It’s fair to say our electric Kia Soul has been largely town bound in the nine months it’s been on the fleet. As its regular custodian is picture editor Dawn Grant, who lives in Putney, south west London, it’s rarely ventured outside the M25. As a result the battery-powered five-door has travelled just 4,000 miles, while many of our cars cover more than four times that.
Although many of the Auto Express team commute from outside the capital, the Soul EV isn’t usually the first choice due to range anxiety or problems with charging at home. But I took the plunge for a week to see what it was like to do a 120-mile-a-day round trip from Newbury in Berks in an EV with a real-world range of around 96 miles.
As our car park chargers are out of action, topping up the range during the day was difficult as I had to rely on the network of 3kW Source London sockets close to Auto Express’s Fitzrovia office. These were more often than not already taken up by another electric car, and even when you did get a free space, parking was limited to three hours.
So my alternative was to plan a route home that allowed me to stop at a rapid charger along the way to top up. Thankfully, the M4 motorway is well served by Ecotricity’s Electric Highway – a network of AC and DC fast chargers that use power from renewable sources.
Plugging in for 30 minutes at Heston services at junction two on the M4 (or at my local services at Chieveley) gave the car an 80 per cent charge – more than enough to get me home. Even better, it also allowed me to chat with some fellow EV drivers, who are a friendly bunch. A few seem to share our concerns with the slow growth of the charging infrastructure, which is one of the biggest hurdles for drivers and the reason why plug-in hybrids are still far more popular than straight EVs.
Once home, it was just a case of popping the Soul on the driveway and plugging it into a household socket. Although the process isn’t exactly quick (a full charge this way takes over 10 hours), the bright LEDs on top of the dash, which change from red to green when fully charged, can clearly be seen from outside the car, so you can check up on its charging status when you’re in the house.
It may seem like we’re talking more about charging the Soul than driving it, but the concern over range and time is ever-present on longer journeys. And that’s no bad reflection on the car: the striking blue Kia has proven a hit with all who’ve driven it because of its relaxing nature.
It really is a ‘Zen’ car to drive, thanks to the seamless tranquility of its powertrain and its comfortable cabin. If you’re in the mood, you can also surprise other motorists away from the lights thanks to 286Nm of instant torque (more than a Vauxhall Corsa VXR). And although the motorway isn’t the Kia’s natural habitat, it’s got enough performance to keep up with the pace of traffic.
It’s just a shame that the peace and quiet is spoiled when the range drops down. Just over 100 miles can be realistically expected, but adding passengers or prolonged motorway spells will shorten that. When the battery charge gets below 25 per cent, the Soul frustrates by constantly nagging you to charge it every 30 seconds, and throws warnings up in front of the sat-nav screen, which is trying to get you to the nearest charging point! Of course, most EV owners will be able to get a fast charger installed at their home, avoiding this issue.
Other than a minor gripe with a warning light, rectified by a dealer, the Soul EV has proven trouble-free – and as the powertrain is so simple, we’re certain it would stay that way for a long tim
Over the past six months I’ve really become attached to our Kia Soul EV, but I have to say it’s still a mixed bag running a fully electric car. The up and down ownership experience has more to do with the frailties of the charging network than the Kia itself, however.
In fact, the only issue I’ve encountered with the Soul was the mysterious appearance of the EV warning light I mentioned in the last report. Eventually my local dealer, Beadles in Coulsdon, Surrey, received the diagnostic results back from Kia which revealed it was a fault with the car’s climate control system.
It took a couple of weeks to locate the faulty part and get a replacement, but as the garage provided an identical courtesy car and kept me updated with developments, I had no cause for concern. Staff at Beadles even thanked me for the opportunity to learn more about the technology packed into the silent-running Soul.
Since its return, LG64 MGU has been a great companion for urban living. It’s comfortable, easy to drive and manoeuvre and it’s packed with kit. I’ve become accustomed to driving it in the B gear, which maximises the regenerative braking, but still provides smooth progress as it doesn’t apply the brakes as aggressively as other electric models. The parking sensors and rear camera make squeezing into narrow spaces simple, too – this is really handy as charging bays are often tight.
More importantly, the electric range has been steadily rising with every plug-in. The last time it was fully charged it was back up to 96 miles, which I’m putting down to a combination of longer days and warmer weather that demand less of the headlamps and heater. Yet while the UK’s charging network is better than it was 18 months ago when I ran our Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid, there are still plenty of problems.
Without the security of charging at home overnight I’ve relied on reviving the battery during the day, but in recent weeks the plug-in points in the office car park have been occupied by other electric vehicles.
There is an on-street charge point nearby, which is available in three-hour slots, but it’s often busy. On one occasion I was down to 10 miles of range, so I used the car’s sat-nav system to direct me to the nearest charging point. It turned out the first one no longer existed, and as I approached the second, the car informed me I was entering a restricted area – sure enough, it wasn’t accessible unless you worked for University College London.
Luckily I had enough power to make it to a Sainsbury’s supermarket in Wandsworth – approximately a 40-minute drive away – where there are a total of 10 charging points. Many were out of action, but I managed to find one functional unit. However, on two more recent visits, all the stands have been out of order.
This half-hearted charging infrastructure is infuriating, as the Soul EV is a good car. And it proves that radical change is needed if electric vehicles are to thrive in the UK.
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