One in an occasional series reviewing consumer vehicles that are powered by water, natural gas, electricity, hybrid motors, high-efficiency gasoline engines or some other alternative source.
What blew me away most about my week-long test drive of the all-electric 2015 Kia Soul EV was despite the boxy exterior, booming sound system and man-size hamster ads that scream BOOMPF-BOOMPF-BOOMPF, DOOIT-DOOIT-DOOIT, what stood out most was the quiet, ultra-smooth ride.
Surely those young 'uns stopped alongside me at red lights thinking to themselves “mid-life crisis … sad” had no idea that my blue-and-white charmer drove like grandma's Buick LaCrosse.
Indeed, at around 35 grand with all the bells and whistles and mad beats on my test model, this Kia Soul EV had me re-thinking my looming personal strategy of going as cheaply as possible just to get into an electric, and then trade up as time (and main battery life) march on.
Besides the smooth ride, it delivers impressive power when you need it, like getting on the freeway or passing grandma in her Buick LaCrosse. Being winter in Southern California, there was no need to deploy the heat for the heated front seats, but with their leather trim they were quite comfortable. Rear-view mirror visibility, which has been an issue for me with other EVs and tiny cars, was no problem in this Korean version.
Then there were those aforementioned bells, whistles and yes, mad beats, yo. The electronically powered air conditioner had the cabin cool in a snap, something vital since it was winter in SoCal. (Pass the sunscreen.) What really had me styling was the smart key you keep in your pocket and the power-folding outside side mirrors. There's a setting that allows the mirrors to fold inward when the car is off and then they electronically fold out when you unlock it. (The mirrors are also said to be heated and have turn-signal indicators, but I didn't feel/see to confirm.)
The car makes a little blip sound as you (and only you) approach with the key in your pocket, purse or murse. You can take the key fob out and press unlock or simply push a little black button on the door handle to do the same. With the key still in pocket, you (and only you) can then press the car start button inside the cabin. The engine barely makes a noise; it's better to check the gauge behind the steering wheel to see that it's indeed running.
A large screen in the center console allows for viewing the navigation system, SIRIUSXM satellite radio settings or a split screen of both. Of course, when you shift your EV into reverse, the same screen is filled with the rear-camera image. This came in especially handy on a dark side street off PCH in Laguna Beach, where a mom and dad carrying little ones decided to walk right into my reverse path as I started to back up. I was able to watch them amble off to safety.
You'll notice little holes around the front and back bumpers, which provide another safety feature: little sensors to alert you with a noise inside if you are getting too close to an object or vice versa. This got a little annoying while backing out of my car lot of a driveway but was welcome when a lane-changer on the freeway forgot to signal. All things considered, I'd rather put up with the annoyance.
Two features I neglected to test were the Bluetooth wireless system and the USB jack, but given the rest of the machine I suspect they are easy to figure out and operate. What did have me fumbling for the owner's manual was the home-charging system, but that's only because so much time passed between the friendly fellow dropping off the Kia Soul EV and my having to juice it up that I forgot how to open the charging port door.
First, let's pause to reflect upon that: Fully charged the 2015 Kia Soul EV will take you 80-100 miles (although steep hills and that A/C can drain the battery faster). I drove the thing for a week, taking it to and from work, to the beach and on joy rides to test it out and it was not until near the end of the gig that I felt the need to charge it because I wanted to make sure that friendly fellow would have enough battery life to get it home.
Charging was a snap. You have three options, including what I did: Plug the on-board charger that has its own cubby under the trunk area into a standard, 120-volt, household electrical outlet. You pull a latch near the steering wheel to open a panel above the front bumper that has two ports, one for standard charges and another for quick charging. If the battery had been completely spent (it wasn't), it would have taken 22-24 hours to fully charge the standard way, according to the manual.
You can also use a 220-volt commercial charger or buy your own to install at home and get up to 100 percent in four to six hours. Or, you can go to one of the many quick-charge stations popping up in SoCal and be on your way in half an hour or less. For reasons I'll go into in my next EV review, I have discovered there are several quick-charge facilities nearby (but, knock on faux wood paneling, have yet to use one).
The home charger at least alerts you with red/green lights when it is working and has reached full charge. But the Kia Soul EV also has a flat, circular section on the dashboard with three space-age blue lights. One means it is charging, two means it's surpassed 66 percent power and three indicates a full charge. Must've freaked out the neighbors when the sun went down.
It feels as if there must be something I can knock about this vehicle, but I just can't come up with anything. OK, it's not a Tesla, Richie Rich, but with the Kia Soul EV I have not got so many comments from strangers about how good a vehicle I am driving looks since my boss won my old Caddy Eldo convertible away from me in a poker game. Maybe I need more than a week with it to find faults. (Hello … Kia America in Irvine?) At this rate I might even start hitting the clubs with those hipster hamsters.
According to Kia: * 109 HP * 210 pound-feet of torque * 0 to 62 MPH in less than 12 seconds * Top speed of 90 MPH
Mechanical 27kWh Lithium Ion Polymer Battery 109hp (81.4kW) AC Synchronous Electric Motor 6.6 kW On-Board Charger (OBC) OC Fast Charge Port (480V) Regenerative Braking System 18″ Alloy Wheels
Safety Dual Front Advanced Airbags Dual Front Seat-Mounted Side Air Bags Full-Length Side Curtain Airbags Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) Brake Assist System (BAS) Electronic Stability Control (ESC) Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)
Interior, Comfort & Convenience Electronically Powered A/C and Heat Pump HVAC Navigation System with w/8″ Display & UVO EV Services SIRIUSXM Satellite Radio with free 3 month subscription* USB and Auxiliary Input Jacks Bluetooth Wireless Technology EV Charge Station Locator (5-year Data Source Supply) Energy Usage Monitor Leather Seat Trim Heated and Ventilated Front Seats 60/40 Split Folding Rear Seats Push Button Start with Smart Key Tilt and Telescopic Steering Column Park Assist System with Front and Rear Sensors 3.5″ OLED Supervision Cluster Rear Camera Display
Exterior Front Fog Lights Sliding Charge Port Door with Light Heated Pwr-Folding Mirrors with Turn Signal Indicator
Warranty 10 Year/100,000 Mile Limited Powertrain Warranty 10 Year/100,000 Mile Limited Battery Warranty 5 Year/50,000 Mile Limited Basic Warranty 5 Year/50,000 Mile Roadside Assistance
* Ask dealer for details
Additional Installed Equipment (in addition to or in place of standard features) Carpeted floor mats
MSRP including options: $35,825
Fuel Economy: 105 MPGe
Annual Fuel Cost: $600 You save $8,000 in fuel costs over 5 years compared to average new vehicle.
Fuel economy and greenhouse gas rating (0-10): 10 Smog rating (0-10): 10
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.