While most of the attention on electric vehicles has been on the higher-priced Tesla Model S, the big sales gains this year have come from EVs priced at the lower $20,000 to $30,000 range, with models like the Chevrolet Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, the Ford Focus Electric and the Honda Fit EV. The Nissan Leaf has been the sales leader in 2013, with about 18,078 vehicles sold as of October.
Next year, that crowd will add another model: the Kia Soul EV, a car that could compete with the Nissan Leaf head-on. To give us a hint of what’s coming, Kia invited us to Korea for a sneak peak and drive of the Soul EV prototype.
Building a pure electric vehicle is not something new to Kia. In its home country, the South Korean automaker already has had experience with the Ray EV in its fleet for about three years. The Ray is a smaller car than the Soul, with about 85 miles city range. With the Soul EV, Kia promises an electric range of 124 miles — more than any EV outside the Tesla Model S.
The Soul EV moves courtesy a 109-hp permanent magnet electric motor that’s good for 210 lb.-ft. of torque. Electricity comes from a 27-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack built into the floor, with no shrinkage in interior space compared to the gas-powered Soul. Full charge time for the Soul EV varies depending on the type of charger: a standard household 120V socket will take about 24 hours, and a 220V will require about 5 hours. For those that have access to a level 3 charger with 480V and 100 kW output, your charge time will take only 25 minutes.
The Soul EV’s battery pack tips the scale at about 620 lbs. However, Kia says the electrified Soul weighs only about 440 lbs. more than the gas-powered model’s 2,700 lbs., including additional sound-proofing material and high-tensile steel used for the chassis. The factory claims zero to 62 mph acceleration sometime under 12 seconds.
On the road, the prototype Soul EV’s rides comfortably and quiet. With no engine noise, Kia has blocked the louder-than-usual wind or road noise typically associated with electric vehicles. There are two driving modes: normal and eco. The eco mode adds more aggressive regenerative braking during deceleration so more energy can be recovered — if you can figure out the confusing system for engaging it.
In city driving around Kia’s Namyang research facility, the Soul EV has adequate pep to pass slower traffic. You don't notice the Soul's additional weight until you apply more aggressive steering input. The quickness of the steering ratio doesn’t quite match the EV’s slower-reacting heft during a sudden lane change. I’d suspect if the steering ratio can be dialed down a bit, then the car will behave more consistent with expected driver input, thus minimizing the somewhat sluggish handling behavior.
While the exterior and the interior of the Soul EV are heavily disguised during our drive, we did get a look at the potential exterior color choices for the car. To differentiate the electric from its gas-powered model, the Soul EV will have a two-tone color scheme, specifically in the roofline, in the lower bumper, grille outline and rear view mirror. The interior will have body-color matching details such as the seat stitching. At the present time, only light blue and white color combination are considered to coincide with the environmentally-friendly image, but hopefully more choices will be offered as the car reaches production.
No pricing has been announced yet on the Kia Soul EV, as the on sale date in the US is at least a year away; and no final decision has been made on whether the Soul EV will be lease only, or for purchase by the consumer, and how widely Kia will offer the car. But judging on the success of other Kia models delivering great value, performance and styling at an affordable price, the Kia Soul EV could put some electric heat on the Nissan Leaf.