Tuesday 20 August 2019

I've finally found my Soul mate

The Kia electric vehicle appealed to the would-be hipster that Campbell Spray aspires to be. But is it the future?

ELECTRIC AGE: The Kia Soul has style
ELECTRIC AGE: The Kia Soul has style

Campbell Spray

If there is any car that is going to epitomise a new trendy electric future, that mixes absolute practicality and an eye-catching style, it is the new Kia e-Soul which was launched last month.

This is a real five-seater family car which can double as a decent-sized load carrier. However, more importantly, the real-life range of its power plant - 64kw battery linked to 150kw electric motor - is around 450km, so taking away any lingering feelings of range anxiety. Yet there is also almost hot-hatch like acceleration from the motor giving a 0-100kmh in 7.9 seconds.

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The e-Soul comes in two trims - (K2 and K3) both feature a 10.25" touchscreen AV/Nav display and 7" supervision cluster and safety features including Lane Keep Assist, Smart Cruise Control and Front Collision Avoidance. However, while the price starts at €35,995, I think it is worth going an extra €1,500 for the full leather trim, Harmon Kardon Sound System, Heads Up Display and Blind Spot Detection of the K3. The prices include €10,000 in VRT relief and government grants.

There is a superb energy regeneration system on the Soul to maximise driving range. This includes Kia's energy-efficient heat pump system, which scavenges waste heat from the car's coolant system.

It also features Kia's innovative individual ventilation and air conditioning system. However, the best part is the Korean company's innovative smart regenerative braking system, operated by paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.

The system provides drivers with the ability to slow the car and recuperate kinetic energy to maximise its driving range and efficiency. Drivers can choose from five regenerative braking levels (none, 1 to 3, or 'single pedal' mode), depending on the level of energy recuperation they desire from the brakes.

The system's 'single pedal' driving mode also allows the car to harvest the maximum amount of energy from its brakes, and even enables the driver to bring the car to a gentle halt without necessarily needing to push the brake pedal.

The smart regenerative braking system can also automatically adjust the braking level if it detects the car in front slowing down, creating smoother coast-down driving - especially on a steep downhill road.

To help with all this an eco-pedal guide display on the instrument cluster keeps the driver aware of real-time battery usage based on accelerator pedal input.

The very boxy look of previous generation Souls has been slightly softened so that the car looks sleeker, longer and gives a real sense of style. It still won't be to everyone's taste - which is just as well as they are going to be in short supply.

However, I have always liked the Soul, its mixture of funkiness and retro appeals to my inner would-be hipster. Now that it can be called futuristic and an electric mould-breaker, I will take credit for being ahead of the curve.

The car's handling is also now more responsive than previous models and the flat battery pack located beneath the cabin gives a low centre of gravity which helps stability.

The e-Soul's Drive Mode Select system, with choice of Normal, Eco, Eco+ and Sport, lets drivers adapt the car to their preferred style, road conditions or to maximise the car's range. The range of passive and active safety systems is absolutely first rate and had everything I wanted and I'm getting very nervous these days.

There is a good driving position, which reflects the general airy and very spacious cabin, and the Soul is especially zippy around town. It will leave most people at traffic lights just staring at the fantastic LED light strip at the back, as it powers off.

The car's funkiness continues to the very up-market interior where lighting will reflect moods and music. The massive infotainment display sets off a good fascia and you do think you are driving in the future. I initially thought the luggage space was compromised, however that isn't the case and while it isn't as big as many same-sized SUVs, there is adequate room - rather more like a family hatch - and it does come with an adjustable floor for considerable extra storage.

When I went to pick up the car I was quite horrified that it was in the cream and red as in the attached photograph, however it shows how much I loved the car that by the end of the week I was really proud to be seen in it.

Electric cars - especially the larger ones - are not going to be cheap for quite a time and even the electric MINI coming next March and the new Renault Zoe will have starting prices well into the big €20ks. Eventually, as they come down in cost, the grants and rebates will go leaving prices in much the same pace. In that respect the Kia Soul is good value, roughly costing the same as its top-selling cousin, the Hyundai Kona electric SUV, which doesn't have the same internal space.

Take a Soul for a test drive, it will probably take the sales person hours to explain all the benefits of the car and how you should drive it, but it really is worthwhile. An added bonus is that like all Kia models, the new e-Soul is sold as standard in Europe with Kia's seven-year, 150,000-kilometre warranty, which also covers the car's electric motor and battery pack.

Probably next year there will be about 200 Kia Soul EVs sold here as it may lose out to the more conventional Niro EV SUV from the same marque. So Soul owners will have some funky exclusivity. There will also be a very good-looking plug-in hybrid version of the SUV version of the Kia Ceed coming, to be followed no doubt by an electric version. All this should cement the Korean maker of Hyundai and Kia as the leader in this field alongside the Nissan/Renault/Mitsubishi alliance and Volkswagen, with BMW, Audi, Jaguar and, of course, Tesla making much of the running in the premium section.

Sunday Independent

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