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Kia Soul EV 2023 review


Sorry Australia, but we got no Soul – but the boxy Kia remains on sale in both America and the UK, so we hit the Motherland to drive what we’re missing

Good points

  • Quirky styling
  • Reliable 400km+ range
  • Punchy performance
  • Good ride quality
  • Rear leg and head room
  • Strong tech and features

Needs work

  • Expensive to buy in the UK
  • Small boot hurts practicality
  • Slow 77kW charging peak
  • Nannying speed warning
  • No rear air vents

Driving the Kia Soul EV is a case of what might have been. A cheap and small electric car in right-hand-drive – yet, alas, only on British shores.

Back in 2019, when the character-packed Soul was chopped from Kia’s Australian range, there were high hopes that the quirky hatchback would soon return in EV guise.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 rear

A new generation electric Soul had recently been revealed, and fresh from confirming an electric Niro for local launch, Kia Australia’s suits seemed willing to fill their boots with whatever EVs were made available.

Then nothing. We got no Soul.

In the meantime, the brand’s launched two generations of the Niro, which despite being similar in size to the Soul lacks the latter’s character.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 driving front 2

Kia has since added the premium-pitched EV6 and EV9 models to its electric portfolio. Yet there’s still no place for this smallest of EVs, despite our market crying out for more affordable electrification.

On a recent UK trip, I managed to snare a 1000km drive in a Soul EV.

It’s a quirky looking car with eager performance, surprisingly roomy passenger space and there’s all the infotainment and safety features demanded by the modern car shopper.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 badge 2

Its EV credentials are also solid. An entry-level 100kW/395Nm Urban offers 275km range from its 39.2kWh battery, while our 150kW/395Nm Explore tester claims – and more or less delivers – a solid 451km range from a 64kWh-usable battery.

It’s just, well…kinda funny looking. Some love that, but for many it scrubs it from the shopping list.

Why does Australia have no Soul?

We Aussies only have ourselves to blame. The two previous generation Souls sold here between 2009 and 2019, and we practically ignored the car—some may have forgotten it was ever sold locally.

Kia shifted just 485 in its last full year on sale: we bought twice the number of Ford’s mediocre EcoSport SUVs. Just six years ago, Aussie buyers could drive a petrol-powered Soul away for less than $25,000, but just 2856 did over its decade-long run.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 rear offset

But I get it. Not everyone wants to be seen in a ‘clown car’, which is what my wife called our white-bodied red-roofed Soul EV on first meeting.

Chatting over the Soul’s local fate, Kia Australia chief product planner Roland Rivero tells me that the model just didn’t resonate in our market.

“We really needed something like the Seltos,” he said. “Australia clearly has a bigger appetite for SUVs.”

Rivero said he desperately tried to have the Soul classified as an SUV here (it is in North America and the UK), but it was lumbered with the less appealing (for our market) hatchback tag. We are a funny lot.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 front 3/4

“We didn’t put our hand up for this (generation) Soul, given our history,” said Rivero. “There was a temptation to get Soul EV here, but at the time, we hadn’t yet secured any EVs for Australia.”

Souls have always sold well in the USA – they embrace boxy cars more readily than we do – but for this generation they have only the petrol version, not the EV. Canada, meanwhile, take both.

In the UK and mainland Europe (Germany, France, Spain, Norway, etc.) it’s a different story. They sell only the EV Soul, where it’s sold alongside the slightly larger, more conventional-looking Niro EV.

We’ll look to the UK for a price comparison, hinting at what this Soul EV would have cost in Australia.

The 275km range version is £32,845 ($64,400) and our 451km version £39,045 ($76,500). Expensive, but the UK scores more generous EV subsidies than us.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 side

A UK Kia Niro EV ‘4’ is closest in spec to our 64kWh Niro Electric GT-Line ($72,360), and is priced at £43,195 ($84,600) there.

Considering these percentage differences, a 451km-range Soul EV would likely have cost around $63,000 in Australia – about lineball with the bigger battery Hyundai Kona EV Highlander.

Perhaps the closest analogue these days would be China’s BYD Atto 3 which is proving an extremely popular compact EV locally.

What are the Kia Soul EV’s dimensions and interior like?

