2015 Kia Soul EV: green hamster

Consumers still aren't embracing electric vehicles, but that isn't stopping manufacturers from introducing more models on the market.

Kia's hamsters have worked out at the gym, dressed up and walked down the red carpet, but now they're showing an environmentally friendlier side with their latest ride, the 2015 Kia Soul EV.

The Koreans now have a competitor for the Nissan LEAF, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Ford Focus Electric, the Chevrolet Volt, the Chevrolet Spark EV (fleet only), the smart fortwo electric drive and – in the U.S. at least – the Honda Fit EV and Fiat 500e.

It was initially launched in certain urban areas of the United States, and starting this fall, it will be available in the three major cities of Canada as well. Over at Kia, they're excited about the electric Soul, but know very well that sales will be extremely low. Its powertrain was developed by Kia's own research and design team, although various components are built by third-party suppliers – as is usually the case when building any type of car or truck.

Those unaffected by range anxiety will discover a very competent vehicle here. The 2015 Kia Soul EV driving experience is just as good as a regular, combustion-engined 2014 Kia Soul – maybe even better in certain aspects.

The electric hamster car is equipped with a liquid-cooled AC motor that produces a modest 109 horsepower, but a stout 210 lb-ft of torque; numbers similar to the LEAF's output. Combined with a single-speed transmission, it allows the Soul EV to accelerate briskly, thanks to all that instantaneous torque. Kia expects the Soul EV to reach 100 km/h from a standstill in about 12 seconds, but in real-world driving on city streets, it feels quicker than that; you'll actually get the front tires squealing if you put the hammer down while turning on a street corner. This obviously comes to no surprise for a veteran EV driver.

A lithium-ion battery pack was installed beneath the floor, and provides the 2015 Kia Soul EV with a range that varies between 128 and 160 km. The vehicle also gets Super Ultra Low Rolling Resistance tires which, in foul weather, should provide the grip of bowling balls. We'll sound like a broken record, but your range will be affected by driving habits, outside temperature, road conditions and other variables.

To extend that range as high as possible, the electric Kia relies on its fairly aggressive energy regeneration while coasting. In other words, the vehicle noticeably slows down when you lift off the throttle; of all the EVs I've driven so far, only the 2014 BMW i3 loses speed more quickly, to the point where in some cases and with a little planning ahead, you don't even need to press on the brake to come to a full stop.

Charging times obviously vary according to which outlet you use. With a 240V outlet, the 2015 Kia Soul EV can be fully recharged in less than five hours, although it takes about 24 hours with a household 120V outlet. There's also a 480V quick-charge port that allows an 80% refill in 33 minutes.

The Soul EV's dashboard is virtually identical to the one in the regular model, but with lighter colours. Our tester's interior boasted a two-tone gray atmosphere, with a white centre stack faceplate and shift lever bezel as well as light blue seat piping and contrast stitching on the steering wheel. Some interior plastics are created from organic, bio-based materials, which will please the treehuggers.

As is the case with most EVs, the Kia comes fully loaded with automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, rearview camera and much more. In fact, you pretty much get the Soul SX Luxury's generous equipment list. However, one unique feature found here is the "Driver Only" climate control setting which, obviously, blows air on the driver and nowhere else inside the car in order to reduce energy consumption. Makes sense.

One thing that makes the Soul EV better than its conventional counterpart is the extra sound deadening applied around the cockpit; since there's no engine to provide background noise, occupants would hear more tire and suspension noise. The EV is impressively quiet – even soothing – on the road. On the other hand, at speeds of less than 20 km/h and in reverse, the car voluntarily makes noise to alert pedestrians that there's a vehicle in motion around them.

Despite the underfloor battery pack, the 2015 Kia Soul EV's cargo volume is unchanged and the rear seatback still folds down in a 60/40 split, so versatility isn't compromised. The only downside is that rear-seat legroom gets reduced by a few inches.

There will be a choice of three exterior colours: white with light blue roof and accenting, blue with white roof and accenting as well as silver with white roof and accenting.

The 2015 Kia Soul EV's Canadian MSRP hasn't been sorted out yet, but the folks at Kia hinted at a price of around $35,000. If that holds true, that will place the Kia right in Nissan LEAF territory, and will be cheaper than a Focus Electric.

For the time being, the Quebec government is offering an $8,000 purchase rebate on electric vehicles, while the Ontario government will reimburse $8,500 on the purchase of a Soul EV. In both cases, the rebate will vary if you decide to lease one. They will also help pay up to $1,000 for the installation of a charging station. In B.C., there used to be a Clean Energy Vehicle incentive, but their budget has been depleted.

Our drive was all too brief, but it did convince us that the 2015 Kia Soul EV is quite an effort. At the moment, no other electric vehicle on our market combines cargo room, good range and plenty of features at a reasonable price.

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