2015 Kia Soul EV, a family vacation test drive

The 2015 Kia Soul EV was the first fully electric vehicle I had driven. I had spent time in Hybrid vehicles and even some plug-in Hybrids. However, the prospect of relying solely on the electrons onboard to get you there and back was something I had never experienced before. Instead of booking the Kia Soul EV while I was on familiar turf at home with the benefit of a guaranteed electrical plug next to my driveway, I opted to book the vehicle on a recent trip to Vancouver, Canada. Thus began the story of my vacation with the 2015 Kia Soul EV.
2015 Kia Soul EV
Range anxiety started long before we even embarked on the journey. Searching for a hotel went beyond the normal concerns of room and amenities like a pool or bedding but now had to incorporate vehicle charging options either in or near the hotel. Quickly we focused in on a couple options in the downtown area and the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver won out for two reasons. The first being the property had a pair of EV chargers onsite, one a Tesla Super Charger as well as a generic Level 2 car charger. The second decision maker was that not only was the charging included in the cost of the stay, but that the hotel does not charge its regular $40 (plus tax) fee for daily parking for fully Electric Vehicles. Hybrids are charged 50% of the fee. So aside from not having to pay the substantially escalated fuel costs in British Columbia, I was also saving about $45/day to have the car sit idle.
The next focal point of our premature range anxiety became our intended trip to Whistler driving up the Sea to Sky Highway. The Kia Soul EV has a posted range of 149 kilometres which is more than the required 103 kms between our hotel and Whistler Village. However, would that 149 km range change factoring in the 4 adults onboard? Would the fact that the overall journey was going to be uphill from more or less sea level to and elevation of 670 metres (2,200 feet) play into the equation? Furthermore, if the Soul EV managed to stagger up the climb, what were our options for charging once in Whistler? How long would we have to wait to charge our chariot for the journey back down the mountain?
In doing this research I learned much about the culture of EV owners. Many are tremendously helpful people who are willing to help other electrified drivers circumnavigate the planet. Many websites abound that list access to charging ports. I was referred to the CAA site that lists charging ports geographically (http://www.caa.ca/evstations/). The chat forums on commercial sites and most notably from Tesla owner forums, offer advice about charging options. One particularly disturbing thing I did uncover was the possibility of phantom charging stations and also others that have a tendency to be out of service.
The Town of Squamish sits halfway between the two points of our journey and was an oasis on our Journey. Squamish Town council arranged for a level 3 Eaton charger to be installed across from its Municipal Hall. A level 3 charger should be able to get the vehicle back up to 80% of charge in 20 minutes of so. A timeframe that allows for a bathroom break and some sort of refreshment at one of the local shops along the main street one street over. Perfect! Well as long as it isn’t offline of occupied by anotehr vehicle.
The CAA site lists other options in the town including a hotel across the street from Municipal Hall. A fellow EV supporter has installed a Level 2 charger in case the Town’s unit goes down for the count. The hotel owner charges $5 for parking to offset the cost. This also raises an interesting concept in British Columbia. Places offering free charging are not necessarily being entirely altruistic. The British Columbia government has mandated that the only legal merchant of electricity in the province is BC Hydro.
So with our oasis located, next up was figuring out where to stash the Soul EV once in Whistler. The CAA site once again listed level 2 chargers at a number of places in Whistler. One such location was the Fairmont Hotel in the upper village. I also contacted a friend who lives in Whistler who directed me to the Whistler Municipal Hall parking lot that contained a Level 2 charger. Across the street, there was supposed to be another Level 2 station in one of the Ski hill’s day lots so we now had options. Relatively satisfied, we were now ready to embark.
The Kia Soul EV, with its high visibility light blue body with white roof, sat in the airport parking lot waiting for us to begin the adventure. From a strictly vehicle review basis, the rear cargo storage area revealed it’s compact car origins. After loading a medium sized suitcase and 3 pieces of carryon, the remaining two smaller personal item bags were relegated to the gap between the two rear seat passengers.
All loaded and ready to go, pressing the power button on the centre console brought the Soul EV to life and was the first revelation of the range indicator in the instrument cluster. The number staring me in the face was 153 kms, slightly more than what Kia lists as the official range. I recall the advice of one Kia representative when questioned about the potential to get up to Whistler on one charge. He commented that if not needed, turn off the air-conditioner as this would likely be the largest contributor to extending range. Once switched off, the range jumped to 166 kms. After I started driving I realized that the ventilation fan motor was still on. Turning that off added a further 6 kms to our range. These efficiencies provided a substantial relief to any remaining range anxiety I was feeling. (Flashback to the scene in Apollo 13 where the crew members are struggling to re-power the spacecraft.)
Once at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, the doorman met us in the driveway and I explained that we needed our vehicle charged fully overnight and he pointed to the pair of chargers on the opposite wall of the covered driveway indicating where our vehicle would be positioned.
