Amazingly, this is the third generation of the ground-breaking Kia Soul, which was in the vanguard of all-electric motorcars in 2014, writes Iain Robertson, and which has been writing the rule book for EVs ever since, growing its driving range from 93 to a more beneficial 243 miles.
Kia is the South Korean carmaker that is playing a clear role as a market disrupter. While its model gestation period is an industry norm of six years, during which time a broad range of modifications will be introduced, the company is not averse to breaking those rules by working to a clever Kaizen pattern of continuous improvement. In other words, if it believes that an improvement, or enhancement, can be introduced before a notional three years’ mid-life marker is reached, it will execute it, without ceremony.
The company has committed to a future in electric vehicles, as evinced by its recent reworkings of not just the Optima but also Niro models, although it is being very careful to ensure that it does not place all of its eggs in one politically motivated, production basket. As a result, plug-in petrol-electric hybrids and regular fossil-fuelled models form its product line-up, as it hedges its bets on all fuel types. In some respects this can be perceived as offering the consumer a better, broader choice but it is also a prime example of a carmaker being judiciously protectionist, a factor with which I have zero argument.
Naturally, it all depends on your viewpoint but the Kia Soul is either a ‘plain Jane’ oriental MPV, or a revolutionary family hatchback. It is certainly a stand-out model, with its upright, slightly prim-and-proper school-ma’am stance and largely identical petrol, or diesel-powered line-up of alternatives. It has been stoically different but it has also appealed to a surprising breadth of customers; the younger, family-type, seeking space and a degree of in-car funkiness; the small-to-medium size company operator desiring function over form; to the archetypal ‘blue-rinser’, seeking classlessness but moderate comfort too.
When Kia first launched the model in the UK, it did so in London and, while some examples have ‘escaped’ into other parts of the UK, it has remained an EV ‘oddity’ for city dwellers wishing to take advantage (understandably) of its Congestion Charge FREE status and advantageous selection of plug-in points. Its biggest stumbling block, even though it has been a changing situation, the 2018 model growing from 93 to 111 miles of range, has been an inability to combat aspects of range anxiety. When I drove the original model around four years ago, I was very conscious of the fast-depleting energy store in its battery pack, even though I was also aware of its zesty performance and practicality, which included first rate manoeuvrability and satisfying agility.
However, with greater numbers of EVs hitting our roads, even though the total number of all plug-in categories of cars is still less than one per cent of the total UK new car registrations, Kia has swallowed some bravery pills, boosted the range to a more satisfying 243 miles and, now, intends to make significantly more impact with its Soul. It is quite an expensive machine and, even taking the reduced government grant of £3,500 into account, it is listed at £33,795 (prior to any dealer discounts being applied, of which you should not expect much to materialise), which is a lot of money for a compact, five-seat family car, although the taxation advantages and a third of price fuel costs are beneficial. Yet, it is now the sole Soul sold in the UK, as the fossil-fuelled variants are no longer being imported.
Soul EV is powered by a 64kWh lithium-ion battery pack that delivers a stated range of 280 miles from one charge (the true range is closer to 240 miles), which can be topped-up partially on-the-move, thanks to its brake energy recovery system. In fact, with several settings available, accessed via the steering wheel paddles, the most severe of them turns the Soul into a single pedal motive force, meaning that the driver needs only rarely to operate the brake pedal. Unlike the original Soul, the new version features an electronic parking brake.
The car features a Type 2 domestic charging inlet, which allows the battery to be fully charged in 9 hours and 35 minutes. Additionally, with CCS Combo charging, the Soul EV can be charged even more rapidly, achieving up to 80% per cent charge in 1 hour and 15 minutes by plugging into a 50kW DC Rapid Charging Station. The ability to plan a decent 500-mile range trip, with a recharging stop for both car and occupants, is now a reality. A three-pin cable and Type 2 connection are provided with the car.
The bodywork upgrades are subtle and include restyled front and rear bumpers, moving the charging socket to the driver’s side of the car, incorporating an all-new LED headlamp array and a new design for the alloy wheels. The black leather trimmed cabin has also been reworked and includes a 10.25-inch display touchscreen, a 10-speaker, 640W Harmon Kardon sound system and UVO Connect sat-nav that pinpoints chargers around the mapping system, along with a comprehensive array of semi-autonomous safety addenda, on-board information and connectivity. The head-up display is also fully customisable by the driver.
Kia is using the latest round of minor changes to turn its Soul model into a consummate and comprehensively equipped EV package. It remains covered by Kia’s market-leading, seven years warranty and a new service plan (at extra cost) is available for the full duration of that warranty period.