The third generation Kia Soul is entirely wedded to battery power. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
The Kia Soul now comes only in all-electric form, so it's just as well that this brand's EV technology has hugely improved. To the point where almost anyone ought to be able to consider it. If you've been waiting for the right moment to join the battery-powered automotive revolution, that time may just have arrived.
You might think that the full-electric car market could be pretty much divided into a couple of kinds of contender. There are relatively affordable ones, like the Nissan LEAF, developed steadily to the point where its lithium-ion batteries can offer up to around 180 miles on a good day. Or for around twice the money, buyers can graduate to the more sophisticated battery technology that luxury models use - cars like the Jaguar I-PACE, the Audi e-tron, the Mercedes EQC and various Teslas. With these, a driving range of around 300 miles or more is the norm. That used to be a reasonable EV buying perspective. But in 2018, the Hyundai/Kia conglomerate turned up on the market with three EV models offering the kind of range you'd get in a luxury EV for the kind of price you'd pay for a more affordable one; namely the Hyundai Kona Electric, the Kia e-Niro and the car we look at here, the Kia Soul EV.
The Soul is now only offered in our market with all-electric power, so it's just as well that the driving range of this EV variant is considerably lengthier than the previous generation model could offer. It's up from 132 to 280 miles, which should bring this car into play with a much wider cross-selection of buyers. It shares all its engineering with its Korean cousins, Kia's e-Niro and Hyundai's Kona Electric. A lesser 39.2kWh variant is available in other markets but we're only going to be offered the more powerful 64kWh model with 201bhp, which has virtually identical performance to an e-Niro, making 62mph from rest in 7.9s en route to 103mph. The suspension has been carefully worked on to try and deal with the effects of this car's rather prodigious 1682kg kerb weight. And, as with the e-Niro, the most impressive aspect of this Soul's powertrain lies with its adjustability. Thanks to the provision of four different driving modes (ranging from Eco+ to Sport) and the ability to change the amount of regenerative charging the car develops under braking. This set-up can be controlled through steering column-mounted paddle shifters, and once you've adjusted to it, it's straightforward to use.
If you happened to like previous versions of the Soul, you'd probably recognise this third generation model, which adds a more modern feel with a front end shaped by narrow lights and a trapezoidal grille. The rear now features an LED light strip that wraps almost all the way around the rear screen. It's intended to be distinctive and needs to be to mask the boxy shape which is bigger this time round. This MK3 model measures in at 4,195mm, 55mm more than its predecessor. It's also 1,605mm high and 1,800mm wide and has a 2,600mm wheelbase that's 30mm lengthier than before. That's not enough to enable this Kia to offer more luggage space than its EV cousin, the Kia e-Niro (315-litres as opposed to 451-litres), but the Soul has a nicer cabin and its higher roofline makes the interior seem much airier. There's also plenty of tech, with the latest 10.3-inch version of the brand's centre-dash touchscreen and a head-up display. One particularly nice touch is the provided button that enables you to control heat or chill only the driver's portion of the cabin if you're one-up and need to maximise range.
At present, the only version of the Soul EV available is a 'First Edition' version which comes fully loaded with extra equipment but costs just over £37,000 - or just under £34,000 with the government's Plug-in grant deducted. Once more standard variants become available, expect to be paying a very similar to the amount of money to that you'd have to find for Kia's mechanically-identical e-Niro and Hyundai's equally similar Kona Electric. And it's probably not that much different to the uprated version of the Nissan LEAF that you'd have to buy if you wanted to match this Soul EV's driving range. You also get plenty of safety tech, including a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and blind spot monitoring. There are plenty of EV rivals in this part of the market, but most of them are unable to match this Soul's driving range. For a little less, there's Renault's ZOE, a Volkswagen e-Golf and a Hyundai IONIQ electric. A Nissan LEAF would cost quite a lot less too in its volume form, but you'd actually need that car in its uprated 62kWh 'e+' guise to match this Kia's driving range - a variant that costs around the same as a Soul EV. BMW's i3 costs significantly more.
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. So let's see. We've already mentioned the 280 mile WLTP-rated driving range. If you're out and about and are able to use a 50kW charger, 80% of that range can be replenished in 75 minutes. Most of the time though, you'll be charging this Kia overnight using a 7kW wallbox that you'll have to pay a little extra to get installed in your garage. You can revive the cells from empty in this way in around 9.5 hours (which would use around £9 of electricity at current rates) There's a lot of clever engineering in play here. Take the various features designed to maximise the battery pack which include cooling and heating the 64kW battery with liquid rather than air. An in-built heat pump recovers waste heat from the coolant, while driving modes that include Eco and Eco Plus are there to assist you, as do four levels of brake regeneration, these altered via paddle shifts as with Kia's e-Niro. The infotainment screen syncs with a clever Kia app that allows owners to check on battery charge, set charging times and control the climate system remotely.
Car manufacturers are now getting a lot smarter when it comes to developing electric vehicles and the Kia Soul EV ably demonstrates this. Range anxiety used to be a sensible reason for not buying a full-electric vehicle but these days, that's becoming less of a credible excuse. For the majority of people, the 280 mile range figure offered here will be quite sufficient. And though this Soul still costs more than you'd have to pay for an average family hatch to buy, you'd quickly start making the premium back in day-to-day use. In a Volkswagen e-Golf, you'd get a classier interior. In a Nissan LEAF, you'd get more rear seat passenger space. But both those cars are completely trounced by the driving range this Soul EV can offer. If you're serious about EV motoring, it's a serious contender.