Five things I learned about the 2021 Kia Soul EV Limited

Five things I learned about the 2021 Kia Soul EV Limited
Approaching writing about an electric vehicle, the initial research always revolves around full-charge range, charging capabilities and battery size. As it should.

However, once you get past these EV-centric aspects, a fuller picture of the vehicle emerges, one that in the case of EVs has rounded out into a much more ‘normal’ vehicle experience as first-gen models give way to next-gen versions. Again, things like range, charging speed and battery size have all improved as old model is replaced by new one, but so too has the entire package; things like creature comforts, styling, usability and technology.

In that spirit, here are five things I came to appreciate about the 2021 Kia Soul EV after spending a week driving around Metro Vancouver.

The next-gen Soul EV has all the creature comforts Canadians want in their vehicle, including heated seats and steering wheel. Andrew McCredie

It’s fairly common now, but I still smile when I see heated seat and heated steering wheel controls in an electric car.

I’ve been driving and reviewing EVs since the prehistoric days from a decade ago, when all those first-gen electrics were bare bones when it came to creature comforts — particularly if they sucked power from the battery pack.

But with full-charge ranges today cresting 400-kilometres — the full charge readout on the Soul EV Limited during my time with it was 432 km — EV occupants are today literally sitting in the lap of luxury. In the case of the Soul EV, that includes heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel. And while when engaged these do eat into the range — my estimate is that with driver’s seat at full heat and the steering wheel heater on it was about six per cent — unless your limping along in dire need of a charging station, there is little cause for concern in staying toasty for the trip.

The Soul’s 10.5-inch display is one of the tech highlights of the cabin interior. Andrew McCredie

The Kia’s standard 10.25-inch touchscreen was a bit of an unexpected revelation as its width allowed for three distinct screens within the screen that were perfectly legible and intuitively operated.

Left to right, that would be a navigation system, the entertainment interface and a real-time battery display, which included an ever-changing link to the nearest charging station. Press that link and the Nav system automatically mapped a route to the station. Slick.

The large monitor also provided a rear view when engaging the shift-by-wire rotary dial to reverse, in addition to parking guidance. Can’t say I’m a big fan of all those coloured, twisting lines and audible beeps designed to aid fitting into a parking spot, but I do know many people appreciate, and use, this kind of interface.

And what I liked most of all is another old-school attribute: good old-fashioned radio tuning and volume dials located under the screen, a redundancy that some regard as unnecessary given the steering wheel-mounted audio controls, but ones that I find much more intuitive and easier to use.

Regenerative braking can be controlled manually using paddles on the steering wheel. There is also an automatic setting. Andrew McCredie

One of the most underreported yet integral technical aspects of an electric vehicle is its regenerative braking system. Or more to the point, how said system is operated by the driver.

The less inspired ones are simply a pre-set mode activated by a push of a button, providing very little in terms of driver engagement and quite often not coming close to maximizing the surprising ability of kinetic energy on the wheels to charge up the battery pack.

Not the Soul EV. Taking a page from the performance segment, the Soul’s regen system is operated by two paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel in the same fashion as up- and down-shifters in a manumatic transmission. The right paddle decreases the regen strength; the left increases it. And a simple-to-read digital readout on the driver’s display gauge indicates what setting it is in.

During my time with the Soul EV in hilly North Vancouver I used these regen paddles in the same way one would ‘upshift’ and ‘downshift’ a manumatic and with the same effect. Only unlike selecting gears, I was maxing out the regen potential while also having a blast doing it.

And if you’re not up to paying that close attention, an automatic regen mode shifts between settings based on terrain, and the brake-and-hold system will bring the car to a full stop.

The Soul’s boxy design combined with the long wheelbase relative to its overall length provide excellent rearseat legroom. Andrew McCredie

Obviously, technology is at the forefront of any electric vehicle, and the 2021 Soul EV Limited is no exception. It’s advanced powertrain and battery makes it one of the best value-for-money propositions in the Canadian EV space, and its onboard connectivity and safety tech punch above its subcompact crossover segment weight.

Despite all that 21st century wizardry, it still needs to provide a comfortable space for occupants, particularly in the rear seats. Say what you will about the Soul’s somewhat polarizing ‘boxy’ exterior, but it pays dividends for those back seat riders in the form of leg room and head space not typically found in the small CUV segment. And certainly the floor-mounted battery pack plays a big role in providing a comfortable rear seat layout.

For comparison’s sake, the Soul EV’s interior cabin has more passenger space and cargo room than the Kia Niro EV. However, the Niro does have a bigger rear cargo room than its electric stablemate.

The name Soul is one of the better ones gracing any 2021 vehicle. Andrew McCredie

And finally, in answer to that timeless question, this vehicle has one of the best monikers in new car showrooms in 2021.

Defined as ‘the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal,’ soul also refers to the emotional or intellectual energy of a thing. It has links to food, a hip Saturday afternoon dance show, a Pixar movie and countless metaphysical wonderings.

The Soul debuted at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, and it has been sold worldwide ever since. And in testament to its name, unlike many other global models, it has the same name the world over.
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