What is it?
Kia launched its third-generation version of the quirky Soul in 2019 and for the first time decided not to sell any combustion-engined versions in Europe. Instead just one electrically powered model was offered, with a 150kW motor and 64kWh battery pack, giving it an impressive official range between charges of 280 miles. In real-world motoring that’s nearer 250 miles which is again more than enough for most users.
Not everyone needs such extended capabilities, however, so now there is a second version, with a 100kW motor, 39.2kWh battery and a price saving of more than £5,000. And following the convention established by recent Kia releases, they adopt the names of ‘Urban’ and ‘Explore’.
The Soul has evolved since it first appeared in 2008. Then the car was heavily promoted as something different, and its boxy profile led to much confusion as to whether it was a large hatchback or a small SUV. And Kia traded on the novelty, pitching it as a lifestyle model aimed at buyers that wanted to stand out from the crowd – one notable feature in the first generation was the ability to specify door speakers that pulsated in various colours.
Pulsating speakers are now a memory as the Soul has ‘grown up’ – in 2014 it was the first Kia to be offered with an electric drivetrain, and it has been a core part of the Korean brand’s mushrooming electric strategy ever since.
Today the Soul retains its slightly quirky, different from the norm visuals but it is also a highly practical vehicle. The largest Soul yet, it still has a small car footprint but thanks to its boxy design lots of space within – the term crossover could have been invented for this car.
The practicality has been added to by the third-generation version offering more power but also more than doubling the combined range up to 280 miles (while claiming a ‘city’ range of more than 400 miles) – this makes it one of the best performers between charges in the mainstream market.
Making available the Urban model with its smaller battery and lower power makes sense – Kia quotes up to 171 miles between charges which is well over most potential users’ daily needs. Meanwhile as well as the saving in cost price, recharging times are cut – the Urban can be fully charged on a 7.2kW AC charger in six hours, compared to nine hours 15 minutes for the Explore, and on DC chargers you can go from 10 to 80% in 48 minutes using a 50kW unit, the Explore taking an hour and four minutes.
What do we think?
Those looking to join the march to electric would be wrong to dismiss the Soul due to its past ‘fashionable’ image – what we have here is a practical ‘big’ small car. Some reviewers have dubbed the looks ‘controversial but we don’t agree – the Soul does square very well, much better for example than Nissan’s short-lived Cube.
Those looks also mean lots of space front and rear, especially headroom. However one letdown is the boot – it’s a split level design so you can store charge cables in the bottom half but this leaves just 315 litres for general luggage, less than core rivals.
We drove both versions for this review and the differences are simple – the Explore offers more power, more distance between charges and some extra equipment. This principally consists of roof rails and some extra SUV-style body panels to give it a more rugged look, a bigger interior infotainment screen (with access to Kia’s Connect telematics system) plus a suite of extra active safety systems. The Urban already boasts a long list of safety aids though the current generation version has not been tested by Euro NCAP, a four-star rating earned by its second-generation predecessor.
It’s very easy to slip into the Soul and get comfortable – the driving position is high with excellent vision, almost SUV like… While the 10.25-inch central touchscreen of the Explore is impressive, the 8-inch version of the Urban is perfectly adequate especially when combined with the standard-fit Apple and Android smartphone capability, displaying Google Maps or your chosen navigation system nice and high, close to the windscreen and therefore the drivers vision.
Press a button to bring the electrics to life, select D and the Soul glides away, silently and smoothly. And this no-fuss approach is maintained through general driving – this is a car very undemanding of its driver. But it can perform when needed – the Urban model takes 7.9 seconds to get to 62mph which is two seconds slower than the Explore but it certainly doesn’t feel sluggish.
On the road the car rides well and in comfort, the chassis dynamics only noticeable in aggressive, high-speed driving of the kind not usually done in mainstream EVs. Cornering is competent though with very little feedback from the steering wheel, while Kia’s regeneration system is clever, with four levels selected by paddles on the steering column plus an auto mode which adjusts the amount of retardation (and effectively, braking) based on traffic levels ahead.
Irritations apart from the boot? The Soul does follow the trend towards too much information, in this case of the audio variety. We are all used to the warning sounds emitted by such features as lane departure warnings or when even slightly exceeding the speed limit for a particular stretch of road, but the Soul takes things a stage further – every time the speed limit changes it displays the new limit on the dash but also insists on issuing a ‘bing’ to let you know it’s changed. Thankfully this sound can be turned off in a sub menu.
It’s a minor minus point – the car ticks as many practical boxes as it might emotional ones, and should certainly be a consideration for anyone wanting a compact-sized EV.
Kia Soul EV
- P11D value: From £26,745.83/£31,912.50
- Motor: 100/150kW with 39.2/64kWh battery
- Torque: 395 Nm
- Power: 136/204 hp
- Transmission: single-speed automatic
- 0-62mph: 9.9/7.9 secs
- Top Speed: 97/104 mph
- Quoted Range (combined): 171/280 miles
- CO2 emissions: 0g/km
- VED (first yr) £0 (until 2025)