Third generation of Kia's boxy compact crossover goes electric-only in the UK, combining zero emissions with charm and character

We have previously driven the all-new electric Kia Soul in Korea, but this is our first taste of the third-generation compact crossover in its European spec.

Since it was launched in 2009, the Soul has found more than 1.6 million customers, although the vast bulk of those are in the US, where the machine was designed and styled. It has never been taken to heart in quite the same way by Europeans, even if the previous electric version, which arrived in 2014, did reasonably well, outselling combustion-engined versions in the UK last year. 

The Soul makes good use of its power, with direct and responsive steering that allows you to zip in and out of traffic in urban situations

So while some markets, such as the US, will get petrol-powered versions of the new Soul, Kia will only offer it in Europe only in electric form, with the same powertrain as the hugely successful Kia e-Niro and sister firm's Hyundai Kona Electric.

Our tests of the e-Niro have shown the strength of that system, particularly its compelling – and game-changing – range of 282 miles on the WLTP test cycle. Despite it being smaller than the e-Niro, the Soul’s boxier design means its range is slightly reduced to 280 miles, but that’s a vast improvement on the original Soul EV's 132 miles and more than enough to make this a car that can be used in virtually any situation.

When it goes on sale in the UK at the end of the year, the new Soul will be offered in a single guise, featuring an 'SUV pack' that adds a few styling tweaks, including a skidplate and some 'rugged’ trim panels.

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The question is whether a smidgen more space and a whole heap of extra practicality, thanks to a greatly improved drivetrain, will help the British public find a place in their hearts for a bit of Soul.

How does design define the Soul EV? 

Kia describes the Soul’s look as 'iconic', which decidedly stretches the definition of an already much-misused word. Still, the new model undoubtedly has character and a certain charm, with the front end shaped by the narrow lights and trapezoidal grille. The rear now features an LED light strip that wraps almost all the way around the rear screen. It’s certainly distinctive, and a bold attempt to inject some design vibrancy, although this tester isn't entirely convinced by its effectiveness.

The Soul’s boxy shape is harder to mask from the side, where it’s also easy to spot the size increase over the old model. At 4195mm, it’s 55mm longer, with its 2600mm wheelbase 30mm larger. It’s also 1605mm high and 1800mm wide.

A more relevant comparison is with the e-Niro, which is 180mm longer and 5mm wider but 130mm lower. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is at the back: the e-Niro has a 451-litre boot, while the Soul’s is just 315 litres. It does feature a clever twin-level design with a floor under which the charging cables are neatly stashed, though, and its narrow, deep design at least makes much of that space usable.

But while the e-Niro scores on practicality, the interior of the Soul shines brighter. It features the newest version of Kia’s infotainment system, with a bright 10.3in central touchscreen. There’s also plenty of safety tech, including a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and blindspot monitoring. The new infotainment also syncs with a new Kia app that enables owners to check their Soul's battery charge on their smartphone, pre-charge it and control its heating system remotely.

With its high roof, the Soul also feels airy and spacious, although the high-riding, upright style makes it very clear that this is never going to be a hot hatch to drive. Not that the Soul doesn’t have decent performance; the 64kWh model (the sole version to be offered in the UK at launch, while a 39.2kWh model will be sold elsewhere) has virtually identical performance to the e-Niro, with 201bhp, 291lb ft of torque, a 0-62mph time of 7.9sec and a top speed of 103mph.

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How does the Soul EV perform on the road?

The Soul makes good use of its power, with direct and responsive steering that allows you to zip in and out of traffic in urban situations, while also offering strong response when you get onto Germany's more flowing rural roads. On the autobahn, it remains comfortable to drive even approaching its top speed, although the wind noise does become somewhat noticeable.

The Soul’s suspension, aided by dynamic dampers, does a good job of masking its 1682kg kerb weight, and it rides both bumpy city streets and flowing lanes with decent pliancy and balance.

As with the e-Niro, the strongest point of the Soul's powertrain is how adjustable it is, with four different driving modes (ranging from Eco+ to Sport) and the ability to customise the amount of regenerative charging the car undertakes while braking.

That system can be controlled through steering column-mounted paddle shift-style controls, and once you’ve adjusted to it, it's intuitive and simple to use. It’s more easy to adapt to your own driving style than, say, the ‘magic pedal’ in the Nissan Leaf.

As the e-Niro and Kona Electric have already shown, the electric powertrain fitted to the Soul should remove any symptoms of range anxiety: for the majority of people, 280 miles is absolutely enough for just about any purpose.

The Soul is also easy to drive, practical and comfortable. The key question is likely to be the price: while yet to be set in the UK, it will be a few thousand pounds cheaper than the £32,995 e-Niro. That saving comes at the expense of some practicality, but the Soul should appeal to those seeking a bit more character and charm from their electric Kia.

Due to limited battery availability, Kia currently can’t produce the e-Niro fast enough; the waiting list in the UK already stretches into 2020. On evidence of our first taste on European roads, the Soul could prove just as popular. 


Kia Soul EV First drives