So you want an electric car, but don’t want something as quirky as a Mitsubishi i-MiEV or Nissan Leaf, but a Tesla Model S is too far out of your price range. Fortunately EV technology has improved a lot in the last few years and now it’s possible for an automaker to turn a conventional gas-powered vehicle into a zero-emissions electric vehicle with minimal changes. Enter the 2015 Kia Soul EV. On the outside it looks exactly like the regular Soul, but under the skin its gas engine has been swapped out with an all-electric powertrain. Does the transition work? Kia gave me the keys for a week to experience its first electric vehicle and the result? It’s very, very good.
The boxy Soul is Kia’s most popular vehicle and this year buyers can now choose the new electric Soul EV. With an estimated driving range of 93 miles, the Soul EV has the longest electric driving range of most fully electric vehicles, with the exception of the Tesla Model S. To compare, the Nissan Leaf can travel up to 84 miles. With a Level 2 240-volt charger, you can fully recharge the Soul EV in less than five hours, but the new DC Fast Charge capability gives you the ability to recharge its battery up to 80 percent in a mere 30 minutes. The Soul EV can also be plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet, but it will take up to 24 hours to fully recharge its battery at that level.
On the outside, most buyers will find it hard to tell the difference between the Soul EV and its gas-powered brother. Since the dirty gas engine and its radiator are now gone, you’ll notice a few small changes to the Soul EV’s face. Instead of working as a vent for the gas engine, the grill has been redesigned and is now used as the cover for the charging ports. Other changes include new alloy wheels, different badges and some unique color options.
How does it drive? The gas-powered Soul is a fun, nimble vehicle to drive and most of that can be said about the Soul EV. With an extra 600 pounds to lug around, thanks to the large battery, the Soul EV feels a bit more planted to the road. The good thing is that the electric motor’s instantaneous torque and the single speed transmission make the Soul EV feel much faster than it actually is. The Soul EV accelerates quickly from a stop and the best part is that it’s incredibly quiet, unlike the gas-powered version. Drivers can alter the amount of brake-regenerating through a “B” mode, which easily brings the Soul EV to a stop once the throttle is let off. I tried driving in this mode, but at most times it was too aggressive. An Active Eco button can also be pushed to help you achieve the most efficient driving style possible.
Driving around the streets of Los Angeles for a week, the Soul EV became a very easy electric car to live with. Its interior is nearly identical to the standard Soul, so there aren’t any significant penalties to its cargo capacity or rear seat space. Thanks to the fact that the Soul EV doesn’t have a gas engine or transmission that has to shift gears, the Soul EV actually felt a lot more refined than the standard Soul. With only 93 miles of driving range, the Soul EV will give you a bit more range anxiety than a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, but it wasn’t too much of an issue, since new chargers seem to be popping up every day around Los Angeles.
Pricing for the Soul EV starts at $33,700 before the available tax incentives. In California the final price can drop as low as $23,700 after the available federal and state incentives. If you’ve been waiting for a day when electric vehicles can look more like a regular car, the day is here. The Soul EV and other models like the VW e-Golf now make it even easier to make the switch to an electric vehicle.
Photos by Marc Carter and Kia