There is a dirty little problem with electric vehicles that is going unaddressed. The ability to charge EVs for primary target buyers is very limited. Specifically, people living in urban areas with short commutes. I live in a downtown Boston condominium and I park my car in a common garage. Those garages do not have automotive charging stations and an attempt to plug one’s vehicles into a wall socket would result in an immediate outrage from the neighbors and a scalding letter from building management.
That was my biggest issue with the 2017 Kia Soul EV. I had nowhere to charge it – not at home and not at work. There are street chargers within half a mile from my home but I did not want to park someone else’s vehicle on the street. There are garages with charging stations within a mile, but the parking fees were around $50 for a 24-hour period. I wouldn’t use either with my own car just because they are inconvenient.
For that reason I unfortunately could not review this vehicle for a longer period of time. I had to drive the Soul EV back to the magical garage where press cars are kept as soon as I got it. In fairness, no one knew that I was not able to charge an EV at home or at work and I didn’t know the Soul was going to be an EV. This all goes back to the fact that charging electric vehicles in American cities is challenging.
The 2017 Kia Soul EV comes in three flavors: a stripped down Soul EV-e which is only available in California, the base EV, and the EV+ shown here. The differences between the EV and EV+ are rather minor, limited only to some comfort features such as sunroof, power-folding mirrors, heated and ventilated leather seats, beep-beep parking sensors, and a set of fog-lights. All mechanicals on the two cars, down to wheels and tires, are the same.
Those mechanicals consist of a 360-volt battery with a capacity of 27 kilo-Watt-hours. That sends its power to an AC motor. That motor in turn sends 109-hp and 210 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via single-speed (fixie, for your hipsters out there) gear-unit. This gives the Soup EV an EPA-estimated economy of 120/92/105 MPGe (city/highway/combined) and a range of EPA-estimated 93-miles. Kia says that the Soul EV can accelerate from standstill to 60mph in 11.2 seconds and its top speed is 90mph.
Some time ago I drove the sporty turbocharged Kia Soul ! (yes, an exclamation point is the trim level). That little car is seriously one the most underrated vehicles on the market. It looks different, it’s quick, drives great, it’s functional, and affordable. The EV version retained a lot of what makes the ! great, but it’s not quick and looks slightly different. While it drives differently than the !, it doesn’t drive abnormally, or different in any significant way than one would expect a modern vehicle to drive. It’s quieter and the sounds are a bit different, but in the world of quiet cars with continuously variable transmissions and engine stop/start systems, different is the new normal.
I had to cover a distance of 36 miles to the garage. The display read that I could travel a maximum distance of 48 miles. I didn’t see that as an issue, as I like to live dangerously, and I’ve seen the “distance to empty” readout approaching zero many times, on many cars. So why would this be any different? I had confident hopes that Kia engineers were precise in the development of this crucial measure.
Knowing that I didn’t want to run out of juice before reaching my destination, I drove this EV focused on gaining the most miles from my e-gallons. I didn’t accelerate hard in the city and while braking recharges the battery, I do not think the rate of recharging was greater than the rate of depletion due to quicker acceleration. On the highway, I kept constant speeds as best as I could. I stayed in the right lane, I didn’t tailgate trucks, I didn’t do anything abnormal or unsafe that some hypermilers do in order to squeeze out an extra inch from a watt. I drove normally but slightly slower than usual, like I would in a conventional car that was low on gas, and the AC was on.
Kia did calculate the driving distance accurately, if slightly conservatively, and that is a good thing. At the end of my 36 mile trip I had 14 miles of travel left. When I hit the 20% mark, the Soul EV politely told me to “Please visit a Nearby Charging Station” and even offered to find one for me. While it made me nervous, I kept reminding myself that most other modern cars do the same thing when they’re low on gasoline.
The thing that would make one nervous isn’t the part about running out of battery power but rather what comes next. With conventional cars it’s a quick trip to a gas station or a small fuel jug, and the car is once again running. An EV needs to be hauled to a charging station, carefully lined up next to it, and plugged it for quite some time. It is that unknown that is giving people such EV range anxiety.
Once you get to the charger and pop the cover on the front grill, two charging ports will be exposed: typical SAE J1772 and CHAdeMO fast charge port. The charge time for the Soul EV is 24 hours at a typical 120v household socket. That time drops to less than five hours if a 240v charger is used. A 480v charger will charge up to 94% of the battery in 43 minutes.
The 2017 Soul EV-e is $32,250. The Soul EV is $33,950. The Soul EV+ is $35,950. The only available package, and only on the EV+ model, is the Sun and Fun package (and who doesn’t like sun and fun), which consists of a panoramic sunroof, speaker lights, and LED interior lighting, is $1100. For comparison, a conventional Soul ranges from $16,100 for the Base to $27,695 for a fully loaded ! model.
Looking at other electric vehicles, the Chevy Bolt starts at $37,495 and the all-new 2018 Nissan Leaf starts at $29,990. These are all manufacturer suggested retail prices and do not include any rebates or tax credits. It should be noted that both of these vehicles are much newer designs, have a greater driving range, and more power.
Whatever the electric, or even electrified, vehicle is, the issue of charging them still exists. Other than Tesla, automakers have not really been involved in proving EV charging infrastructure. That is slowly changing as even oil companies are beginning to invest in EV charging stations. But for now many people in large, densely populated cities, who either street park or use common garages, are simply unable to own an electric vehicle of any kind.
[Disclaimer: Kia Motors America Inc. provided both vehicle for the purpose of this article. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2017]