YOU usually know what you’re going to get in the motoring world - surprises just don’t come along too often.
Volvos are supremely comfortable if a little beige-trousered, Audis have second-to-none interiors, Peugeots still have that irritating view ahead which blocks the speedo and Land Rovers will end up going wrong at some point.
However, on the rare occasion something does surprise, they instantly become memorable as they shatter any pre-conceived opinions which inevitably form in one’s mind in the run-up to a car’s delivery.
I’ve loved cars with petrol-powered engines since my youth, whether it’s a hot hatch or a high-revving Porsche 911 that’s had the GT treatment. Engines, especially naturally aspirated ones, often dominate the experience.
Electric cars are something I’ve never quite understood from a purist point of view - even a Porsche Taycan doesn’t really float my boat no matter how hard my favourite manufacturer tries to entice us with ‘Turbo S’ badging, carbon ceramic brakes and alcantara-clad steering wheels. I adore driving and I want to be entertained by a simple, no-nonsense powertrain, fill it up with super unleaded when needed and go on my way, revving out engines and extracting their performance.
But the world’s changing, quickly, and greener vehicles are taking over. I’m a stubborn man, though, and went into this review thinking electric cars were too expensive, the novelty of plugging them in would wear thin after a day, they have little driver involvement, their reliability and long-term durability remains unknown and they’re heavy things thanks to their batteries, subsequently making them boat-like through corners.
It is a weird-looking thing, the Kia Soul EV. People look, they’re intrigued, and that appeals to me. The current best-selling electric car - the Tesla 3 - has about as much style as a brick through my eyes, but the boxy Kia - aided by its cool front and rear light design - does at least have personality. It reminds me a bit of a Nissan Cube, an oddity to most but strangely appealing to my oft-peculiar taste.
Step inside and it’s typically modern-day Kia; gloss black trim which is nice but a nightmare for fingerprints, a quality steering wheel and genuine quality. It’s a much-improved design, especially when compared to the marque’s shocking back catalogue of hideous cockpits found on its mid-to-late noughties cars.
To keep things simple, Kia opted for a single, highly-equipped trim level in the UK. It gets LED lights, rear privacy glass, electric and heated wing mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, adaptive smart cruise control, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a head-up display, DAB radio, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, wireless phone charging and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system as standard. And breathe…
Also included are a plethora of safety aids such as blind spot detection - which is very handy - and forward collision avoidance which, along with lane departure warnings, can be thrown into Room 101 and forgotten about for the rest of time.
Start it up and yes, there’s absolute silence. Unerring at first, completely alien, but very intriguing. It pulls away without any drama - you’ll hear a whirr and tyre noise, and that’s it. It’s instantaneous in the way it pulls and feels remarkably alert, but when you let off the throttle it’s almost like hitting a brick wall. This again is odd at first, but you soon become accustomed to driving almost without needing to use the brakes, bizarrely.
Having reviewed dozens of hybrids over the years, the Soul was my first electric-only car and even me - a hopeless motoring traditionalist - drove along in awe on that first journey, grinning like a kid on the dodgems. Its pick-up - whether from a standstill or at motorway speed - is incredible. There’s instant power thanks to the 64kWh lithium-ion battery, which delivers 201bhp. It feels more, but it’s good enough for 60mph in the sevens and a 280-mile claimed range.
Now, here’s the thing: beforehand I’d balk at that excellent figure, as having the air con on, headlights and heavy throttle usage would all dwindle that away, right? Sure, driving spiritedly does result in the battery life decreasing - as your fuel gauge would in a petrol or diesel-powered car - but it’s remarkable how much range there is when you’re driving economically. I do think 280 miles would be a push, but 240-plus is absolutely achievable on a full charge.
Ah, another pre-conceived notion’s coming to the front of my mind. Charging… how long, how much, is it a pain?
Over a week, I didn’t find it too much hassle. Sure, filling up with petrol takes a minute or so and it’s never going to be as effortless as that, but fast charging points can do the job in well under two hours. On a normal household socket, you can comfortably multiply that time by ten, but using fast charges which are thankfully becoming more available is a doddle. Having needed to do it once during my time with the Kia, it cost about £35 for a top-up.
Plugging into a 100kW DC charger will see the Soul’s battery replenished from 0-80 per cent in 54 minutes via the CCS port located in the car’s snout. Using a 7.2kW wall-mounted charger - which Kia can install for you for less than £300 - will complete a full top-up in nine hours and 35 minutes. On a typical electricity tariff, that should cost you a tenner or so, so it’s not too bad at all.
It is pricey to buy, though. Even with the government’s grant, it’ll cost the thick end of £35,000 and no matter how you cut it, that’s a lot. You’ll have peace of mind thanks to Kia’s seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, though, but the price remains a tough pill to swallow.
However, technology costs, and if you’re after a characterful EV which boasts a great range and has pace in abundance, the surprising Soul’s absolutely worth a look.