The 2016 Kia Soul EV is a flip phone in a smartphone age: Its comparatively limited functionality is justified only by its relatively low asking price. Function, of course, is relative. In the utility sense, Kia’s electric hatchback is an electron-powered pack mule. But as a form of mobility, the Soul EV still has a functional deficit. Its 27-kWh battery pack is good for an EPA-rated driving range of just 93 miles, two miles better than the average we saw during our testing.
That said, 93 miles on a single charge is enough for most Americans, considering that the average commuter here drives less than 30 miles each day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. However, in a market that’s soon to welcome the $37,495 Chevrolet Bolt and its EPA-rated 238-mile range, the $36,800 Soul EV+ is only months away from being woefully outclassed. (Note that those prices do not factor in any possible federal, state, or municipal tax incentives.)
Unlike some of those other so-called “compliance cars,” the Kia Soul EV doesn’t feel as if it has been converted to run on electricity merely for the sake of leaping through a regulatory hoop. Where some competitors, such as the Ford Focus Electric, sport giant space-eating humps in the cargo bay to accommodate a battery pack, the Soul EV’s cargo area loses no utility compared with its gasoline-powered counterpart. As such, the Soul EV can happily swallow as much as 50 cubic feet of cargo with its 60/40-split rear bench folded down and 19 cubic feet with all seats in place. Like all Souls, the Soul EV also has storage space below its cargo floor.Even without the prospect of the Bolt, though, the Soul EV is an irrelevant electric-car option for most Americans. That’s because Kia limits sales of the model to just 10 U.S. states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Odd as this may seem, such a sales strategy is nothing new in the world of electric vehicles, and a number of manufacturers take a similar approach. This is usually done to comply with individual state standards regarding the distribution of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs).
Outside, there are few differences between the EV and the standard Soul. Keen eyes will notice distinct headlights and taillights, a different set of 16-inch wheels, and an available two-tone exterior paint scheme. A revised front end incorporates a larger “tiger nose” grille that folds out of the way to expose two charge ports—one for AC charging, the other for DC fast charging. The former port can fully charge a Soul EV in less than five hours on a 240-volt circuit but could take as long as 24 hours on a 120-volt outlet. Meanwhile, a 50-kW DC connection can charge a Soul EV’s depleted battery to 80 percent in less than 35 minutes.
For the most part, the cabin mirrors that of the regular Soul, a vehicle we like a lot. Quality switchgear abounds, and our high-end EV+ test car included luxuries such as heated and cooled leather front seats, a touchscreen navigation system, and a keyless-entry system with push-button start. Differences between the EV and standard Soul interiors include a digitized gauge cluster (it shows electric-vehicle-specific information such as remaining battery charge and power usage), white interior trim, an electric parking brake, center cupholders with a sliding cover, and driver-selectable modes for regenerative braking via the gearshift lever and a center-console-mounted Active Eco button. Four regenerative-braking settings are available, with the most intense setting essentially rendering the brake pedal all but redundant.Electrifying the Soul doesn’t come without consequences, though; the floor-mounted battery pack consumes a good chunk of the car’s rear footwell. With more than three inches of rear legroom lost, the Soul EV’s rear seats are less long-haul friendly than those in the standard car. On the plus side, the rear bench remains comfortable, while the Soul EV’s limited range means the likelihood of settling into the rear seat for especially long periods is slim to none. Fortunately, front-seat space is uncompromised.
Ultimately, less reliance on the Soul EV’s friction brakes may be for the best, as the electric hatchback required 186 feet of tarmac to come to a halt from 70 mph—19 feet longer than the last gasoline-powered Soul we tested. Thank our test car’s low-rolling-resistance Nexen N’blue EV tires as well as its 3427-pound curb weight—342 pounds greater than its fuel-sipping sibling.
Those added pounds don’t help straight-line acceleration, either. With a modest 109 horsepower on tap, the front-motor, front-wheel-drive Soul EV sauntered from zero to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds, crossing the quarter-mile in 17.4 seconds at 79 mph. Quick, the Soul EV is not. Still, it fares better than some electrics: A Nissan Leaf we recently tested required 10.4 seconds to hit 60 mph and took 17.9 seconds to go through the quarter-mile at 77 mph.
In spite of the Soul EV’s relaxed acceleration, the electric hatchback proved to be a fine companion on city streets. The electric motor’s generous 210 lb-ft of torque made it easy to snake through traffic and pull away from stops. Further adding to the Soul EV’s low-speed likability is the car’s surprisingly tossable nature and composed ride quality. It packs that added battery weight low and toward the rear, offsetting the effects of the high roof and the nose-heavy bias found in the standard model. Seriously, we could wish all Souls handled this well.
For 2016, Kia introduced the new, low-cost, California-only Soul EV-e. This model forgoes features such as a navigation system and a rearview camera to bring the Soul EV’s cost of entry down to $32,800—$2000 below that of the EV trim that serves as the entry-level model in the other nine states. On the other end of the spectrum, the top-of-the-line Soul EV+ adds a new Sun & Fun package to its options list. As found on our test car, the $1100 package includes LED interior lights, a massive panoramic sunroof, and lights around the audio system’s speakers. Floor mats added another $125 to our example’s bottom line, bringing its as-tested price to $38,025, or $530 more than a base Chevrolet Bolt.
Sure, a loaded Kia Soul EV+ includes luxuries that the base Chevrolet Bolt simply won’t offer, and, as mentioned, both vehicles are eligible for federal and state tax credits that can bring the actual cost of entry down significantly. Nevertheless, opting for the feature-laden Soul EV+ over the similarly priced Bolt and its 145 miles of additional driving range is like choosing to go with a flip phone simply because it comes preloaded with the game “Snake.”