It’s 4195mm long, 1800mm wide and 1605mm tall—about the same as a Hyundai Kona Electric, albeit 35mm higher. The Soul looks small in the metal though: let’s call it fun-sized.

It presents more like an SUV than a hatchback, not least when its 153mm ground clearance is more than a Toyota C-HR (137mm) and near matching a Mazda CX-3 (155mm).

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 wheel

Our Soul EV comes standard with SUV Pack (Australia should have insisted upon this), giving more prominent wheel arch and side sill plastic cladding, a skid plate under the front bumper and roof rails.

It’s a cutesy compact thing, and its near flat roof an antidote to the proliferation of ‘coupe-like’ SUVs with terribly compromised rear headroom.

It looks under-wheeled on UK-spec 17-inch alloys, though any larger would harm electric range – while you get dual full LED headlights and LEDs for the fogs, indicators, DRLs and funky, wraparound boomerang-like rear combination lights.

For a bit of fun, Mars orange is the free standard colour—not white—while all else are £745 ($1460) extra. Our tester is finished in snow white pearl with a red roof, but you can get black with red roof, red with black roof or blue with black roof. Jury’s out on colour-coded side mirrors – our red protrusions are a bit in-your-face.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 interior front

As we expect of Kias, the Soul EV’s cabin feels solid and presents well, though it looks slightly dated next to its more recent offerings. The dashboard stylishly curves into the doors, which feature an intricate door handle surround that illuminates in your choice of ambient-lit colour.

There are a few downmarket foibles like an overuse of easily-scratched piano black trim and some plastics are cheap, but there’s soft-touch for the dash and door tops.

A rotary gear shifter, widescreen 10.25-inch infotainment, 7-inch digital dash, navigation and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are solid inclusions, but overall it’s a step down from a Kia EV6 but on par with a Niro EV.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 interior

Vinyl-trimmed seats are firm rather than cossetting, with front chairs heated and the driver’s power controlled. Heated steering wheel too for England’s eleven months of winter each year.

Despite not being built on an EV-only platform, rear passenger space is very good for a compact SUV. The tall roof may look gawky from the outside, but it’s most welcome if you’re riding in the back.

It’ll easily accommodate two large adults in comfort back here, with impressive head and leg room. The middle seat’s far firmer and less useful, while a lack of rear air vents is a silly oversight.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 interior back seats
Kia Soul EV LR 2023 boot

Generous rear seating compromises boot space. It’s a disappointing 315-litres – less than the tiny Kia Rio hatchback.

There’s a two-tiered floor, but you need the lower section to house charging cables. The rear seats don’t fold fully flat, so it’s not as versatile a car as its boxy dimensions should afford.

How does the Kia Soul EV drive?

Surprisingly well. The Soul EV matches the Kia Niro EV’s 150kW of power, but thumps its torque with 395Nm versus just 255Nm. That’s the calibration Kia previously used for the Niro before it turned down the torque dial to prevent chirping the front tyres…

The monster-torque results in an eager, zippy performance that makes it fun to dart through England’s clogged, skinny streets. Figures show the Soul will complete the 0-100km/h sprint in 7.9 seconds, but this EV feels faster. There is serious and enduring pull under throttle.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 driving front 3

Kia has calibrated the power and torque well; it’s progressive in its delivery rather than all banshee from the get go as long as you don’t mash the throttle from standstill.

Doing so brings a pesky dose of torque steer, accompanied by squeal from the eco tyres—hence the recent adjustments to the more sensible Niro.

Despite boxy proportions, Kia’s kept the Soul EV’s centre of gravity low enough (a heavy 457kg battery mounted low will do that) to ensure it can cope with corners without horrible body roll.

Impressively, the rear features independent multi-link suspension, so handling’s well tied-down and responsive when asked to quickly change direction. The smaller battery Soul is featherweight for an EV at just 1610kg, but our 64kWh model weighs in at 1758kg.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 engine

Ride and steering are well resolved, nicely balancing the comfort/handling compromise. Perhaps it’s slightly too firmly sprung for an everyday car—but perhaps that’s the UK’s poorly-maintained bomb crater-esque road surfaces.

Smooth highways reveal a plush ride, and refinement is generally good aside from some tyre roar at higher speeds.

