With the arrival of the Soul EV, Kia becomes one of a mere handful of auto manufacturers offering a battery-electric car for sale. The Soul EV is the result of almost 30 years of research and development by Kia into electric powertrains. This painstaking, patient approach – and in particular the decision to delay full commercial introduction of an EV until battery technology had reached a mature stage – means the Soul EV has a class-leading range of up to 132 miles (212 kilometres) on a single charge.
The Soul EV’s lithium-ion polymer batteries, developed by engineers from Kia and SK Innovation of Korea, are arguably the most advanced in any electric vehicle currently on sale. The result of a three-year development programme, they have a greater energy density – 200 Watt-hours per kilogram of weight – than those in any competitor, and benefit from a heating and cooling system to keep them at an ideal operating temperature, which helps to extend the Soul EV’s range.
Further contributions to the class-leading range include the nickel-rich material used for the cathodes (the terminals from which the electric current leaves the batteries); regenerative braking, which tops up the batteries when coasting or slowing down; a unique air conditioning system which can be set to heat or cool only one side of the car when the driver is travelling alone; additional aerodynamic features beneath the car; and super-low-rolling-resistance tyres, which can reduce energy consumption by as much as ten per cent compared with regular low-rolling-resistance tyres.
The batteries are mounted beneath the car in a special casing which protects them from stone or gravel damage and spray thrown up by the wheels. In this location they are easier to reach should any maintenance be required. The ducts to heat and cool them are located beneath the rear passenger seats.
The remainder of the electric drive components are mounted beneath the bonnet, where the internal combustion engine would normally be located. Because an electric motor requires less cooling than a petrol or diesel engine, the front of the Soul EV has been blanked off where the radiator grille would normally be found. This brings aerodynamic benefits.
The charging ports are hidden behind a panel in this blanked-off section. Owners have the option of recharging the batteries through a standard domestic socket, via the Kia-branded wallbox supplied as standard with the Soul EV or through a public fast charger, or through a public rapid charger. Using a UK 230-volt domestic power supply, the Soul EV can be fully recharged in 10 to 13 hours. With the wallbox or a public fast-charge point, the time can be 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.
The Soul EV’s batteries have an energy storage capacity of 27 kilowatt-hours – more than its competitors. Energy density – the relationship between energy storage capacity and battery weight and size – is also class-leading at 200 watt-hours per kilogram.
The electric motor which drives the car 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 was designed to operate. It is also extremely smooth and is 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, which is more than adequate for city driving and commuting, 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.
The underfloor location of the batteries and the reduced weight beneath the bonnet compared with a combustion-engined Soul have lowered the centre of gravity and shifted the weight bias further to the rear, endowing the EV with a distinctive fun-to-drive character. The Soul EV has bespoke suspension tuning to take into account its 274.5kg battery system. The car features Kia’s Motor Driven Power Steering system with Flex Steer, the variable-assistance function which allows drivers to adjust the degree of assistance according to preference and where the car is being driven. For parking or manoeuvring in narrow town streets the Comfort setting offers increased assistance, while for highway driving at faster speeds, Sport mode reduces the amount of help to maximise feedback and stability. There is also an intermediate Normal setting.
Whenever the driver coasts or brakes, kinetic energy (energy caused by motion), which is normally dissipated as heat, is captured and channelled into the batteries through the regenerative braking system. The Soul EV’s range is therefore constantly being topped up on the move, particularly in urban traffic where stops and restarts are frequent.
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. A 3.5-inch OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) information cluster monitors the driver’s energy efficiency and displays the energy flow, battery level, charging time and the selected settings for the air conditioning system.
The Soul EV has an intelligent heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system which includes a Heat Pump to recycle air that has already been heated or cooled within the cabin. The HVAC system permits only enough fresh air to be added to maintain the driver’s desired temperature and humidity. The air conditioning system can be programmed to pre-heat or pre-cool the cabin while the car is still plugged into a charger to minimise drain on the battery once the driver sets off.
Kia’s goals with the Soul EV were not only that it should have a class-leading range, but that it should remain as close to the combustion-engined versions as possible. This allows it to be built on the same production line as them at the Gwangju plant in Korea, minimising manufacturing complexity and cost, which in turn makes it more affordable.
Outwardly, the only obvious differences between the Soul EV and the models powered by internal combustion engines are the front end devoid of a radiator grille, the absence of a fuel filler flap and the unique rear light clusters. Fresh, funky, original and bold, the Soul EV – like its combustion-engined counterparts – has its roots in the Track’ster concept from the 2012 Chicago Auto Show. The design team, led by Tom Kearns, Chief Designer at the company’s California studios, adopted as many elements of the Track’ster concept as are feasible for a production car.
The Soul EV has the same proportions and dimensions as the combustion-engined versions, with an upright stance, square shoulders and distinctive bumper flares. The structural changes that have been made to accommodate the battery pack are hidden out of view, beneath the floor.
It was a major challenge for Kia’s designers and engineers to reshape the floor without affecting passenger space and versatility. The only impact is an 80mm reduction in rear-seat legroom, for which Kia has compensated by changing the materials used for the rear-seat construction. The Soul EV, like any other Soul, is therefore a compact but spacious five-seat crossover with a large boot accessed through a wide-opening, high-lift tailgate. Luggage capacity is 281 litres – a reduction of 31 litres compared with other versions of the Soul because the luggage undertray is used to house the charging adapter cable in its stylish, Kia-branded pouch. With the 60:40 split rear seats lowered, luggage capacity is 891 litres. A tyre inflation kit is provided in case of a puncture.
In keeping with its environmentally friendly powertrain, the Soul EV’s cabin is trimmed in ‘green’ materials wherever possible. This has led to the car being awarded UL Environment Validation for using bio-based organic carbon content for 10 per cent of its interior trim. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a global independent safety science company. Bio-degradable plastic, bio-foam and bio-fabric are all used in the construction of the Soul EV’s interior.
Kia will offer just one comprehensively equipped version of the Soul EV in the UK, available in a choice of two colour schemes – Caribbean Blue metallic with a Clear White roof, or Titanium Silver metallic. The interior upholstery in both cases is Grey Eco cloth with blue stitching, while the fascia panel, door inserts and gear selector are finished in High-gloss White. The instrument cluster housing, door inserts, steering wheel and gearshifter are trimmed in leather.
Standard EV features include an eight-inch touch-screen with European mapping, traffic messaging channel, reversing camera and charging point locator; automatic air conditioning with the driver-only function; 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 the Heat Pump system. The car is also supplied with a wallbox charger and features 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, LED rear combination and high-mounted brake lights, 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.
Kia expects to sell around 100 Soul EVs per year in the UK – more than any other European country apart from Norway (1,030) and France (300). Supply from the factory in Korea will be extremely limited, with total production restricted to around 5,000 per year. It is available from a network of 13 specially trained UK dealers, two of which are located in London. The Soul EV qualifies for the UK Government’s Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) of £5,000 and is currently exempt form UK road tax (VED), company car tax (BIK) and the London Congestion Charge. Insurance is group 19.
In common with all Kias, the Soul EV is covered by Kia’s seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which includes all labour and parts except those subject to normal wear and tear. The warranty is transferable if the car is sold before the time/mileage limit expires.
It is available with Kia’s Care-3 servicing package, which covers the cost of all routine maintenance – including parts and labour – for three or five years. Like the warranty, this can be transferred to any subsequent owner should the car be sold before the expiry date.