(Pocket-lint) - The Kia Soul EV was launched in 2014 as one of the first pure electric cars on the road. It's unique in a number of ways, not least because it made an electric vehicle (EV) out of an existing model of car.
It's also a crossover or SUV (in the loosest sense of the word), which is perhaps more interesting - as few EVs have yet to touch this sector. There's the Tesla Model X (which is twice the price in its cheapest guise), and there's the incoming Jaguar I-Pace (which is also twice the price).
That leaves the slightly smaller and altogether less SUV-like BMW i3 as potentially the biggest current competitor in the pure electric market. So how does the Soul EV fare?
Tonka design, but some might not take to its charms
While many new EVs talk about being designed for aerodynamic efficiency, we suspect that the Soul was designed for visibility on the road and having a lofty interior. Those things that appeal to the SUV car buying public apply equally to this EV.
In many ways you could see the Soul EV as a squared-off Nissan Qashqai: it's about the same sort of size, designed for the same sort of people, and likely to inhabit the same sort of places. And hey, it's even available in a similar blue colour.
The Kia Soul EV, while pitched as a clean urban mover, feels like a suburban school runner; a class of car we've just invented for this review and fully served by that aforementioned Nissan.
But in a straw poll we conducted, just about everyone we asked about this Kia offered a different opinion on its looks. We think it's distinctive, with playful Tonka truck appeal, but accept that it's a little whacky. It's not as whacky as a Toyota Prius, though, and we'd encourage EV buyers to get in and drive - because we're sure that those on the fence will fall for this Kia.
Colour options are few, however, and with only the one trim level, there's little you can do to customise the look of this car to make it uniquely yours - but that said, it's an EV, and that's probably unique enough in the current climate.
Space, practicality and comfort
One of the reasons we've fallen for the Soul EV's charms is because the interior is a nice place to be. The seating position makes you feel like the king of the road - not only through smugness as you silently drift past those NOx-spewing four-pot diesels - but because the visibility is excellent.
The high roof line means there's a spacious interior whether you're in the front or the back. There's ample leg room too, so it's a comfortable place to be a passenger.
While the boot isn't huge - it's 281 litres - the boot lid is and the rear seats fold for a large space that's easy to access. Want to take your old washing machine to the community recycling centre? No problemo. In this sense, the Soul EV offers the SUV appeal that few other pure electric cars currently do.
A sense of tranquillity pervades as there's no engine noise; at low speeds this car is almost silent, with tyre noise coming in as you approach 30 miles per hour. When you're doing 70mph on the motorway there's more wind noise, but generally it's a very peaceful place to be.
Kia's eco message extends beyond zero tailpipe emissions to the interior too. There are no leather seats here (an option on the normal Soul), but the fabrics and plastics are more environmentally friendly than many. While the cloth coverings might not clean up as well as leather when sullied by children, the use of plastics on the doors and seat backs makes it easy to wipe clean. Faux leather adorns touchpoints like arm rests and the steering wheel, so there's no need to worry about which trim level to select, because there's only the one.
Lots of technology toys
Having one trim level might not sound like an advantage, but like many other electric cars, the Kia Soul EV is equipped to a high specification. A glance at the price and you'd expect a lot of kit too, as this car comes in at around £25k once you've taken off the UK government grant.
There's a digital driver's display rather than analogue dials, but sadly these are rather static - with only a small central area that you can change via settings. There's no threat to Audi's Virtual Cockpit here and the central section, by recent standards, could be a little more dynamic. There's no satnav guidance crossover, for example.
But at the same time, the Soul EV's 8-inch central display is also standard and comes with touch and button controls. Part of the reason there are few options is that many of the features you practically need. Satnav is standard, because efficiency is important and locations of charging stations are included on the map. This information is useful, although our review car didn't have all stations on it - local knowledge wins and we suspect that will often be the case. However, you can plot routes with your range indicated on the map, with a warning to tell you that you won't make it and the option to include a charging stop on the way.
Whether you'll be able to connect, have the right subscription or be signed up to the UK's rather fragmented electric charging network is a different question.
Cruise control is included as is a speed limiter, but this Kia doesn't have an autonomous driving features. It's just a little too old for that and Nissan's new Leaf will serve you better if that's something you want.
Other convenience features are also included. Parking sensors and a rear parking camera, heated front seats and steering wheel, climate control with the option to have this as "driver only" with a press of a button - aiming to make it more efficient. With that in mind the climate control system has a heat pump that can recycle previously heated or cooled air, and the system can be set to pre-condition the car while it's still connected to the charger, to avoid battery drain.
Kia Soul EV range and battery charging
Starting at the beginning, the Kia Soul EV has a 27kWh battery. The official stats say that'll deliver 155 miles combined, but that's a little unrealistic; with a 100 per cent charge the car claimed to offer 105 miles, which seemed about right in our tests. You can safely head out the door expecting in excess of 100 miles range, which will serve most suburban households for the majority of daily driving.
