Kia and sister brand Hyundai have already introduced two electrified vehicles in the past year. The Hyundai Kona EV and Kia Niro EV are both great vehicles that belong to the largest automotive growth segment: the small SUV, aka crossover. So it's no surprise that Kia has upgraded the electric Soul with longer range, upgraded tech and a design that looks like it was pulled from The Empire Strikes Back. It should be no surprise to folks who have driven the gas-powered version of this vehicle that the electric edition is also great.
Gallery: 2020 Kia Soul EV first drive | 22 Photos
Gallery: 2020 Kia Soul EV first drive | 22 Photos
What's nice is that on the tech front, Kia has followed in Hyundai's footsteps by offering ADAS (Advanced Drivers Assistance System) standard on the Soul EV. No matter which trim level you get, it comes with adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. While driving in Seoul's morning traffic, the system had no problem tracking vehicles and adjusting itself when other cars merged in front of it.
The lane-keep assist was equally smooth at centering the car, but sharper highway curves were ultimately its undoing. The small SUV is good at is alerting you when you get close to the edge of the lane. If you're the type of person who has trouble centering your vehicle, it's great. But it starts to act like a helicopter parent always nit-picking your lane position choices around sharp corners with its alerts. My advice: On long stretches of boring interstates, keep it on. Everywhere else, shut it down.
Yet when you do find yourself on a twisty mountain road or in town, the vehicle's adjustable regenerative braking is great. The Soul EV has four levels of motor-assisted deceleration, ranging from level zero (which is just coasting) to three, which translates into one-pedal driving and pushes the most energy back to the battery. Like all these systems, the Soul's highest level of motor-based stopping takes a bit to get used to, but once you've mastered the ability to lift off the accelerator and stop right ahead of a crosswalk, you're golden. I found it especially fun while navigating the downhill section of a twisting mountain road. I tapped the brakes maybe twice during that section of the drive.
Which brings to a surprising bit about the Soul EV: how well it corners. With its 64kWh battery pack under the seats, the low center of gravity reduces the crossover's body roll and makes for spirited driving. The only real drawback is that its rather precise steering might be too twitchy for some drivers. Turn the wheel just a little bit and the vehicle reacts. I'm a fan, but others might find it too aggressive.
Acceleration is also spirited. Kia was smart to include a Sport mode for those times when you want to take advantage of all that electric torque (291-foot-pounds). Sure, it burns through your battery, but it's a hoot. For more reasonable driving there's a "Normal" and efficient Eco mode. While cruising around town in Eco mode I was never wanting for power, nor did I feel like I was unable to keep pace with traffic when I depressed the accelerator. For those times when you really need to squeeze every single mile out of the battery, there's an Eco plus mode that can be used by holding down the "mode" button for three seconds.
Fortunately, the long-range Soul EV can cover up to 243 miles before the 64kWh pack needs a charge. It's short of the Hyundai Kona EV's range, but more than that of the Chevy Bolt. It supports 100kW DC fast charging standard. So taking the battery from 20 to 80 percent takes 46 minutes according to Kia.
The small SUV's infotainment system helps keep track of your energy usage and like other Kia vehicles is the exact system found in Hyundais. Like the Kona EV, it's an electric vehicle focused version of the infotainment system with a home screen that highlights three main features and subscreens that house the rest of the features you care about. It also supports Android Auto and CarPlay; during my tests only had just a tiny bit of latency while in use.
Meanwhile, the rest of the interior is comfortable both in the front and back seats. This newer Kia Soul EV has less headroom in the back, but even at 6-foot-3, I didn't have any issues sitting in the back.
Which brings me to the design. The Kia Soul EV looks marvelous, especially if you opt for one of the two-tone paint jobs that adds an accent tint to the roof. The front of the car looks like a Star Wars Stormtrooper (you know, the ones on Hoth), and unlike the Hyundai Kona, the lack of a grill doesn't take away from its striking appearance. If anything it actually looks better than the gas version of the vehicle.
Overall, the Kia Soul EV is a magnificent upgrade to an already very good electric vehicle. Kia has added all the tech first-adopters would want into a package that's efficient and stylish. Once we get the pricing details, we'll know just how good a deal it is.