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2019 Kia Soul EV Test Drive Review
Now half a decade old, the 2019 Kia Soul EV is a short-range electric car with an appealing price and plenty of personality.
Kia estimates the 2019 Soul EV will provide up to 111 miles of driving range on a single charge. By modern standards, that is not an impressive number. But the Soul EV is reasonably priced and well equipped, and when you need maximum cargo space or room for some furry friends, its cube-shaped design sure comes in handy.
Look and Feel
The current Kia Soul EV is living on borrowed time. First, a new Soul EV debuted at this year's Los Angeles Auto Show. Second, Kia is rolling out a new electric version of the stylish Niro, and both it and the new Soul EV are expected to offer 240 miles of driving range. That’s more than double what the current Soul EV supplies.
In the meantime, the Soul EV is positioned as an affordable alternative to long-range electric vehicles like the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Hyundai Kona EV, and Tesla Model 3. Two trim levels are available: Base and Plus. Prices start at $33,950, not including the destination charge of $895. And the car is only sold in California and Oregon.
My test car had Plus trim, which replaces the standard eco-friendly cloth upholstery with leather, and adds simulated-leather interior trim, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a cargo cover. Fog lights are also included with Plus trim, along with power folding side mirrors, and front and rear parking sensors.
To this, my test car added a Sun & Fun Package, which installs LED interior lighting, speaker lights, and a panoramic sunroof. Throw in a set of floor mats and a cargo tray, and my Soul EV test car came to $38,160.
Of course, after you apply the maximum federal income tax credit of $7,500, the price drops significantly. Also, if you live in California, you’re eligible for up to a $2,500 rebate. That means, if you get the base trim level, you could effectively buy one for less than $25,000.
Or, you can walk into a participating Kia dealership and lease a Soul EV for as little as $270 per month with no money down, as long as you promise not to drive it more than 10,000 miles per year. And if that’s your annual mileage cap, well, you’ve only got 27.4 miles per day to play around with anyway.
Suddenly, those 111 miles of maximum driving range are no big deal.
The Soul EV looks different from a gas-powered Soul. There’s no grille, for starters. Instead, you’ve got a body-color panel with a charging-port door that pops open to access the standard AC J-Plug and DC Fast Charger. Additionally, the front and rear bumpers and lighting are different, and the Soul EV gets unique aerodynamic wheel designs.
Inside, the Soul EV is lighter and brighter, with white interior trim and blue piping on the seats. It has special instrumentation, too, and unique infotainment functions related to the car’s electric drivetrain.
Overall, the Soul EV has the same funky and distinctive look of the standard model, though I do think the grille panel ought to be black. And Kia really ought to offer this car in more exciting paint colors. Everything is some shade of white, gray, or black, except for the bright Caribbean Blue choice.
Don’t plan to race any Teslas while you’re driving a Soul EV. Don’t take on any Chevy Bolts or Hyundai Kona Electrics, either. Acceleration from a stop is seamless, strong at first but then trailing off as the car picks up speed. You’ll have no trouble leading a pack away from a traffic light or hustling up a mountain grade, but the Soul EV is not fast.
The 360-volt electric motor makes 109 horsepower and 210 lb.-ft. of torque, fed by a 30-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery mounted under the seats and floor. Plug the Soul EV into a standard household outlet, and it takes a good two days to fully recharge a nearly depleted battery. Using a 240-volt Level 2 charging station, the Soul EV recharges in five hours or less, according to Kia. Plug in the Soul EV to a DC Fast Charger, and you can get an 80% charge in about 30 minutes.
It’s important to note that every Soul EV includes DC fast charging as standard equipment. Often, that costs extra in other electric cars.
Speaking of other electric cars, the Soul EV drives just like one.
It is remarkably quiet until wind noise picks up around 60 mph. And when moving at a slow rate of speed, the Soul EV emits an electronic sound to make sure pedestrians know that a car is operating nearby.
From behind the wheel, you can feel the heft of the 610-pound battery, mainly in the way it affects the ride and handling. The Soul EV rides stiffly at times, and depending on the road surface and whether you’re taking a corner, the car feels a little wobbly as the suspension tries to manage the extra weight. Try to zip around curves, and the Nexen N Blue EV tires howl their discontent.
Regenerative brakes recapture energy and feed it back to the battery pack, and the Soul EV has a “B” driving mode that works similar to one-pedal driving functions in other electric cars.
Put the Soul EV in Eco mode and drive with the transmission selector in B mode, and you’ll earn the highest Eco driving scores while preserving as much battery as is possible. Better yet, the car is actually more fun to drive when you set it up this way. Maximizing battery range and growing leaves on the EV display’s eco-score tree becomes a challenge, increasing driver engagement with what is otherwise a wholly unremarkable vehicle.
