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First drive: 2015 Kia Soul EV [Review]

Kia is breaking into the EV business with a plug-in version of its popular Soul.

With the 2015 Soul EV, Kia has a new way to roll.

Representing the brand's first battery-powered offering in the United States, the 2015 Kia Soul EV swaps out the regular Soul's range of four-cylinder gas engines for a zero-emissions electric motor. But has that change watered down the Soul's funky appeal? Come with us as we find out.

Designed for green

Unlike some of the other electric vehicles offered today, Kia engineers didn't simply pull out the Soul's gas engine with and plunk in an electric motor. Instead, Kia's second-generation Soul was designed from the ground up to accommodate both gas and electric drivetrains without any compromises to either setup.

Thanks to that dual-purpose engineering, the Soul EV doesn't sacrifice any useability in the name of zero-emissions motoring. In fact, the Soul EV has a couple key benefits over its gas-powered counterpart, but we'll get to those in a second.

The biggest advantage of designing the Soul as an EV from the onset was battery placement. Rather than trying to cram an entire battery pack into the space typically reserved for a gas tank, Kia engineers were able to place the Soul EV's 27 kWh battery beneath the floor. That low placement ensures the best weight distribution possible and also keeps the Soul's cargo area intact.

Of course the underside of a vehicle is susceptible to damage from road debris, so the Soul EV includes five extra cross members and an underbelly pan not found on the regular Soul. Those items do add weight, but also improve the torsional rigidity of the Soul's chassis. As a result, the Soul EV boasts improved levels of NVH compared to its gas sibling.

Motivation for the Soul EV is provided by an electric motor producing 109 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. Although down 55 horsepower from the sportiest gas-powered Soul, the Soul EV does hold a healthy 59 lb-ft advantage over Kia's 2.0L four-cylinder. Like the standard car, the Soul EV uses front-wheel drive.

As previously mentioned, the Soul EV receives its juice from a 27 kWh battery pack. Utilizing the same lithium-ion polymer tech as the BMW i3, the battery in the Soul EV is EPA certified for a 93-mile range. That better-than-average range is even more impressive considering the Soul EV's 192 battery cells contain the energy equivalent of just 8/10th of a gallon of gasoline.

In order to make the most of its battery power, the Soul EV use a heat pump in place of a conventional heating system. The Soul EV also has a unique HVAC setting that aims airflow at the driver, thereby reducing the need to heat or cool the car's entire cabin.

Other tricks used to boost efficiency include a wind-cheating wheel design and low roll resistant tires that reduce energy consumption by about 10 percent compared to similar tires on the market.

But Kia didn't just limit the Soul EV's green credentials to its drivetrain and related parts. Large portions of the Soul EV's interior - including carpets, headliner and trim parts - are made from an Eco-friendly, corn and sugar based material. And before you get any ideas, we asked and none of it is edible.

Standing out

In order to differentiate the Soul EV from the regular Soul, the plug-in sports a few unique design cues.

On the exterior those changes include new head- and fog-lights, LED taillights and a solid grille with a concealed port for the Soul's plug. Despite its new look, the Soul EV's grille still incorporates Kia's signature "tiger nose” design.

The Soul EV will be offered in a few unique color combination, including the blue and white scheme seen here.

The inside of the Soul EV is mostly familiar, but there have been some changes made to the compact's center stack and instrument cluster, the latter of which is now 100 percent digital.

On the road

Hold down the Power button and the Soul EV silently comes to life with a glow of the dash. The new digital gauge cluster is easy to read and refreshingly uncluttered. An LCD screen is located between the two main dials so you can keep an eye on the vehicle's energy flow.

Hit the gas, er, accelerator pedal and the Soul EV whisks away effortlessly thanks to its 210 lb-ft of torque. The Soul EV isn't rocket ship, but we also didn't have any issues keeping up with traffic. Passing maneuvers are a different story as there isn't much in reserve to hustle the Soul EV along at a moment's notice.

The Soul EV's extra-rigid chassis keeps the car's cabin extremely quite at speed. It's almost as if you're riding around in a noise-canceling headphone.

Stopping in the Soul EV is fairly routine unless the Braking mode is selected via the gearshift. Acting as the Soul EV's regenerative mode, slipping the stick into B aggressive scrubs off speed by turning the car's forward motion into power for the battery. It's a little cumbersome to use on a regular basis (you can't realistically leave the car in 'B' all of the time), but the braking function can be useful when approaching a red light or stop sign with a long lead.

Steering in the Soul EV is light and effortless and matches the car's overall demeanor. There is some leaning in the corners, but the Soul EV doesn't feel ponderous, even with the added weight of its batteries. As typical of most vehicles fitted with low roll resistant tires, the Soul EV doesn't grip the road with much vim and vigor.

We weren't able to fully test the Soul EV's claimed 93-mile range, but our test car seemed to be an overachiever with a stated range of 109-miles. The gauge proved fairly accurate during our test, with 73 miles remaining after a 40 mile drive.

Leftlane's bottom line

The electric vehicle market is still in its infancy, but the Soul EV has the potential to make a big splash in a small pool.

Building on the traits that made the Soul a smash hit - including a funky exterior and spacious cabin - the Soul EV should find broad appeal with the green crowd.

2015 Kia Soul EV base price, $33,700.

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