The Soul’s a good size for England, where narrow rural roads were designed when everyone was driving skinny Austin 7s.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 front driving 2

Its diminutive nature makes it fun and safe to punt around the countryside, then when you’re in town it will actually fit in one of the UK’s matchbox-sized parking spaces. No wonder people don’t buy Hiluxes (or Kia Tasmans?) here.

Driver aids are abundant, and include the ones you really want. Radar cruise, auto emergency braking including for pedestrians, cyclists and at junctions; rear cross traffic and blind spot assist, safe exit warning and a traffic jam assist.

The latter is a non-negotiable in England, as much of the road system is basically a traffic queue. It’s intelligent to allow the car act as a second pair of eyes here.

In the city, regenerative braking – of which there are four settings, including completely off – offers one-pedal driving. It works well, and it’s simple to bring the car to a complete stop using the left steering wheel paddle.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 driving rear

A couple of bugbears: the climate control feels lost at sea. It’s either too stuffy or too chilly, with the correct temperature hard to find.

European legislation dictates new cars must be sold with nannying speed limit warnings that default to on each time you start the car, and Kia has interpreted this rule strictly than some other manufacturers.

Drive over the speed limit by a single digit and the Soul makes a number of loud noises in the cabin. Helpful, perhaps, but highly distracting too—meaning you’ll look for how to turn it off.

Running costs and charging the Kia Soul EV

EVs produced by Kia and cousin Hyundai thus far have done a better job of providing their claimed electric range in real-world conditions than most rival electric cars, and the Soul was no anomaly.

The Soul EV with 64kWh-usable battery claims a range of 451km at combined energy use of 14.2kWh/100km. We managed 15.5kWh/100km. That’s nine percent behind the claim—but many rivals blow out by more like 15-20 percent on their claims.

Still, our result was good enough to deliver a tested range of 413km over mixed driving—some city, country and highway—which means even long road trips can be completed with minimal charging stops.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 charging

That’s a good thing, because a slow DC charging peak speed is one of the Soul’s downsides. Its 77kW maximum charging rate means a sluggish 47 minute charge to recoup 10-80 percent of the capacity (41 to 330km).

On a 7.2kW AC charger, it takes about nine hours to fully charge, meaning that this task can be completed overnight if you have a wallbox at your disposal.

The British public charging network is, as you’d expect, more comprehensive than ours. Charge points are ubiquitous, but many DC fast chargers have been installed in pub car parks—rather than more typical Aussie locations like supermarket car parks.

However, persistently high energy prices in the UK mean that charging an EV is very expensive there. We paid 79 pence ($1.55) per kWh for a 50kW pub charger, or $99 for a full charge. The pub was closed, making matters worse.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 driving

But your eyes really start watering in Britain when you realise that the equivalent distance in a petrol SUV at 8.0L/100km would cost less at current fuel prices—about £47 ($92).

Back in Australia, with EV public charging costing an average of $0.65/kWh, a Soul would still be much cheaper to charge up in public than a petrol alternative: $45 versus $66.

With English DC power being so costly, the bulk of our charging was done from a 2kW domestic AC socket. It’s slow, but we simply topped up overnight and it was never an issue, even with some long-distance touring on our itinerary.

The honest verdict on the Kia Soul EV

The Kia Soul EV’s zesty electric motor, impressive overall drive and lengthy, reliable range make it feel very similar to the impressive Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia’s own Niro EV. That is no surprise given there’s much common ground between these models.

But the Soul’s body style is its point of difference, for good and bad. Call it quirky, call it odd, but its boxy dimensions clearly lacked mass market appeal in Australia a few years ago—a shame in this era of vanilla-looking small SUVs.

Kia Soul EV LR 2023 side 2

Charming as this Soul EV is, a Kia of this size built on an EV-specific platform would be the car Australia would love. With better interior packaging, larger boot and faster charging it’d surely prove a winner.

The upcoming Kia EV5 medium SUV will be smaller and cheaper than the EV6—perhaps late $60,000s or early $70,000s—but a true low-cost Kia EV remains off the table for now.

However, rumours and spy photographs are already circulating of a forthcoming EV4 small SUV model, and if it packs the unique styling of the EV5, EV6 and EV9, perhaps we’ll rediscover our Soul after all.

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