Range anxiety—that feeling of panic that affects some electric-vehicle drivers as they burn through battery charge but remain far from their destination—did not affect me. In Los Angeles, where I live, electric-vehicle charging stations are everywhere, making an EV’s dwindling range an increasingly unnecessary worry. And because the Soul EV has a standard DC Fast Charger, you can likely find some serious range extension in a short amount of time.
To test this theory, I picked the Soul EV up in Orange County, California, on a Friday afternoon, 85 miles from my home. With an estimated 111 miles of driving range and two mountain ranges to traverse, I was thinking that my margin of error of 26 miles would spark range anxiety.
As it turned out, I had no cause to worry. All along the route across metro Los Angeles, there were DC Fast Charge stations that the Soul EV’s navigation system could find and direct me to, or that I could find and use via my EVGo smartphone app. Worst-case scenario? I’d have to settle for a free Volta 240-volt station and suffer a one- or two-hour delay.
Ultimately, I got home without any trouble. And, as luck would have it, I had exactly 26 miles of range left.
Form and Function
Like every Soul, the Soul EV is comfortable. The front seats are mounted high off the floor, so stepping into and getting out of this car is a breeze. Every Soul EV also has a heated steering wheel and heated front seats. My Soul Plus test car also had ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.
Speaking of the rear seat, there’s just enough legroom for adults. This area is snug but acceptable. Hard plastic front seatback trim will bother the knees of taller passengers, though, and I did notice that foot space under the front chairs is tighter than what a standard Soul supplies.
Storage space inside the cabin is generous. From the huge glove box to the large center console bin and various nooks and crannies, there is a space for just about everything you carry with you.
Cargo space, however, is tight, measuring 18.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat. That sounds like more than it is because it’s measured vertically to the ceiling and includes the storage cubby under the trunk floor. If you don’t need to carry passengers, you can fold the rear seats to get 49.5 cubic feet of space.
Chock-full of useful systems designed to keep you apprised of its unique drivetrain, the Soul EV is equipped with special Supervision instrumentation in the gauge cluster, and a UVO Eco infotainment system that conveys key data related to battery status, remaining driving range, and how economically you’re driving. You can even use it to find the closest charging stations.
Naturally, there’s also a smartphone app that allows you to schedule charging start and stop times, pre-heat or pre-cool the interior while the car is still plugged in, get battery status alerts, and more.
The setup includes an 8-inch touchscreen display, a navigation system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM satellite radio, and connected services including a Find My Car feature that helps owners remember where their Soul EV is parked. A 6-speaker sound system includes jaunty tweeter speakers perched atop each corner of the dashboard, and our test car had a Sun & Fun Package with a quirky door-speaker lighting system that pulses with the music.
Wisely, Kia uses knobs for volume and tuning, and keeps the climate controls separate from the touchscreen display. Five shortcut buttons reside on each side of the screen, making it easy to find the right menu, and an EV button located under the climate controls takes you directly to the menu for functions specific to this car.
It is a pleasure to use this infotainment system, which only needs a more pleasing font in order to achieve perfection. The navigation system’s voice-recognition system makes it easy to find the nearest example of chain stores and restaurants, like Starbucks or Chipotle or Nordstrom, but when you get granular on family-owned establishments, it needs a specific address.
Or you can just connect Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and ask for directions. Siri and Google will know.
Though the Soul EV is technologically sophisticated, it doesn’t come with expected driving assistance and collision avoidance technologies. So, if you want things like adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and lane-centering technology, or even a blind-spot-monitoring system, you need to look elsewhere.
The car on which the Soul EV is based is a safe one, earning top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) across the board, except for “Acceptable” marks in the small overlap, frontal impact, front-passenger crash test, and for the accessibility and ease of use of its child safety seat LATCH anchor points. However, because the Soul EV’s unique drivetrain changes how the vehicle structure might perform in a collision, these ratings do not transfer to the electric version of the car.
As part of UVO Eco services, though, the Soul EV has 911 Connect, which can automatically notify emergency responders if a collision occurs. Parents of teenaged drivers can also program the system to provide alerts related to curfews, vehicle speed, and geographic-boundary passing.
It might not be the most sophisticated electric car you can buy, but Kia says that the Soul EV’s maximum range satisfies 90% of all trips that Americans take in their cars. Consider that assertion, the zero-down lease price of $270 per month, and a healthy amount of standard equipment, and a Soul EV could prove enticing as an affordable alternative to more expensive long-range electric cars.
Still, you need to live in California or Oregon to get one. The lack of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies further dilutes the Soul EV’s appeal. And the Kia Niro Electric is arguably better looking while supplying an estimated 240 miles of electric driving range.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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