2020 Kia Soul EV first drive review: More style, more range, more fun

In the past few months, we've tested Kia's new Niro EV, as well as the brand-new 2020 Soul. Both cars are great. These are two of the most likable products in Kia's US lineup. Combine the best attributes of both, and you get the 2020 Soul EV.

By now, you've likely seen the 2020 Kia Soul, with its fresh take on the model's boxy design. The slim lighting elements and sharper edges give the Soul a bit more curb appeal, and the upright hatchback only grows marginally in this new generation.

Every Soul EV gets the full-LED front lighting treatment from the gas-powered, GT-Line trim. That means LED headlights integrated up top, while larger openings flanking the grille house the foglights and turn signals -- again, all LED. Around back, the Soul EV gets LED taillamps and a small "Eco Electric" badge on the bottom right corner of the hatch.

All Soul EVs ride on model-specific, 17-inch alloy wheels, wrapped in 215/55-series Nexen N'Priz AH8 all-season tires. Just like the regular Soul, the EV will be available in a range of color options, including seven two-tone choices.

Inside, the EV replaces the standard Soul's gear lever with a shift-by-wire electronic unit, similar to what you get in the Niro EV. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but certainly isn't challenging. Aside from that, the two Souls' interiors are pretty much identical, with the same comfortable seats, lots of head- and legroom and great fit-and-finish throughout, even on my preproduction test car.

Aside from the electronic gear shifter, the Soul's interior carries over unchanged for EV duty.

Kia

On the infotainment front, the EV gets the same 10.2-inch touchscreen as other Soul models, running Kia's latest UVO software. Navigation is standard, as are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The split-screen setup is relatively easy to use, with no lag in response when you press icons or swipe through screens. It's not the prettiest system out there, but everyone at Roadshow continually praises UVO for being so darn easy, and the new Soul EV's setup is no different.

Because of the battery packaging, the EV gives up a bit of cargo capacity compared to the regular Soul, but its shape means this hatchback is still plenty functional. Official US specs haven't been released just yet, but under the German VDA measuring system, the 2020 Soul EV is said to have 47.3 cubic feet of luggage space with the rear seats folded. The US-preferred SAE measurement will likely be a little higher, closer to the 49.5 cubic feet of the last-generation Soul EV. Yes, the 2020 Soul is a little bit bigger than its predecessor, but the EV's battery has also grown significantly, meaning it takes up more room under the cargo floor.

The bigger battery in question is the 64-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion unit from the Niro EV -- a huge improvement from the 27-kWh pack that powered the old Soul EV. An electric motor sends 201 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels through a single-speed transmission, which makes the 2020 Soul EV decently quick. Kia estimates a 7.6-second sprint to 62 miles per hour, and with all that instant electric torque ready to go at a moment's notice, this thing really scoots.

The Soul EV's 10.2-inch touchscreen runs Kia's excellent UVO infotainment interface.

Kia

As for the all-important driving range, the Soul EV is extremely competitive. The EPA officially rates the Soul EV at 243 miles of range, which bests the Chevrolet Bolt (238 miles), Kia Niro EV (239 miles) and Nissan Leaf Plus (226 miles). Only the Hyundai Kona Electric can go farther than the Soul, with its EPA-rated 258-mile range. As always, your mileage may vary, but in my experience, I've had an easier time achieving the EPA-estimated range in Hyundai and Kia EVs than I have in its competitors. Kia says it'll offer the Soul EV with a cold weather package, too, which includes a battery heater to help prevent significant range loss in frosty climates.

Since its battery pack is ripped from the Niro, so too are the Soul EV's charging times. On a 240-volt Level 2 charger, you'll fully charge the battery in 9 hours and 35 minutes. Move up to 50-kilowatt DC fast charging, and you'll get an 80-percent replenishment in 75 minutes. If you can find a 100-kilowatt DC charger, shorten that time to 54 minutes. And if you feel like kicking it super old school and want to charge your Soul EV from a regular 110-volt household outlet, you'd better cancel your weekend plans -- it'll take a full 63 hours.

Interestingly, Kia will offer a shorter-range version of the Soul EV in other markets, powered by a 39.2-kWh battery. This "midrange" Soul, as Kia calls it, offers 134 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque, and a range of around 154 miles. A Kia representative told me "the final decision hasn't been made" about whether or not this option will be offered in the US, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

With instant electric torque and nimble handling, the Soul EV is a blast to drive.

Kia

Driving the Soul EV is a familiar experience, and a good one at that. The Soul offers an upright seating position and great sightlines from all angles, and its compact size means it's easy to maneuver when I take it for a drive during morning rush-hour traffic in Seoul, South Korea. Power delivery is instantaneous and plentiful, and the overall ride quality is comfortable and compliant.

On more interesting roads in the hills through the Korean countryside, the Soul EV exhibits a playful demeanor. It's about 140 pounds lighter than a Niro EV and sits slightly lower to the ground, and uses a quicker steering ratio -- 12.8:1 compared to 13.3:1. This all makes the Soul EV a bit more fun to drive, with better turn-in response and slightly flatter cornering. It's an enjoyable steer.

The Soul EV has the same driving modes as its Niro sibling, with Normal, Sport, Eco and Eco+ settings. Normal and Eco feel most appropriate for general commuting, though I love the way Sport mode heightens throttle response. (Flooring the Soul EV in Sport mode does not get old, trust me.) Paddles on the steering wheel activate different levels of brake regeneration, with the maximum Level 3 offering for the sort of one-pedal EV driving characteristics that many people (myself included) love. That said, the Soul won't regeneratively brake to a complete stop like some other EVs, though if you press the Auto Hold button on the center console, you can let go of the brake when you're stationary.

A whole mess of advanced driving aids come standard on the Soul EV, making life a little easier behind the wheel. You get adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and pedestrian detection. The only missing amenity is steering assist, something the Nissan Leaf offers as part of its ProPilot tech.

Soul EVs get full-LED lighting, though the placement of the charging door is kind of weird off-center on the car's nose.

Kia

Even so, I'd much rather have the Soul EV over the Leaf Plus, and not just because of its longer range. The Soul is simply an all-around more interesting product, from its better driver engagement to its well-appointed cabin and eye-catching design. I'd have it over a Chevy Bolt and Hyundai Kona Electric for the same reasons.

Even the Niro EV doesn't pose much of a threat, to my mind, which is important since Kia will sell the two models alongside one another. The compact hatchbacks offer similar interior space, with the Niro offering slightly more cargo room. But the Soul still wins for its better onboard tech, not to mention its more spirited on-road nature.

Pricing will be available closer to the Soul EV's Stateside arrival later this year. Expect it to start somewhere between $35,000 and $40,000 before available incentives, which is about par for the course.

Of course, the big caveat is availability: Kia is only planning to offer the 2020 Soul EV in about a dozen states initially, just like the current model. The plan is to eventually offer sales nationwide, though, so keep your fingers crossed. Considering how appealing the 2020 Soul is, Kia would be smart to offer it to as many EV shoppers as possible.

The Soul EV is a seriously appealing EV.

Kia

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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