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.

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Chat  —  Posted: November 4, 2014 in Automobile Manufacturers, Electrics and other "Green" Technology, Hybrids, Electrics and other "Green" Technology, Kia
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The 2014 Chevy Spark EV won Car & Driver‘s big comparison test of electric vehicles, so while I’d normally cross the gasoline (ICE) version of the Spark off any list of cars I’d ever own, I had to at least give the electric version a go.

2015 Chevrolet Spark EV in Electric Blue

2015 Chevrolet Spark EV in Electric Blue. It just screams Econobox, doesn’t it?

Of the six vehicles Car & Driver tested – Chevy’s Spark EV, Nissan’s Leaf, Ford’s Focus Electric, Fiat’s 500e, Smart’s fortwo ED and Honda’s Fit EV – the tiny Spark, the smallest Chevy made, was only the third smallest. Naturally the Smart was the smallest car tested at 106.1 inches; but it doesn’t have a back seat. The 145.6 inch Spark is only 4.1 inches longer than the Fiat 500e, but it feels just as small.

On paper, the Spark looks pretty good. The 2015 version is slightly different from the 2014. It’s packing a 140 HP AC permanent magnet synchronous motor (down 1 hp from 2014) with a whopping 327 pound-foot of torque (down from 400 lb-ft) at zero RPM. It has a smallish 21.3 kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack positioned on the floor, so there is no loss of interior space. Of course, the lower center of gravity helps  the Spark handle far better than the gas version.

And let’s be clear, that 327 lb-ft of torque sounds great but there is no way the motor’s electronic nannies would allow that much torque to spin the front wheels from a dead stop. The Spark’s puny 15 inch aluminum alloy wheels would fly off and kill someone.  By comparison, the 4.6L V8 in the 2015 Toyota Tundra pickup truck pumps out 310 hp and 327 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels (where monster torque belongs). Exactly how the Spark’s computers dole out the torque isn’t clear, but the Spark feels fast (C&D clocked the 2014 version at 7.9 seconds from zero to 60 mph) and with gobs of torque available from zero, it’s very entertaining zooming in and out of traffic. Take that Mazda!

The EPA rates the Spark EV at 128/109 city/highway MPGe (equivalent). As I’ve said before, while the EPA figures let you know the electric Spark is pretty efficient compared to gasoline, it’s the range that really matters to any EV buyer. Chevy quotes a range of 82 miles while Car & Driver observed a range 66 miles – not exactly a tonic for the dreaded psychological condition known as “range anxiety.”

I can’t say I’m a fan of the exterior styling of the Spark, although the electric version has subtle styling changes that look better than the ICE version. Still, it practically screams rental from all angles.

The grille of the Spark EV is sealed off because it doesn't have a conventional engine or radiator anywhere in sight.

The grille of the Spark EV is sealed off because it doesn’t have a conventional engine or radiator anywhere in sight.

The little EV badge lets people behind you know you're driving with electrons, and if one looks closely, there's no tailpipe.

The little EV badge lets people behind you know you’re driving with electrons.

Step inside the Spark and the word “Spartan” comes to mind. The plastics are cheap and hard. The switchgear is from the bottom of the GM parts bin.

Ergonomics are a mess. The side mirror adjustment switch too far forward and hard to reach from a ledge on the left side of the instrument panel and the adjustment dial and switches for the instrument panel display are impossible to reach behind the steering wheel on that same ledge.

This switchgear is hard to reach and nearly invisible, hidden by the steering wheel, from the driver's seat.  Did the engineers have the week off when this was designed?

This switchgear is hard to reach and nearly invisible, hidden by the steering wheel, from the driver’s seat. Did the engineers have the week off when this was designed?

The all-digital, motorcycle-inspired instrument panel is clear and easy to read, if not exactly bristling with innovation. A little green ball bounces up and down and changes color (watch for that angry orange!) depending on how hard you’re driving or if you’re charging the battery with regenerative braking energy.

Follow the bouncing green ball to a longer battery life and extended range.

Follow the bouncing green ball to a longer battery life and extended range.

The front seats barely adjust – the driver gets only 4 way adjustment. The cushions are short, but not as short as the ones in the Fiat 500e. The steering column only adjusts for rake, not reach, so, like the Fiat, I found it hard to find a comfortable driving position.