There's an 81.4kW motor and a single gear, with plenty of torque delivered for off-the-line speed, giving you that nippy and fun electric drive that people are starting to rave about. The 0-62mph time is 11 seconds, so it's more SUV than hot hatch, but in the sort of suburban driving we'd expect this car to be doing, speed rarely matters and there's no problem setting the pace of traffic.
There are two charging connections on the front of the car and two cables in the boot. One of the connections is for the rapid charging CHAdeMO type that you might find on the motorways in the UK (there is a fixed cable on these DC chargers). The smaller connection is for the supplied cable, the type 2 connector, for AC chargers - as you'll find in a lot of supermarkets or on your home rapid charger.
One of the cables is for standard mains charging with a three-pin plug, so without any special provision you can charge from any domestic power supply. On connection the blue lights on the dash start to flash (visible through the windscreen when you plug in), and the charging rate depends on the charger you're connected to - on one of those rapid DC chargers you'll get up to 80 per cent in 33 minutes; on a 6.6kW AC fast charger (like in a supermarket) it will take you four to five hours to charge to 100 per cent; on a standard plug it takes 11-14 hours.
In modern terms the Kia Soul EV range is a little short. Recent updates to BMW and Nissan have brought gains, while Hyundai's Ioniq also betters the Kia. There are rumours about a future battery increase to a 30kWh, but this remains unconfirmed. However, the real consideration is whether the range fits your needs and whether you can easily charge it at home.
The cost of the electricity will depend on how and where you choose to charge it, most likely your domestic tariff, which is where most EV owners charger their vehicles. In that sense, a standard external plug socket and off street parking are desirable to take advantage of off-peak overnight slow charging.
Drive, ride and handling
There are two driving modes on the Kia Soul EV: standard drive (D) or brake (B), both of which can be combined with the eco button.
For the sportiest drive (and the most power hungry) you disable eco and engage D mode, which means no regenerative braking, so the car will coast. Engage eco and the throttle is slightly more reserved in response - but it still remains fun to drive.
In brake mode you get more aggressive brake regeneration, so as soon as you lift off the pedal, the car will slow, recouping power from the car's kinetic energy. B mode with eco on is aggressive enough to mean you rarely need to use the friction brakes - which just loses energy through heat so is generally undesirable in efficient EV driving.
We found it perfectly fun to drive in B and we can't really see why you'd need the regular D once you're accustomed to the car - it essentially gives you one-pedal driving. However, unlike the new Nissan Leaf, the Kia won't come to a complete stop without a dab on the brakes.
There are also steering modes to change the weight of the Soul EV's steering. The default is light and assisted, which makes tight manoeuvres a breeze and generally that's the feeling of the whole car - light and breezy, despite the size.
We also enjoy the ride. It avoids the recent trend to tighten up suspension for a sporty feel, and as such there's a playful bounce. While petrol heads might scoff, it does a good job of eating potholes and softening inevitable speed bumps and, let's face it, this isn't a car designed for screaming around hairpin bends, so it's all the better for it.
The Kia Soul EV is well suited to the sort of tasks for which it's designed. Great visibility means it won't get lost on SUV-dominated roads, while the tranquility and space of the interior brings a sense of peace and calm.
With few SUV choices that are pure electric, the Kia Soul EV is a pretty rare thing. What buyers might not like is that it's a little expensive compared to the petrol and diesel models. Therein lies the problem with turning an existing car into an electric car - a direct point of comparison. Including the £4,500 PICG UK government grant you'll be looking at spending £25,995, which is more expensive than the top-spec version of this car with a combustion engine. But you do get Kia's 7-year, 100,000 mile warranty and that includes the battery here, which is something to consider when sizing up the rivals.
In relative terms the Soul EV's range is a little short for a 2018 release, so if you have range anxiety then you can get more from rivals - but if you're a serious buyer we'd urge you to test drive the Kia Soul EV, because you might just fall for its Tonka truck charms.
Alternatives to consider
The Nissan Leaf is the poster boy of electric cars and in its 2018 guise, it's better than ever. It's a hatchback design, so can't compete with the Soul Ev for interior space or ride height, but it offers a longer range, a degree of autonomous driving, a fancy new design and loads of tech. It's a little more expensive, but you're getting a second-gen car and feels a mite more advanced than Kia's offering.
Offering ride height, range and futuristic design, the BMW i3 remains a strong choice. Although launched around the same time as the Soul EV (and subsequently updated), the BMW i3 is one of the most visible EVs you'll see on the UK's roads. It offers more choice, the design is likely to be more universally appealing and it's great to drive. You will pay a little more for it and it's not quite as spacious inside.