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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.
Given that there are now no longer any combustion-engined versions of this Soul, it's just as well that this EV model's WLTP-rated all-electric driving range is quite lengthy - 280 miles. That's thanks to a large 64kWh battery pack that can be recharged to 80% in just an hour and a quarter, providing you've got access to a 50kW DC fast charger. If you haven't, then a 7.2kW home wallbox will re-charge a Soul EV completely in 9 hours 35 minutes (which, to give you some idea, would use around £9 of electricity at current rates). You can eke out range by using these steering wheel paddles that allow you to vary the amount of regenerative braking. And by using the many EV features provided on the centre-dash screen. The powertrain develops 201bhp and like most EVs, this one feels rapid away from rest, making 62mph in 7.6s. The suspension has been carefully worked on to try and deal with the effects of this car's rather prodigious 1,757kg kerb weight. Not enough to make this car feel anything like a satisfying steer through the bends though.
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 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.
The only version of the Soul EV available is a 'Maxx' version which comes fully loaded with equipment but costs just under £35,000 - or just over £32,000 with the government's Plug-in grant deducted. That's 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. Obviously, to get anywhere near the official quoted range figures, you'll need to be using the two most sensible of the provided driving modes - 'Eco' or, ideally, 'Eco+', both of which slightly restrict throttle travel and climate system performance, the latter, majorly so. You'll need to maximise brake regeneration using the steering wheel paddles. And you'll also want to keep an eye on the drive indicator to the left of the instrument binnacle screen, staying in the lower blue 'Charge' zone and out of the upper white 'Power' section. The central part of the instrument binnacle display offers a selectable 'Energy Flow' monitor and a 'Driving Style' read-out which rates your driving in % terms in 'economical', 'normal' and 'dynamic' categories. You'll want to know that this Soul EV's charging times stack up to segment standards. Pretty well as it turns out. It's possible to replenish this model's lithium-ion cells with a charge of up to 80% in just an hour and a quarter, providing you've got access to a 50kW DC fast charger. If you haven't, then a 7.2kW home wallbox will re-charge a Soul EV completely in 9 hours 35 minutes (which, to give you some idea, would use around £9 of electricity at current rates). If you're somewhere with only a normal 3-pin plug 220V AC power supply to connect into, it'll take a yawning 31 hours to top the car up completely. If you can find a fast-charging 100kW charging station, the battery can reach 80% of charge in only 54 minutes.
Car manufacturers are now getting a lot smarter when it comes to developing electric vehicles, something ably demonstrated by this Soul EV. Range anxiety used to be a sensible reason for not buying a full-battery-powered model 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 quite a lot 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 ID.3, you'd get an arguably classier interior. In a Nissan LEAF, you'd get more rear seat passenger space. But you'd have to be looking at the very priciest versions of both these cars to match the driving range this Soul EV can offer. And neither is quite as trendy to look at as a Soul, though of course, that's a matter of opinion. One thing's for sure: if you're serious about EV motoring, this car's a serious contender.