By Aaron Bragman on February 6, 2014
Competes with: Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Nissan Leaf, Smart ForTwo ED
Looks like: A new Kia Soul with fewer body openings
Powertrain: An electric motor making 109 hp and 210 pounds-feet of torque, single- speed transmission and 27-kwh lithium-ion battery pack; Kia says range is 80-100 miles
Hits dealerships: Summer 2014, limited to coastal states
Kia unveiled its first-ever all-electric vehicle at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show this week, the 2014 Kia Soul EV. Based off the recently redesigned front-wheel-drive Soul subcompact, the new Soul EV will join the growing list of small battery-electric vehicles on sale primarily in the coastal states in order to comply with increasingly stringent zero-emissions mandates that require a percentage of an automaker's sales to bezero-emissions vehicles.
The new Soul EV doesn't look much different from the standard Soul, which already received a 2014 update inside and out to incorporate cues from Kia's popular Track'ster concept car. The main visual differences between the conventional gasoline-powered car and the EV are in external trim — the EV has a blocked-out grille opening where the charging ports are hidden, 16-inch wheels with a design borrowed from the Optima Hybrid and a two-tone paint scheme that looks positively Mini Cooperish. Three colors will be offered: white with blue roof, blue with white roof or silver with white roof.
Although the Soul EV looks little changed from the normal Soul, there are some EV- specific differences in the cabin. Two seat options are available: a standard dark cloth with blue stitching or optional dark gray leather with blue piping. Kia has upped the eco-friendly plastic content of the interior as well, using organic plant- based plastics for 19 different interior parts.
Kia's UVO multimedia system is standard, as is navigation and a suite of apps designed specifically for EV operation, which can show things like the location of nearby charging stations. The gauges are replaced by a low-energy LED display, which features all of the requisite meters for EV operation, state of charge and more. The car also features a novel air conditioning system that allows the driver to select a number of modes designed to minimize electrical draw from the car's battery. An optional heat pump can be used to heat the cabin air based on waste heat from the vehicle's onboard electronics, and a driver-only setting on the system can shut off ventilation to the passenger-side front position and the rear positions to focus heating or cooling on the driver only.
The Soul EV is an all-electric battery-powered vehicle featuring an 81.4-kilowatt, 109-horsepower electric motor driving the front wheels through a single-speed gear reduction transmission. The battery itself is a 27-kilowatt-hour air-cooled lithium-ion pack located under the vehicle floor, which will provide the car about 80-100 miles of range in normal use. Kia reports having achieved more than 100 miles under certain conditions, however, which is not uncommon in such vehicles.
Recharging happens through one of three methods. Full recharge takes about 24 hours on a standard household 120-volt Level 1 outlet and drops to about five hours on a 240-volt Level 2 fast charger. A third option is a 480-volt DC "CHAdeMo" fast charger, typically only available at industrial locations or commercial charge stations, which can recharge the car to about 80 percent in just 33 minutes. The battery pack does intrude somewhat into the cabin, however, eliminating 3 inches of rear-passenger legroom, dropping it from 39 inches to just more than 36. The car should get from zero-to-60 mph in less than 12 seconds according to Kia, and is limited to a top speed of 90 mph. Regenerative brakes are standard and have the ability to recapture up to 12 percent of the car's energy when coasting or braking. The regenerative brakes offer four selectable modes as well to allow drivers to customize the response and aggressiveness.
Initially, the Soul EV will be sold in limited markets, including California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. These are the states with the biggest EV infrastructure says Kia, and are the largest markets for EVs. It will arrive in dealerships in those areas this summer; pricing has not been announced.
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman grew up in the Detroit area, comes from an automotive family and is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Email Aaron