2015 Kia Soul EV + Long-Term Update 2

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Besides one time on a golf course and another time at an indoor kart track, I’d never driven an electric car before I was given the keys to our long-term Kia Soul EV+. Like many of you, dear readers, I had a few questions that started to solidify as the clock ticked closer and closer to 5 p.m. What happens if I run out of juice? Will it be too slow to merge? Can it do more than 65 mph? I found answers to my main questions (flatbed tow truck, no, yes) and quite a few others handily on Kia’s own website.

After a bit of careful reading, a number of my fears were assuaged. I would likely survive eight days in a row without gasoline. I wanted to get the full experience, so I downloaded a few apps for my Android smartphone. I started with Kia’s UVO EV Services app and the ChargePoint app for locating charging stations. Now properly equipped, I endeavored to answer a few of the questions surrounding the whole EV experience.

How does it drive?

Well, the Kia Soul EV drives a whole lot like a regular car, just without gears. Similar to a CVT but without the delay when you signal for acceleration. It’s like a “normal” car, just simplified. Pedal down, immediate lag-free acceleration. We get used to a delay between acceleration and response, whether that means turbochargers spooling, an automatic transmission kicking down a gear, or a CVT doing whatever it does. The Kia Soul EV with its single-speed automatic and instant torque is delightfully smooth. Until I rode in our long-gone, other long-term Kia Soul (you know, the one with the gasoline engine), I thought, “Well, this electric Soul drives about as good as a regular Kia Soul. People wouldn’t be sacrificing too much to drive one of these.” Turns out the gas burners are the ones sacrificing. The 2.0-liter I-4 in our Kia Soul Exclaim produces all the same wind and tire noise as the Soul EV but one-ups the electric by adding a double helping of engine noise. I’m sure I’d find the regular Soul relatively agreeable had I not ridden in its freakishly quiet EV relative first.

Power is quite adequate for merging, even when I’m jumping into a pocket between cars with accelerators matted. Passing is doable, though when I’m cruising in the 50-60-mph range, I start to notice that the Soul is using most of its available oomph to keep me at speed. The Soul EV takes 2.7 seconds to go from 50 to 60 mph, but our gas-powered Soul Exclaim takes 2.3 seconds, almost half a second faster. In the real world the immediate push of the electric drivetrain contrasts pretty sharply with the languid but otherwise acceptable response of the gas-fed inline-four. You get the impression that with the Soul EV there’s no slop. Range Anxiety?

When you’re driving an electric vehicle, you are acutely aware that every driving choice takes energy. The view from the driver’s seat ensures that.

The left side is power-management headquarters: battery state of charge, the dreaded range indicator, and energy use. I drove nearly all of the time in B mode, which cranks the regenerative braking to its maximum when I completely release the accelerator. Like the economy gauges at the bottom of the tachometer on some vehicles, you can watch the display light up as you lasso all of your electrons for a passing maneuver. As I spent more time in the Soul EV, the novelty of the system wore off and I became more used to the energy gauge. With the Soul in B you can drive without using the brakes in most situations. I usually commute in a manual-transmission Civic, so using the Soul’s ability to slow without the brakes was a natural transition, and although it takes some adjustment, by day four I was pretty comfortable with the system.

My commute is almost 40 miles round trip, so in the day-to-day grind there wasn’t much range-induced anxiety. I would typically make it back to the office (and its Level 2 charger) with about 56 miles of range left. Aside from B mode, I made no concessions for efficient driving; I wasn’t slumming it for the sake of a few electrons. I cranked the air-conditioning, listened to music, ran the ventilated seats, and drove normally—although my “normal” driving style is pretty relaxed, so perhaps you could say “cup of coffee without a lid” pace.

It was a hot, long weekend that got me. Sure, there was a 30-minute stint at the Level 2 charger when I picked my wife up from class, but the range was dropping, and I only have 110-volts of power at home to ply the Kia with. I needed to find some public place with a more serious solution. Yes, folks, we’re talking Level 3: the built-in CHAdeMO port and its promised 30-minute charge time. I rolled into a local mall, plugged in, enjoyed some window-shopping, ate lunch at the food court, and otherwise killed time while the car charged. If you’re not in a hurry, the EV charging bit is quite relaxing.

The Charging Experience and Some Apps

The Soul’s infotainment system has a built-in feature for not only finding but also navigating to the charging stations. The trouble, I found, was the onboard system does not provide three key pieces of information: payment type, precise location, or current availability. I’ve encountered all three in different combinations. Once I drove all the way to the top of a parking garage only to find the station on the side of the building on the ground floor. To add insult to injury, it was on a network I didn’t have a payment card for. A more frequent occurrence is hunting around for the charger (“bottom level of parking structure” is only so specific) only to find it occupied. That’s where a company such as ChargePoint comes in. Its app allows me to see what payment forms are accepted (ChargePoint offers a card with a good network), varying levels of description on location, and often whether it’s in use (typically only the ChargePoint stations). The other users help fill in the blanks on location when it’s not obvious and would note that certain registered stations did not actually exist, which is a surprisingly common occurrence.

Once plugged in, Kia’s UVO EV Services app offers a level of remote control and basic information. The functionality is there, but the execution left me wishing for more polish. You’ve got a nice set of functions that allow you to lock/unlock the car, set the climate control (if it’s plugged in), and check the status of the battery (state of charge, range, if the car’s unlocked, etc). The problem is you see a lot of “vehicle status check in progress.” It’s not exactly responsive. Another problem is the app does not alert you if there’s a problem with charging. Like, say, you plug in your CHAdeMO cable, everything looks good, you walk away, and there’s an error, so you sit around for 30 minutes waiting while your car gains precisely zero charge.

Remotely sending climate control requests is a really handy feature that I used on my toasty weekend. The climate control will run for about 15 minutes once you send it, which is about long enough to cool a car down on a hot day. If it’s 90+ degrees out, just set it to 62 degrees; it won’t come close to that, but it’ll be cooler when you get in. You cannot, however, do this unless the car is plugged into a charger.

Me, EV?

Can I live the electric life? Well, it’s looking like a solid “probably.” The driving experience is quite agreeable, charging is easy enough in day-to-day life, and even charging while I’m out is relatively painless.

In future updates, we’ll explore life beyond 90 miles and the effects hypermiling has on range and the EV experience.

More on the 2015 Kia Soul EV Plus here:

Arrival Update 1: Idle Chatter