New KIA is the heart and SOUL of the party – pity about the support act
Charging network lets down this model with devil-may-care looks
You will either love or dislike this week's review car for how it looks, but I think I can guarantee you will not be impressed at all with one aspect of what happened around my time in it. Welcome to the KIA e-SOUL, an early new-arrival for the electric car take-off we're so optimistically promised by politicians who, I honestly believe, have yet to realise the scale of what really has to be done. Let me deal with that in a minute.
First let's talk about the e-SOUL: a strange-looking car or perfectly in-tune agent of change, depending on your perspective.
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I remember, a few years back, the previous SOUL being unveiled here with a rattling - I mean rattling - diesel engine. It was a total mismatch.
Now there is this new electric model - called the e-SOUL - with its devil-may-care looks, shapes and vibrant colours. And it works - well it did for me. That's because, this time, I came to it with an entirely different mindset.
Maybe I'm revealing too much about myself but I'd want people to know I was driving an electric vehicle. I'd want them to know I'd like my car to show how it doesn't have to be dull to be 'green' - that it can be fun as well as being practical. And that I didn't really care what they thought about my choice. This would be a real 'statement'.
Sounds a bit radical? Well that's how I'd like to feel with a car of this calibre. It is an all-or-nothing choice: there is no middle ground. You can buy conventional at any garage but there are not too many with the likes of the e-SOUL.
The main concern, of course, is that it's all fur coat and no under-garments - but that isn't quite the case here. For a start, there is a cabin to rival anything in the price range, or indeed higher. Many of the EVs I've driven are fairly dull inside (and out). Indeed the e-SOUL's sibling e-Niro (to be reviewed shortly) is a case in point with its bland interior.
The e-SOUL had good room, too - three rear-seat passengers at a little push while the boot space was tolerably roomy.
I've driven the car a fair bit now: in Wexford, north Dublin and at greater length last week. It is a good sign, I suppose, that the more I drove it, the more I liked it.
Like all EVs you, mostly, get the sort of range your driving warrants. They claim 452km between charges. Make that 410km by my (rough) calculations - it's still a great number.
One thing we all will have to learn in this great new land of zero emissions is how to harvest energy from the car as it slows or as you brake. I am becoming quite adept at it (not boasting; it just appeals to the Scrooge in me). So much so I could count on one hand, well perhaps two, the number of times I had to brake with any real effort over the entire week.
Basically, if you lift off the accelerator at the right time before coming to lights or a road junction, the amount of braking required is minimal. There are paddles on the steering column to help increase or decrease the amount of deceleration you want. The more you select to slow you down, the more energy is sent to the battery pack. It was great to see the projected kilometres-to-go display showing a slight increase in range betimes. It's the kind of driving that makes 400km+ between charges a realistic target. I think it takes a lot of the anxiety out of how long the car will keep going.
Would I buy it? Yes. It's got practicality and fun all over, even if the looks are not to everyone's taste.
Neither, however, are some of the ancillary elements of driving an EV.
I intended driving the e-SOUL to the north-west for a special day. Only the hotel didn't have a charging facility. And there wasn't one within a few kilometres radius. If I wanted to bring it, I'd have to get someone to pick me up from the nearest charging point and drop me back later. The 452km range round-trip might, just might, have got me to Dublin and back but I didn't want to stop along the way for a variety of reasons (time constraints being one). Being able to charge it overnight at the hotel would have made all the difference. It is the sort of thing that would put me off buying an EV.
I know that sounds defeatist, but I wouldn't be bothered going somewhere in an EV and having to trouble other people to give me lifts to charge it. Ridiculous.
It was a sharply-pointed reminder of how many practical, individual hurdles we still have to overcome to take the uncertainty out of longer-distance electric-car driving.
Facts & figures
KIA e-SOUL Electric car:
65kw battery pack; claimed range 452km. Entry-level €35,995; higher trim €37,495.
Smart cruise-control, air con, USB charging ports, wireless phone charger, 17in alloys, electric/heated/folding mirrors, heated front seats; 7in display, 10.25in touchscreen, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, TomTom, drive mode select, parking distance warning.