Thursday, June 11, 2015

2015 Kia Soul EV — The Roll of a Blue Machine

First, let’s talk about its looks. The Kia Soul EV, an all-electric four-door, looks the same as its gasoline-powered stablemate, the Kia Soul, and they both look something like a smiley toy that’s talked its way into a Pixar movie and will win approving nods from attentive parents. What?

This means that it doesn’t look like a Lamborghini or a Mustang. It looks like what it is: a box with a hatchback (hatchbox?) that barges its way through the air and provides good transportation for five people and a modicum of luggage. It’s the way it’s drawn that is distinctive. It really does look boxy – intentionally and whimsically so. And it works.

Second, let’s get to the electric portion of all this. A minimum of 14 percent of new cars offered for sale in California by the world’s car makers must be zero emission vehicles. The most practical way to do that, to get to zero emissions from the tailpipe, is to offer cars powered only by electricity; hence, the Kia Soul EV, not to mention Nissan Leaf, Honda Fit, BMW i3 and a host of others.

The Soul EV, then, turns out to be a pleasant, small car that is eerily silent (all electrics are pretty quiet) and has that relatively quick pickup that characterize this sort of car – it’s direct power, from foot to motor. The Soul EV also has what appears to be a best-in-class range; it’s about 93 miles before it needs a charge.

Which brings us to the bête noire of all electrics: range. We’re so spoiled, we petrol-driven users. There are more than 120,000 gas stations in the U.S. and, aside from wandering across U.S. 50 in Nevada (dubbed “the loneliest road in America”) with a quarter of a tank of gas, it’s doubtful you’ll run out of fuel unless you simply ignore the gas gauge and the increasingly insistent bells and lights that tell you you’re about to stop dead in the middle of nowhere. With the Soul EV and every other electric car (even the $100,000 Tesla Model S, with its nearly 300-mile range), you are on a leash.

That means you need to charge up the car’s battery whenever you can. The Soul EV takes 24 hours for a full charge on regular house current (120V) or four to five hours on 240 volts. Better still is the public charging station, where you can get an 80 percent charge on the Soul EV in half an hour. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center (part of the U.S. Department of Energy), there are 24,925 public charging outlets in the U.S. So it’s not as bad as it seems.

And that, in turn, leads us to the real purpose of an electric car. In addition to saying farewell to gasoline, if you play your commuting cards right, you should be able to drive to work and drive home on a single charge. Green Car Reports, citing a 2012 Columbia University study, showed that “electric cars could meet as much as 95 percent of all daily driving needs of U.S. citizens.” Given that most commutes are less than 40 miles one way, you could easily make it to work and back without charging up the car. As a bonus, many workplaces offer electric-car charging stations.

Then again, there’s the issue of pricing. Our test Soul EV, painted a brilliant blue, had a sticker price of $36,625. (You can also lease the car for $249 a month, on a three-year lease). But you can buy a gasoline-powered Kia Soul Plus for about $19,000 ($17,000 less than the Soul EV) and it will get 23/31 mpg, city/highway. That $17,000 you’ve saved by getting the Soul Plus will buy you a lot of gasoline.

In the end, as it does with most electric cars, it comes down to this: if you’re only going to have one car, it’s difficult to justify an all-electric, unless you don’t mind being hobbled. So it can be a second car, sitting alongside your limitless-horizon gas car. Or it can be a political statement.

If you take a couple of steps back from the planet, it’s fairly certain that we’re in the Model T age for alternative-energy transportation and, in some ways, it’s fun to noodle around in a silent car like the Soul EV.

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