Make and model: Kia Soul EV Urban
Description: Small hatchback, battery-powered electric vehicle
Price range: £32,845 (plus options)
Kia says: “The Kia Soul EV brings long-range, zero-tailpipe emissions power to the urban crossover class.”
We say: There’s a lot to like about the Kia Soul – it has grown into a very effective EV with a sensible real-world range that outdoes many rivals.
The Kia Soul is a car that has ‘grown up’. When the first one launched in 2008 it was presented as a somewhat quirky fashionable model, for those who wanted SUV space in a small car that didn’t quite look like an SUV, or much else. The ‘lifestyle’ touches even included door speakers that pulsated in a choice of colours.
The colours are long gone, the car evolving from fashion item to a pioneer of Kia’s electric strategy which has rapidly gathered pace. The second-generation Soul launched in 2013 and the Soul EV followed two years later as the Korean brand’s first dedicated electric vehicle.
By the time of the third generation, which first appeared in 2019, Kia had decided to offer the Soul in Europe only as an EV, initially with just one battery option and an impressive range. The new model now reaching showrooms is designed to widen the Soul’s appeal by offering a cheaper, lower-powered version with a smaller battery – therefore it won’t go as far before you need to plug it in, though possibly far enough for many potential buyers.
As of May 2023, media reviews of the Soul EV have earned the car an overall Expert Rating of 74% on The Car Expert’s award-winning Expert Rating Index. The launch of a new power option will likely produce more reviews so this rating could well move up or down a few points.
What is the Kia Soul EV?
Well, that’s a good question…
It’s fair to say that what the Kia Soul is has been the subject of some debate in the past, arguments raging as to whether it is a boxy small hatch or a small SUV.
In the new version, Kia plays up to this controversy. The longer-range ‘Explore’ model comes with body panel add-ons and roof rails to give it more typical beefed up SUV looks, whereas the newcomer, dubbed ‘Urban’, does without these panels as with its shorter range it’s pitched as a more around town runabout.
What you basically get is a car with a small footprint but a lot of space – at least for four occupants, though less so for their luggage. Perhaps this is the car that most suits that much-overused phrase, ‘crossover’…
There aren’t that many Kia Souls on UK roads and so there is little chance of losing your pride and joy in a car park, because this is an instantly recognisable model. It’s quite square, but square in an oddly attractive way. Its strong wedge front and bluff rear are easier on the eye compared to that other, less successful, box-like small car – the short-lived Nissan Cube.
Visually, the Soul actually appears less box-like than its predecessor. It’s 6cm longer than the version it’s replaced, as well as a little bit wider. This helps with the visuals, giving it a more planted presence.
It’s very easy to get into, to get comfortable in and to drive. Whichever of the two versions you go, for the Kia Soul offers quite a lot of instant appeal.
We like: A car that doesn’t look like every other small car out there
We don’t like: The visuals will divide onlookers
What do you get for your money?
Prices for the new Soul EV start at £32,845 for the Urban, and £39,045 for the Explore – so like many EVs they are a major investment. You do get a lot of equipment for your money – the Urban includes such niceties as adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and starting, auto headlamps and an eight-inch central touchscreen which is fully Apple and Android smartphone compatible and also displays the imagery from a reversing camera.
As well as the extra potency and greater range, and the muscle-look body add-ons, Explore customers also get more electric bits, such as on the seat and mirror adjustment, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats and parking sensors alongside the reversing camera. There’s also black leather upholstery among the extra details while the central touchscreen grows to just over ten inches.
Explore owners are also given seven free years of Kia Connect, a telematics service which works with the touchscreen and a smartphone to download lots of useful information such as traffic and weather updates, even finding parking places ahead of your arrival. And you can keep track of such essentials as charging status and pre-heat or cool the cabin before you get in the car.
Both models score well on safety. A whole lot of active safety features come as standard, extending to the likes of lane-keeping and intelligent speed limit assistance, while the Explore adds blind-spot collision avoidance, safe exit and rear cross-traffic alerts and highway-driving assistance.
All that lot would likely be enough to earn the Soul a five-star safety rating but at the time of writing the current model has not been tested by Euro NCAP – its predecessor model earned four stars in 2014.
We like: Strong equipment levels especially safety kit
We don’t like: It’s pricey even by mainstream EV standards
What’s the Kia Soul EV like inside?
It’s very easy to slip inside and get comfortable in the Kia Soul, basically because the space is adequate, whether in front or back and especially above one’s head. You are reminded, however that this is actually a small car, the rear seats being quite cosy – you could fit two adults of reasonable height in there but not three. The one let-down is the boot – it’s officially quoted as having 315 litres of space, but it’s a split-level layout with the lower section a handy place to stow the charging leads. As a result what’s left for luggage is somewhat modest.
