Archive for the ‘Hybrids, Electrics and other “Green” Technology’ Category


While the 2015 Kia Soul EV is another Compliance Car (thank you, California Air Resources Board), it’s one of the best electric cars currently available.

2015 Kia Soul EV in Black with Inferno Red trim. Sharp!

2015 Kia Soul EV in Black with Inferno Red trim. Sharp!

A few years ago, when I drove the Nissan Leaf for the first time, I was struck by just how ordinary the Leaf was.  If you set aside the electric powertrain, the Leaf drove like any other compact car. It all seemed familiar until you realized that the road noise was so pronounced because you couldn’t hear the the engine humming and the transmission spooling up and shifting. There was no exhaust note. Nothing but annoying road noise that would have gone unnoticed if it were a conventional car.

One observation is clear: The Korean Twins – Hyundai and Kia – learn fast.  Their products bristle with fresh design, great drivetrains, tons of tech and best-in-class-warranties. They are no longer a generation or two behind the Japanese. These days, the Japanese scramble to keep up with them.  The 2015 Kia Soul EV is a prime example of how well the engineers and designers studied the competition and went the extra mile. Kia’s first EV is instantly top of the class.

The 2015 Kia Soul EV looks sharp and cheeky from any angle. What's not to love here?

The 2015 Kia Soul EV looks sharp and cheeky from any angle. What’s not to love here?

Originally introduced for the 2008 model year, the Kia Soul was an odd duck. The designer, supposedly inspired by a documentary on wild boars, “sketched a caricature of (a boar) and, for practicality, put a backpack on it.”

It’s a little 2-box rectangular wagon with a sloping roof that’s too tall to be called a sports wagon and not high enough off the ground to be a crossover.  Hell, it’s not even available with all-wheel drive. But its cheeky face, fresh styling and utilitarian format made it a smashing success (115,579 units for the first three quarters of 2014 alone) not just with the coveted “hip urban youth” demographic, but a very wide base of buyers.

Who doesn't love the Kia Hamsters? This fetching lass is showing you how to charge your Soul EV.

Who doesn’t love the Kia Hamsters? This fetching lass is showing you how to charge your Soul EV.

The 2nd generation Soul was introduced for the 2014 model year. Subtle styling changes were made to the exterior and the interior received a thorough refresh. But Kia was careful not to mess too much with the original formula. That wild boar still dares you to love it.

The new Soul platform was designed to accommodate both ICE and EV powertrains.  The thin, 27 kWh lithium-polymer battery sits flat under the seats in the floor pan. As with other EVs like the Nissan Leaf or the Tesla Model S, the extra weight of the battery – almost 500 pounds) serves to lower the center of gravity, balance weight between the wheels and more firmly plants the little wagon through curves and in wind.  The EV gets additional suspension turning and increased torsional rigidity. All of these extra benefits and engineering make the electric Soul the one to get if its limited range isn’t a problem for you.

The cargo space is similar to the Toyota RAV4 EV. It's not as big, but it's got plenty of space for most shopping trips.

The cargo space in the Soul EV  is similar to the Toyota RAV4 EV. It’s not as big, but it’s got plenty of space for most shopping trips.

The 2015 Soul EV is EPA-rated at 105 MPGe (33.7 kWh of electricity is equivalent to one gallon of gasoline, but who cares?) with a range of 93 miles.  The range is the most important number here and it’s the best range of any pure EV sold today that isn’t a Tesla. Better than the BMW i3, better than the VW e-Golf, better than the Nissan Leaf.

The Kia Soul EV comes equipped standard with three charging levels:

  • Level 1 -standard 120 volt – plug it in and wait a long time
  • Level 2 – SAE J1772 240 volt much faster, usually at  home charging
  • Level 3 –   CHAdeMO DC Fast Charge 480 volt – public charging stations where available

The excellent standard UVO navigation system can guide you to public charging stations, much like the Leaf and some other more expensive EVs.

The Soul EV comes completely loaded with navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM Satellite radio and a backup camera with guides. This is the EV+ with front and rear parking sensors and ventilated front seats (note the controls). The plastic fascia is a bit cheap.

The Soul EV comes completely loaded with navigation, HD radio, SiriusXM Satellite radio and a backup camera with guides. This is the EV+ with front and rear parking sensors and ventilated front seats (note the controls). The plastic fascia is a bit cheap.

I drove the Soul EV in heavy traffic around Glendale – not too different from the normal traffic in and around West Hollywood/Beverly Hills. So I didn’t get a chance to go on an open road or fast on the freeway. While the 81.4 kW electric motor is only rated at 109 hp, it packs 210 lb-ft of torque, instantly available, so it “feels” fast.  I’ve seen estimates that the zero to 60 time is a positively glacial 11-12 seconds.  But on surface streets, I found it quick and quiet with a smooth, relaxed ride. The seats comfortably fit my 6’1″ frame and visibility was pretty good all around.