The 2015 Spark EV with the 2LT Trim.  The cloth is replaced by the leatherette trim. Hard to know on a short test drive if this would be comfortable sitting for a long time on a hot day.

The 2015 Spark EV with the 2LT Trim. The cloth is replaced by the leatherette trim. Hard to know on a short test drive if this would be comfortable sitting for a long time on a hot day.

The Spark – gas or electric – has two rear doors with handles hidden in the C-pillar. The rear doors and back seat are best suited for gnomes, small children, or groceries. I could barely fit in the back seat with my knees splayed, but the 60/40 split folding seats could fit two adults for a short drive.

It's cramped quarters in the back seat. However, one thing Americans do well is cup holders. Big Gulp in the back seat?

It’s cramped quarters in the back seat. However, one thing Americans do well is cup holders. Big Gulp for the kids?

The infotainment system should be called Chevy WeakLink, not MyLink. No navigation system on this standard 7 inch color display. The salesman will tell you that you can get turn-by-turn navigation by OnStar, but who does that? The best you can do for navigation is download the BringGo App for your smartphone (iOS and Android) for around $50. The navigation maps display on the MyLink screen. If you have an iPhone, it also features voice commands with Siri Eyes Free. Anyone who knows Siri knows that she doesn’t always understand what you say (but she’s working on it). Still, for an EV, I like the onboard navigation systems that are customized to show public charging stations around you.

The color screen does everything but navigation. The stereo system is kind of weak, but it's adequate and since the car is very quiet inside, you don't need tons of power to drown out a noisy ICE. At least the Spark EV has single-zone automatic climate control that seemed to work well.

The color screen does everything but navigation. The stereo system is kind of weak, but it’s adequate and since the car is very quiet inside, you don’t need tons of power to drown out a noisy ICE. At least the Spark EV has single-zone automatic climate control that seemed to work well.

What’s good:

  • Keyless entry and ignition
  • Automatic climate control
  • Automatic headlights
  • Strong “B” – regenerative braking mode
  • Linear braking
  • Very tight turning radius
  • Convenient 4 doors makes it easy to throw stuff in the back
  • Terrific electric drive motor
  • OnStar and 4G LTE built-in Wi-Fi (If you pay for the service)
  • Heated front seats
  • Obligatory smartphone app to monitor charging and do other remote functions
  • 10 Airbags
  • Optional SAE combo DC fast charger

Not So Good:

  • Cheap, flimsy, low-rent, hard plastic interior surfaces, finishes and switchgear
  • Seats don’t adjust enough and are uncomfortable
  • No telescope feature on the steering column
  • Lack of onboard energy consumption diagnostics – only the basics
  • No auto-dimming mirrors
  • No leather option
  • No backup camera
  • No HomeLink option
  • No one-touch window switches
  • No sun roof available
  • No onboard navigation
  • No digital compass
  • Chevy MyLink infotainment system

The Chevy Spark EV is most definitely a Compliance Car – it sucks electrons from the grid SOLELY to satisfy California’s Air Resources Board Zero Emissions regulations. I think that the engineers got the electric drive component right, but the overall package just creeps me out with its cheapness.  It’s one thing if you’re paying $14,000 for your kid’s first car, but it’s another if you’re paying $30,000 for new technology.

At least the lease deal is cheap. With a MSRP of $28,580, a 3 year, 10,000/mile/year lease, the drive offs were $1,887 and the payment, including sales tax, was $205.97/month. That’s less than my cable bill and many people have a higher phone bills. With the savings you get on avoiding gas stations altogether, the financial proposition of the Spark EV is tempting. I just couldn’t live with the crappy interior every time I got in the car and the seats that barely adjusted.

This is the standard cloth interior on the Spark EV 1LT. It's so cheap it looks like it's going to catch on fire if you leave it too long in the sun.

This is the standard cloth interior on the Spark EV 1LT. It’s so cheap it looks like it’s going to catch on fire if you leave it too long in the sun.

There are rumors that Chevrolet is working on an electric version of the slightly larger Sonic. There is also a 2nd Generation Volt coming in 2016. If you must have an electric car from The General, I’d wait a few more years for something better to come to market.