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The new Kia Soul EV

11th November 2014 Print
Kia Soul EV

With the arrival today of the Soul EV, Kia becomes one of only a handful of auto manufacturers offering a battery-electric car for sale in the UK. There is just one highly equipped model, priced at £24,995 after the government’s £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant.

The Soul EV is the result of almost 30 years of research and development by Kia into the feasibility of electric cars. Now, with battery technology having reached a mature stage and emissions-based taxation providing an incentive for consumers to ‘go electric’, the time is right for the Soul EV.

All those years of research have endowed the Soul EV with a range of up to 132 miles (212 kilometres) on a single charge. Kia and SK Innovation, a division of Korea’s largest petro-chemicals company, have developed innovative lithium-ion polymer batteries with a greater energy density – 200 Watt-hours per kilogram of weight – than those in any comparable model. A heating and cooling system keeps them at an optimum 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 compared with the combustion-engined version; and super-low-rolling-resistance tyres, which can reduce energy consumption by as much as ten per cent over regular low-rolling-resistance tyres.     

Batteries mounted beneath the car

The Soul EV’s batteries have an energy storage capacity of 27 kilowatt-hours – more than its competitors. They are mounted beneath the car in a special casing which protects them from stone or gravel damage and spray thrown up by the wheels. 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 from a standard domestic socket, via the Kia-branded wallbox supplied as standard with the Soul EV or at 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 at a public fast-charge point, the time is 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.

Fun to drive

The Soul EV has a fun-to-drive character. Its electric motor 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 is designed to operate. It is also extremely smooth and silent – 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 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. 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, is standard.

Whenever the driver coasts or brakes, kinetic energy (energy caused by motion), which is normally wasted, is captured and channeled 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.           

A spacious, stylish interior with a unique twist

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 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 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 both charging cables. 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 Soul EV’s interior.    

The Soul EV in the UK

The Soul EV is 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 the wallbox charger and 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 between 100 and 200 Soul EVs in the first year of sales in UK, with supply from the factory in Korea extremely limited. It is available from a network of 13 specially trained UK dealers, two of which are located within the M25. Apart from qualifying for the UK Government’s Plug-in Car Grant, it is currently exempt from UK road tax (VED), company car tax (BIK) and the London Congestion Charge. Insurance is group 19.

Warranty and Servicing

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 years, at a cost of just £199. Like the warranty, this can be transferred to any subsequent owner should the car be sold before the expiry date.

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