2015 Kia Soul EV's instrument panel is completely digital.

2015 Kia Soul EV’s instrument panel is completely digital.

The B mode dialed in fairly strong regenerative braking — strong enough to stop the car at slow speeds. How much it actually adds back to the battery is questionable, but you feel good playing the “look ma, no brakes” game. The mechanical brakes that actually hug the wheels were strong and linear, with no spongy feel. One thing I’ve read about regenerative braking is that you should be aware that if you don’t touch the brake pedal, the people behind you don’t realize you’re braking. So it might be a good idea to lightly use the brake pedal along with the regenerative coasting.

This is the upgraded interior of the Soul EV+ with perforated leather seats.

This is the upgraded interior of the Soul EV+ with perforated leather seats. The electric blue piping around the seats is a nice touch.

I was surprised by how much resistance was calibrated to the accelerator pedal. That’s easy enough to get used to, but that was your first reminder you weren’t in gasland anymore.  Everyone complains about the numb steering, and they’re right, it’s pretty numb. But I have fairly low expectations for electric power steering these days and the Kia’s wasn’t any worse than anything else I’ve driven.

All EVs have a complimentary Smartphone app. The Soul EV's basic app allows you to check the charge level, set the climate controls and open/close the doors.

All EVs have a complimentary Smartphone app. The Soul EV’s basic app allows you to check the charge level, set the climate controls and lock/unlock the doors.

The 2015 Kia Soul is stuffed with tons of supplemental restraint systems - airbags and air curtains surround you.

The 2015 Kia Soul is stuffed with tons of supplemental restraint systems – airbags and air curtains surround you.

The Soul EV’s base MSRP is $34,500.  Everything you need is standard.  For $2,000 more, the Soul EV+ adds power folding side mirrors, fog lamps, front and rear parking sensors, vented perforated leather seats, heated rear seats and a cargo cover.  Frankly, that’s a lot of stuff for only two grand — worth every penny.  Kia is advertising a great lease deal for the base Soul EV: $249/month (about $272/month with tax) for 36 months with $1,999 down.  You also qualify for California’s $2,500 rebate with a 36 month lease.

The Good:

  • High kit level – much more for your money
  • Largest standard battery/longer range (other than a Tesla)
  • Available auto-dimming rear view mirror with HomeLink and compass ($350)
  • Perforated leather seating surfaces (+)
  • Heated and Cooled seats (+)
  • Electric folding side mirrors (+)
  • Parking sensors front and rear (+)
  • Comfortable seating for tall people in front
  • Rear view camera – Standard
  • Navigation – Standard 8 inch full color touch screen with UVO eServices
  • Decent rear seat room (far better than the Fiat 500e or Chevy Spark EV)
  • Strong “B” driving mode
  • Keyless entry and start/stop
  • Tilt and telescope steering column
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Solar control/privacy glass
  • Dual zone automatic climate control
  • Smartphone app
  • Standard fast charging system
  • Convenient USB and power ports
  • Electronic parking brake
  • Loads of standard passive safety stuff

The Not So Good:

  • Go pedal requires far more pressure than most other EVs
  • Only one B (regenerative braking) mode
  • Very slow 0-60
  • No rain-sensing wipers
  • Manual adjusting seats – 6 way
  • No sunroof option
  • No power liftgate
  • Cheap wheel covers
  • Some cheap plastic lower fascia
  • Sleazy dealership in Glendale
  • Limited availability of colors
  • Bait and switch lease deal – make sure to hold the dealer to the advertised price

Conclusion:

As long as you don’t expect to drag race a Tesla Model S P85D,  the 2015 Kia Soul EV presents the most convincing, satisfying, affordable and uncompromised electric car since the introduction of Nissan’s Leaf.  It’s at the top of the current  crop of EVs and at or near the top of my list.


Don’t buy the Fiat 500e. Actually, the exact quote from Fiat Chrysler’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne was: “If you are considering buying a 500e, I hope you don’t buy it, because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000.”

The unique badge for the Fiat Chrysler's first electric car, the Fiat 500e.

The unique badge for Fiat Chrysler’s first electric car, the Fiat 500e.

2015 Fiat 500e in Bianco (white)

2015 Fiat 500e in Bianco Perla (white pearl tri-coat)

The Fiat 500e is the very definition of a “compliance car.”  It was engineered and built solely to placate California’s Zero Emission Vehicle requirements.  While Fiat may lose money on every car, the diminutive 500e buys corporate giant Fiat Chrysler Automobiles the necessary regulatory “green light” from the California Air Resources Board to continue selling cars and (very profitable) Jeeps and Ram Trucks in the Golden State.  Until this summer it was only available in California; but now the 500e is available in Oregon.  Other states that adopt California’s emissions rules may follow.

The Fiat 500e is a happy-go-lucky doe-eyed adorable miniature pug dog of a car.  It romps through traffic, turns circles around lethargic Accords and parks it in just about any space. It’s a happy spirit, even if it has a short extension cord.

2015 Fiat 500e in Electric Orange Tri-Coat Pearl

2015 Fiat 500e in Electric Orange Tri-Coat Pearl

Look at that cute face!!

Look at that cute face!!

