail which, accompanied with the leather trim and blue lit door speakers made for a premium feel.
The 18-inch alloys are lightweight and sporting ultra low-resistant rolling tyres with improved aerodynamics to help save energy. The result looks a little plastic but if it's going to give you extra miles for the charge it's probably worth it.
Range and charging
The big question on our minds was range. To that end we made sure to drive as fast and as abruptly as possible on our two hours with the car in London. Despite using the sat nav, heating in car on wheel and in seat, lights on and pedal to the floor wherever the traffic would permit we only drained 12 miles battery on what the trip said was an actual 15 mile round trip. That'll be the regenerative braking then.
The dials are all digital and cleverly display zones so you know how hard you're pushing the battery. Eco sits in the middle with Power at the top end and Charge at the bottom. Whenever you're rolling downhill or braking you can see the car recharging the battery.
Even climate control has been designed to enhance energy efficiency with individual climate zone controls. The system uses thermodynamic fluid compression meaning it can make the car cool or warm using the same lower power method. The charger can also be set to heat or cool the car ready for you in the morning so it doesn't waste battery when you pull away.
While we'd love to believe the readout was accurate and we really had a further 83 miles in the car, it started on 95 miles despite saying it was 100 per cent charged. Kia claims the car can manage 130 miles on a full charge.
The difference is care. If we weren't driving like a 17-year-old in his first car and turned on Eco Mode we would have likely used even less juice. With Eco Mode turned on we could feel the car braking more powerfully every time the accelerator was let up, charging the car more urgently. There was also far less pull even when planting the accelerator on the floor.
When it comes to charging the Kia has every option covered. The front of the car features a cover that opens to reveal two charger ports, one for AC at 2.3KW for a 10-14 hour full charge or at 6.6KW using the included wall box for full power in under 5 hours. The other is DC which is capable of up to 100KW for an 80 per cent charge in 25 minutes, but with the UK fast chargers at 50KW it'll take you nearer to 33 minutes.
Kia claims this lithium polymer battery is the most energy dense available at 200KW/kg. Kia has spent plenty on enhancing the battery so that it'll deliver the best power, recharge efficiently and have a long lifetime. Since this is the show car for all its future electric vehicles it's out to impress.
Power and handling
Thanks to the instant torque delivery of the electric drive system when you put your foot down on the automatic geared car it throws you forward with all 285Nm at once. There's a lull then, at what would be second gear, it pulls again. The 109bhp equivalent power was enough to spin the wheels when pulling away in the damp for us.
Kia says the Soul EV has a 0-60mph time of 10.8 seconds which seemed about right, but plenty of that is in the lower end with the 45-60mph taking a little longer - as you'd want for mainly city driving. The car tops out at 90mph, not that we were able to test that in busy London streets.
This power is particularly useful in the city, where this limited range EV is right at home. We found ourselves able to nip ahead at the traffic lights and able to dart ahead of a truck on an A-road before coming off thanks to the power of the Soul EV. Unless you're looking for sports car power you can't ask for much more than this offers, especially considering you're getting it without paying for petrol.
We couldn't really test the handling too much in London traffic but managed to throw it into a few roundabouts and it held firm. This was pretty surprising considering how smooth the ride was generally, absorbing speed bumps and manhole dips with ease. It's probably a lot to do with the batteries being mounted in the floor of the car to keep weight distribution even.
The Kia Soul EV is also a very quiet car. This is thanks to special materials used in the hood and firewall of the car that actively cancel out the high pitch electric engine noise. Also, since there's no need to let air into the engine to cool it, the front is sealed well for aerodynamics which results in a near silent interior.
At £24,995 which includes the government's £5,000 grant, this is not a cheap car. But when you consider it has everything most people could want in a car outside of a sports car and it doesn't cost you in tax or fuel, that price starts to sound more reasonable.
For those that can afford the outlay it's a great investment. Although the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe are cheaper and have proven tech that's been around longer. That said they're not SUVs, with the size of the Soul EV, and don't have all the mod cons or same battery tech as Kia is offering here.
If you like the look of the Kia Soul EV, want to go electric and don't mind the initial cost you'll be happy with this car.