So sometimes you get the chance to do something in the name of science and you just have to do it. Having never driven a true electric car (only hybrids) more than around the block, I was legitimately interested in seeing what life would be like if tomorrow there was no longer a drop of gas to use and we were all forced to drive something that you had to plug into your house. The whole thing started when I got offered the key fob to this thing, which is a 2015 Kia Soul EV. No, it is not a Tesla or some sort of electric super car but it is representative of what most “electric car” buyers are looking for. Something that they car drive as their primary means of transportation and smugly look at people filling their cars as they glide on by in virtual silence.
This was a bit of a family social experiment and it was a genuinely interesting one at that. I am not going to do a dedicated review of the Kia but by the end of this story you will know all you want to know about the car. I am more interested in sharing the different elements of the experience here and what we can all expect if the gas pumps turn off tomorrow and there’s no mo oil to feed the needs of our driving lives. In fact, after a week with this car, I am more scared of being faced with that reality now more than ever because I KNOW what the alternative is.
The Sensory Experience –
The first and most startling thing about driving this car was the fact that it made NO noise. Like literally none. There was not buzzing or whirring or anything of that nature. Instead what you heard was the tires in contact with the pavement, and weird reverse chime that alerts the people who are about to be squashed by your silent car to get the hell out of the way, etc. In the case of THIS car in particular, the silence of the whole thing works strongly to its benefit. The thing that mostly makes a cheap car feel cheap is the little buzzy engine that always sounds like it is killing itself to get the machine down the road. With that gone, you feel like you are just kind of floating along and the car feels more rich than it really is.
The complete lack of gear changes is bizarre and another sensory thing that you are subconsciously waiting for the revs to rise and fall but they never do. Procedurally, operating the thing is identical to any other car. You pull the shifter down, and away you go. There is a regenerative braking function you can shift into and it helps to tender the battery while you are cruising but it is pretty violent when it activates and it took a solid week before I stopped launching people out of their seats.
The Bad Stuff –
While it is probably unfair to use this car as the bell weather for all electric cars that are currently for sale it is what we were driving and there were plenty of draw backs. The two that I would have in a deadlock tie for first place are MSRP and range. I’ll deal with the MSRP first because the range follows after that. The sticker price on this car is $36,625. That is before whatever rebates and governmental programs exist to ease the (literal) pain of the purchase price. In many ways the discussion on these cars starts and ends right there. To repeat, this is a $36,625 Kia Soul. The gas version with the base engine delivers 24 city and 31 highway with a base price of a shade over $15,000. For an extra $20,000 you buy a car with the ability to travel 95 miles TOTAL before you are sleeping in it on the side of the road, sitting in a mall parking lot waiting for it to charge, or moping around with an extension cord and begging for help.
The range thing is scary on a few levels. Consider our family. We like to drive, we have no problem going two hours for hot dogs but if this car was our family car, we’d never be able to leave the state again on a day trip because we’d need to plan out where we were going to charge, kill the time charging, and essentially waste half the day because of the car. The larger implication outside of my family not being able to take this thing anywhere of consequence is what would happen given the proliferation of cars like this one tomorrow. Your world would shrink immensely and immediately. The restriction on movement is the creepiest thing about this car. Just knowing that you can only go about 50 miles from your house in one shot before needing to return is not comforting. Yes, there was a GPS that could have directed us to charging stations but who in the world has time for that? Don’t be sad for us. We just ditched this thing and took the gas burner to the hot dog joint.
While this is coming from a biased source of a guy who loves internal combustion engines and of course identifies himself with cars, there was a fair amount of derision thrown my way while cruising this car. Anyone with anything resembling a hot car sneers, laughs, and has a grand old time looking at the little blue box that makes no noise sitting there. Normal driver guy would likely never notice these people but I sure did. I’d list this as another downer.
The last bad thing I’ll list here before moving to happier topic is the cost of the electricity. While I have not gotten my bill yet (When I do I will gladly reporting the spike), I was able to stand and watch my electric meter spin like a whirling dervish as the car got charged. The perception by some that these cars have no environmental impact is insane and very, very wrong. We all know how electricity is made. It is not exactly a “green” process.
The Good Stuff –
I’m not here to write a hatchet piece about the car but to share my experience with it. Therefore, I have some good stuff to report to go along with the bad listed above. The first is that from 0-50mph, this thing hauls the mail. I’d venture to guess that it is significantly better than the gas burning version in acceleration performance and I blew off more than a couple of cars/trucks at intersections with the hammer down. The power and torque are enticing and I found myself zipping away from lights and stuff pretty hard with a smile on my face. I actually can report that the car will smoke the (front) tires with all the nanny equipment shut down. I would have loved to run it at the strip but since it was too far for the range, we did not.
We drove it on the highway and through the city of Boston on a (late) Father’s Day trip to my favorite restaurant which ended about 10 blocks before the restaurant when one of the kids reported that they did not feel good. Let’s just say that the little thing got quite the workout on the way home from that near miss. It is weird setting the cruise control in this car and hearing nothing or punching the gas and immediately leaping ahead, not waiting for an upshift.
As mentioned above, the car is completely silent and that means shakes, rattles, and squeaks would be front and center. There are none. The car was very tight, it felt good, and with the lack of the engine buzz and the performance of the electric motor, it honestly did not feel like a Kia. Another fun element of the car is that people were falling all over themselves to go for rides in it because there is huge novelty in the electric car experience right now. We cannot imagine that Kia plans to sell many (any?) of these and likely it is in the lineup to help raise the CAFE average some and meet whatever idiotic rules the government has imposed over the last few years.
With that, we arrive at the great paradox. This is a car designed for people who live in the city and who need a way to get around town but not make long term travel plans. It is one designed to appeal to a budget buyer, hence the model used, and yet there is another version of this same car that gets great mileage and can be replenished in a minute or two at the local gas station. It also costs $20,000 less than the one you see here. If you want a small city car that you don’t drive very much, how would you even consider this Kia Soul EV? We’d sure have a hard time swallowing that extra 20-large coupled with everything else.