Car & Driver clocks its zero to 60 time at a respectable 8.7 seconds. That’s pretty good for this little car weighing nearly 3,000 pounds — 600 of which is the battery pack under the floor. And while the weight of batteries is always a range-sapping penalty for an electric car, its placement can actually make a car this small feel more grounded and less prone to being blown off the road by a sudden gust of wind.

The lower center of gravity and instant torque only found with electric drive make this Fiat 500 variant the best handling of the bunch, including the feisty 500 Abarth.  I really loved the way it drove.  It’s the driving equivalent of an ultra-fast point-and-shoot digital camera. Twist  On. Point in any direction. Press the go-pedal and you’re there! Get outstanding results without being a pro!

Visibility is very good as you sit upright with a generous amount of windshield and side glass for such a small car.  However, I struggled to find a comfortable driving position. The seats had limited adjustments and a short (by my standards) cushion. It didn’t help that the steering wheel only adjusted for rake, not reach.

The interior of the 500e in Steam White with Electric Orange Accents. This looks great, but I'm not sure how you'd keep it clean.

The interior of the 500e in Steam White with Electric Orange Accents. This looks great, but I’m not sure how you’d keep it clean.

At 142.4 inches, the 500e is the smallest EV on the market with a back seat. If you chop the back seat off, you get a Smart fortwo Electric Drive which is only 106.1 inches long. Still, I can almost touch the back window of the Fiat from the front seat. The back seat of the Fiat is either (a) a torture chamber for adults, (b) a place for small children and dogs or (c) a parcel shelf. At least the seats split 50/50 and fold almost flat for a bit of cargo space. As a city car for one or two adults, it’s perfect. It’s just not the car you take to Costco or on long road trips.

The instrument panel and center console have been modified for the electric version of the ICE Fiat 500. It's a cleaner, intuitive layout.

The instrument panel and center console have been modified for the electric version of the ICE Fiat 500. It’s a cleaner, intuitive layout.

The official mileage rating for the 2015 Fiat 500e is 122 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) in the city and 108 MPGe on the highway – 116 MPGe combined. However, those numbers are meaningless as all anyone cares about is its actual range.  Most articles I’ve seen put the 500e’s range at between 80 – 100 miles on a single charge.  But Car & Driver came up with a real-world observed range of only 69 miles. Still, how often do you drive more than 69 miles a day? That’s more than enough for the average daily commute, with some side stops.

Here are some bullet-point random thoughts about the 500e:

The Good:

  • 83-kW electric motor with 111 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque
  • A large-for-its-size 24-kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery
  • Standard Level 1 (120 volt) and Level 2 (240 volt) on board chargers that can fully charge the battery in 4 hours.
  • 6.6 kW / J1772 Compliant Charge System
  • Obligatory smartphone app with remote telematics
  • Comes fully loaded – the only options are the cosmetic eSports Package ($495) and a large power sunroof ($1,100)
  • Great lease price: $199/month/36 months ($217 with tax); only $999 down
  • Back up sensors
  • Single zine automatic climate control
  • Very quiet
  • Push button center console transmission easy and quick to select
  • Decent brake pedal feeling – not spongy

 

The Not So Good:

  • No keyless ignition. It seems oddly retro to turn a key to “start” an electric car
  • Tilt but no telescopic steering column
  • No backup camera (but that’s not too bad in a car this small)
  • No power seats; smallish seat cushion
  • Cheap after-market Tom Tom navigation is small by today’s standards and easily stolen from its dash top perch
  • Hard plastics everywhere
  • Plastic covers for AUX and USB ports break off the first time and every time you try to use them
  • HomeLink garage opener not available
  • Limited energy consumption displays, information and feedback
  • No Eco mode
  • No Brake or Low mode. Only one level of regenerative braking and it’s not very strong

 

See those two plastic covers for AUX and USB? They break off every time you lift one. Very disappointing quality.

See those two plastic covers for AUX and USB? They break off every time you lift one. Very disappointing quality.

To help set your mind at ease if you need to take a few trips that aren’t suitable for an electric car, Fiat offers the “Fiat 500e Pass” program:

Included with the purchase of the Fiat 500e, the program provides owners and lessees of a new Fiat 500e with up to 12 days of alternative transportation in a standard-sized vehicle each year for the first three years after purchase through Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental or Alamo Rent A Car in the U.S.

That’s a pretty good offer to sweeten the already great lease deal for the 500e. However, from what I can tell, the people with a 500e already have another car they can drive for longer trips – either a second car or one belonging to a family member.

The side profile of the 500e highlights the standard rear spoiler. It gives it a cheeky appearance that fits its spunky, fun demeanor.

The side profile of the 500e highlights the standard rear spoiler. It gives it a cheeky appearance that fits its spunky, fun demeanor.

To sum things up, I think the Fiat 500e is a fun, very affordable electric car and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to most drivers.  But it’s not the car for me.  Aside from some glaring feature omissions and the cheap plastic panels, I just couldn’t find a comfortable driving position. And that’s a deal killer.