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The 2015 Soul EV.

Kia

You feel the acceleration. Not a Porsche's, not an Audi's giddy-up, not even a gasoline Soul's … yet there is a direct response. In contrast, the Nissan Leaf hesitates slightly from a standing stop, wherein the speedometer shows movement even though the car doesn't actually seem to be moving for a few seconds.

Driving the 2015 Kia Soul electric vehicle, you push the pedal and presto, it goes. The 0-to-100 acceleration time under 12 seconds is about 30 per cent slower than the gas version's; given the intended use of this vehicle – as a commuter – the difference seems irrelevant. It feels more genuine car than Disneyland ride.

On a trip from the California coast inland and back again in Orange County, the compact crossover handled rolling suburban roads and a toll highway with equal aplomb, responding with requisite power when required. Other than the library-like quiet, the tendency of an unfamiliar EV user to constantly check the instrument panel for battery depletion as opposed to gas drainage, and the braking action caused by simply picking your foot off the gas, er, um, acceleration pedal, all systems felt normal.

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In Brake mode, the Soul slows and stops sooner than a gas-powered car, the friction returning power to the battery and helping to push its range to 149 kilometres. Logically, the actual four-wheel ABS disc brakes should last an eternity.

California seemed an appropriate demonstration venue for Kia's first EV entry into the North America market, as the state is leading the industry by the nose. In mid-September, the 100,000th all-electric vehicle was sold and come 2025, legislation will require all auto makers to include one such vehicle in their lineups.

Still, had the test been held amidst the palm trees during January instead of September, suspicions would have been aroused. How will the battery handle the Canadian cold? Kia claims rigorous testing in Sweden's winter showed the car will take it on bravely, in particular with the heat pump that comes only with the luxury model.

As with HD televisions in their infancy, car makers may be able to bring down price even while escalating performance over time. Thus, it's perhaps safer to lease now, and buy later.

TECH SPECS

  • Base price: $34,995; as tested: $37,995, minus $8,500 and $8,000 provincial rebates in Ontario and Quebec respectively, with 480-volt DC fast charge port included
  • Engine: 81.4 kW permanent magnet AC synchronous with lithium-ion polymer battery
  • Drive: Single-speed reduction gear transmission
  • Fuel economy, equivalent (litres/100 km): 2.0 city/2.6 highway
  • Alternatives: Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV

You'll Like This Car If ... you're an environmentally sensitive early adopter of new technology, with a university education and high income.

RATINGS

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Looks

Now-familiar funky shape with moulded plastics made from sugar-cane and other environmentally-friendly materials. The signature grill in the gasoline model is replaced by a plate protecting the charging port.

Interior

There's plenty of head, hip and leg room in front seats and back row. Battery takes just seven centimetres from rear seating.

Technology

An innovative heat pump that reduces energy consumption is the primary reason to spend $3,000 extra for the lux-trim. Both models come with rear-view camera, electric power steering, super low resistance 16-inch tires, on-board charger, Eco and Regeneration drive modes, and dual-zone climate control to reduce battery draw.

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Performance

Represents a step-up in class, with range estimated at 149 kilometres on a single charge and top speed of 140 km/h. Due to boxy shape, there's a faint whistling noise on the highway.

Cargo

With the back seats folded down there's room for numerous hockey bags. Folded up, it's one parent and one player in the front, hockey bag in the back.

The Verdict

7.0

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Until competitors approach Tesla range, EVs including the Soul remain strictly for commuters. They'll look snazzy in the teachers' parking lot.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker

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