Some might expect a radical cabin design to go with the car’s image of being a little bit different, but in fact it’s all quite conventional but well-crafted. The controls are easy to get used to and provide clear information – while many commands are carried out through the touchscreen, there are also some proper buttons round it and everything combines very well.
We like: Intuitive layout of controls
We don’t like: Too small a boot space
What’s under the bonnet?
Of course ‘under the bonnet’ is a bit of a misnomer with electric cars as the battery pack sits between the front and rear axle line under the floor of the passenger cabin, keeping the centre of gravity low, while the motor is placed between the wheels, both versions being front-wheel-drive.
The Explore, which replaces a version called the Max, comes with a 64kWh battery powering a 204hp motor. This gives it an official range between charges of 280 miles, which in the real world means it should typically crest 250 miles in normal use. It’s also reasonably perky, passing 62mph from rest in under eight seconds.
The new Urban drops the purchase price by just over £6,000 by means of a smaller (but also lighter) battery pack of 39.2kWh and a motor of 136hp. This means that 0-62mph sprint extends to just under 10 seconds and it won’t go as far, the official range being 171 miles combined and around 250 miles in ‘city driving’ (low speeds and lots of stop-start which means lots of battery regeneration). With the average motorist doing less than 120 miles a day, the Soul Urban will suit many buyers who by plugging it in at home each night won’t need to worry about public charging networks.
Both cars offer DC charging on a 50kW charger for the Urban, and up to 80kW for the Explore. Using one of these both versions’ batteries will go from 10 to 80% in 47 minutes. On a typical 7kW AC home charger you need to plug the Urban in for six hours, the Explore for a bit over nine hours.
What’s the Kia Soul EV like to drive?
Any EV aimed at constantly taking on a typically traffic-choked urban road network has to be easy to drive and the Soul EV certainly ticks this box. Press the button on the centre console, select D on the big rotary knob next to the on button, and off you glide, smoothly and virtually silently.
On the road the car simply lacks in fuss – even the lower-powered Urban does not feel sluggish under acceleration, eagerly gaining speed but without any undue aggression. Ride comfort is excellent, the chassis soaking up any nasties in the road surface.
It may seem a big square thing but it’s easy to manoeuvre in a typical urban environment – the high driving position gives good all-round vision and the car’s exterior dimensions are actually quite compact. Admittedly this ease transmits to a lack of feel through the steering wheel when cornering at pace out on the road, but the car remains competent through the twisty bits.
One aspect we like is the regenerative braking – there are paddles on either side of the steering wheel selecting increasing levels of retardation, but we found it more than adequate to leave the system in the auto setting that judges the regen based on driving environment, actually analysing the traffic ahead and setting the retardation to suit.
The car does follow the increasing trend towards nanny-state driving – we are used to searching in menus for ways to silence lane-departure warnings and such, but as well as issuing audio alerts if one is even a little over the speed limit, the Soul lets out a ‘bing’ each time said speed limit changes. This can become wearing but thankfully can be silenced in the settings. One Kia we drove even felt it necessary to tell us the car ahead in a queue had moved off – putting a message at the top of the dash display, just below the windscreen so in reading the message one would see that said car had moved away anyway…
We like: Relaxed driving experience – very easy car to drive
We don’t like: Too many bings and bongs from dash
There’s a lot to like about the Kia Soul – the once peripheral car for those who wanted to be different has grown up into a very effective EV with a sensible real-world range that outdoes many rivals. And it has done this while retaining an air of exclusivity which marks it apart from the majority.
It’s still a small car, sensible enough for four without too much luggage and not five, and it is not cheap. But you do get what you pay for and the Soul is a lot of practical EV for the money.
If you’re looking at the Kia Soul EV, you might also be interested in these alternatives.
BYD Atto 3 | Cupra Born | DS 3 E-Tense | Fiat 500e | Honda e | Hyundai Kona Electric | Jeep Avenger | Kia Niro EV | Mazda MX-30 | MG 4 | Mini Electric | Ora Funky Cat | Peugeot e-208 | Peugeot e-2008 | Renault Zoe | Smart #1 | Tesla Model Y | Vauxhall Corsa Electric | Volkswagen ID.3
Model tested: Kia Soul EV Urban
Price as tested: £32,845
Engine: 100kW single electric motor
Gearbox: Single-speed automatic
Power: 136 hp
Torque: 395 Nm
Top speed: 97 mph
0-62 mph: 9.9 seconds
Electric range: 171 miles
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Not yet tested
TCE Expert Rating: 75% (as of May 2023)
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