Soul EV has new nose with charging ports, aerodynamic tweaks to front and underbody, unique wheels and colours

Soul EV has new nose with charging ports, aerodynamic tweaks to front and underbody, unique wheels and colours

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Kia Motors (UK) is taking a softly-softly approach to the launch of its first battery-electric car, targeting just 100-200 sales in 2015 through 13 specialist dealers. It expects to be third in Europe after EV-friendly Norway (1,030) and France (300).

Total production for global sale is limited to around 5,000 a year.

UK EV sales year to date totalled 4,514 compared with 2,592 in all of 2013. Rather than offering a dedicated electric model, such as the class-leading Nissan Leaf (2,969 YTD), BMW i3 (874) and Renault Zoe (457), Kia is billing the Soul EV as a "supplementary powertrain variant" and to "showcase new technology". Similar rivals sold here include the Smart ForTwo, VW's Up and Golf, and Ford Focus.

As well as proven petrol and diesel powertrains, Kia also has dedicated hybrid, 'mild' petrol and diesel hybrids, PHEVs and fuel cells in its future.

Kia sees impediments to EV sales including limited choice, 'range anxiety', charging, high vehicle purchase cost and depreciation and 'dealer expertise', all of  which, it says, are reflected in its Soul EV launch plans.

Those 13 chosen dealers - more were willing to sign up and are on hold for a second outlet phase in a year or two - have had to make an investment to support EV sales and servicing, devote time and funding to training, offer fast charging equipment and appoint and train in-house EV experts.

The plan, according to Kia, is to keep dealers profitable, "start small, create the demand and grow volume" and only sell the Soul to customers for whom an EV is the right choice.

"We will not force the sales volume, but will sell to customers where EV meets their motoring requirements," the automaker insists.

David Labrosse, who heads product planning for Kia Europe, said the automaker wanted to offer "trendy, local zero emission mobility", sell EV as a powertrain choice rather than a specific vehicle model, provide a car as easy to drive as petrol or diesel versions, and "innovate in dedicated-EV customer expectations".

UK pricing is a single-specification, GBP29,995 (GBP24,995 after a government grant), fully-loaded model offered in two-tone light metallic blue with a white roof or monotone silver. Kia UK's usual seven-year/100,000-mile transferable warranty is included and routine maintenance packages for three or five years are optional.

The motor develops 81.4kw of power and 285Nm of torque and claimed maximum range is 132 miles, about 30 more than the Leaf. This comes courtesy of a 282kg, 27kw/h, air-cooled, lithium-polymer, battery pack under the floor made up of 96 cells in eight modules giving the car 58/42 front/rear weight distribution.

Unlike BMW, which charges GBP560 for DC fast-charge capability, Kia provides all you need for both regular and fast AC charging at home and DC CHAdeMO at public recharge points on the move - both plugs are behind a panel in the front grille (illumination also included) and two cables, 10A three-pin and a Type 1/Type 2 adapter, plus a dedicated 30-amp, 7kW AC wall box (an industry first) come with the car.

Recharging from fully depleted takes 10-14 hours from a regular UK AC 17-amp household plug, under five hours using the wallbox and 25 minutes to 80% at a dedicated public or dealer DC fast-charge point.

Innovations include a 'driver only' button for climate control, intelligent air induction control which recirculates some interior air under suitable conditions to reduce energy expended drawing in fresh from outside and the use of heat pump technology for cabin heating/cooling to increase efficiency.

Other Soul EV features include a new 3.5-inch OLED instrument cluster, an eight-inch satnav/rear camera/infotainment centre display, special under-bonnet and firewall sound insulation and aerodynamic drag-reducing measures for nose airflow and full underbody covering.

The specification includes special 16-inch alloy wheels which no doubt contributed to the impressive ride quality during a 20-mile, traffic clogged drive from central London to south-eastern outskirts and back, digital radio, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, rear privacy glass, Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming plus charging time and climate control pre-setting.

Safety-related gear includes emergency braking assist, stability control and management, hill start assist, emergency stop signals, tyre pressure monitor (inflation kit instead of spare wheel) and six airbags.

Being based on the second generation Soul, the EV is a practical and spacious small(ish) crossover and the electric is a doddle to drive. Press the Start button, wait for the 'go' light, engage D or B (regenerative braking), press accelerator and scoot. The sheer amount of torque available from rest in an EV always impresses and the Soul sprints eagerly away from traffic lights (Kia quotes 0-60mph in 10.8 seconds and a 90mph top speed), darts effortlessly into gaps in unforgiving London traffic and is generally comfortable and fun to drive. And so quiet, another EV bonus. Climate control was efficient, engaging the air conditioning only when needed. Headlights are automatic; wipers, surprisingly, are not.

Kia's newest Soul is an interesting addition to the UK EV landscape and adds a crossover/SUV body style to the choice out there. Kia is playing uber-cautious with its forecast; I'd be surprised if this fine new Soul doesn't do 200 units in its first year. Or more.