While the vehicle was moved during the evening, by the next morning the blue and white Soul EV sat in-front of the charger waiting for us. We all climbed in to begin the trek.
For all the planning, the fear of the unknown was still a factor in explaining our very present range anxiety.
As we drove though the bumper to bumper traffic leading across the Lions Gate Bridge, I quickly realized one major mental shift in EV car ownership versus gas powered ownership. As we sat, not moving, the range indicator was also not moving. We weren’t burning energy sitting still. We weren’t going to run out energy from being stuck in traffic. Also, as we drove along slightly undulating roads, our range was actually increasing in sections even though I was lightly applying the accelerator. Regenerative systems on the Soul EV were producing more energy than it was consuming. I began to relax and simply enjoy the scenery.
If you’ve never had the privilege to experience this remarkable roadway I urge you to put it on your “Bucket List”.
After adhering to the posted speed limits and snaking our way up the lower sections of the Highway we approached Squamish having used about 40% of our available range to travel the distance . With roughly 100 kms of range left, our trip to Whistler was going to be easily achieved on our current charge. The only variable was going to be whether the battery would be so depleted that it would not charge sufficiently for our return trip during the time we had allocated to spend in Whistler.
Erring on the side of caution and out of sheer curiosity, we opted to stop in Squamish to check out the Municipal Level 3 charger. The location of the charger is clearly marked with signs on the Sea to Sky highway leading you to the Municipal Hall one street off the main road through town.
2015 Kia Soul EV level 3 charging
The Soul EV has two charging ports concealed behind its plastic grill cover. The larger Level 3 option was pretty obvious. Having researched the station protocol, I called the toll free number and spoke to a rep in California who works for the company administering the unit. She confirmed a few details about me and the car, then switched on the juice. I paid the roadside meter for the required parking, locked the car and wondered away expecting a fully charged battery when we returned 20 something minutes later.
Upon my return I discovered that, according to the charging station, the vehicle had charged for a little over 9 minutes and then shut off. The brief charging had brought the battery up to 83% of full charge.
The remaining distance to Whistler was simply an exercise in typical sightseeing. I no longer cared about the battery’s charge (much the same as if I had just filled up at a road side gas station).
Pulling into Whistler I made a beeline to the Municipal Hall Parking lot. Once again the charger was unoccupied. With a 4 hour parking limit, thank goodness we had topped up in Squamish. (As an aside, luckily the Municipal charger was vacant, as there was in fact no charging station at the Fairmont in Whistler nor could I find anything in the Ski Hill’s day lot as I walked by.)
After paying $9 in parking we were off to enjoy the Village, have lunch and wander around. We returned to later to check on the vehicle charging. With about an hour left on the meter, the dash mounted charge indicator was still flashing. We topped up the parking and set off on the fabulous Whistler/Blackcomb Peak to Peak Gondola. About 2 hours later we returned to the vehicle to find it fully charged. Once uncoupled, we were off for the drive down the mountain.
Interestingly, the consumption on both legs, either up or down were pretty close. We arrived back at the hotel having used about 93 kms of range energy for the 103 km trip, indicating a difference of about 20 kms of range energy versus the climb.
To be honest we never used the car again on our trip other than the return to the airport. However, with range exceeding 170 kilometres, you would be hard pressed to have any hesitation about living in the city with a Soul EV as a daily driver. If our adventure has demonstrated anything, it is how practical the Soul EV is as a real world liveable alternative to a combustion engine powered vehicle. It really only took us 24 hours behind the wheel to allay any fears associated with range anxiety.
Apart from the electrical component of the Soul EV, the vehicle offers a spacious passenger cabin for four adults (cramped for five). The cabin reflects the leading edge technology crammed into the vehicle with a large CRT screen housing a Navigation system that also pinpoints nearby charging stations as you drive by. Other parts of the passenger cabin reflect obvious compromises made to keep the Soul EV affordable. The inner door panels and roof liner have a less than luxurious feel to them. One person who asked about the vehicle questioned how much more quiet the Soul EV was than a gas powered car. In truth I did not register any significant reduction in noise for two reasons. One was that there was increased tire noise from the special “blue energy” low rolling resistance tires, also we had windows open for ventilation due to the disabled fan and A/C systems.
2015 Kia Soul EV test drive
The 2015 Kia Soul EV comes in only two trim levels, a nicely loaded base model and the Luxury model we drove.
The base model, $34,995, comes with pretty much loaded with such niceties as an 8 inch centre mounted LCD screen with vice activated navigation, power windows, door locks, heated front seats, air conditioning with rear climate vents and a back up rear camera. Our Luxury level tester, $37,995, added a number of extras including but not limited to; the previously mentioned 480V rapid charger, front as well as rear parking sonar, heated rear/heated and cooled front leatherette seats.
On the way out, I think everyone had some concerns about how we woud manage with the Soul EV. Just as I was wrapping up this review of the 2015 Kia Soul EV, my daughter sprouted out that this was one of the two vehicles she could see herself leasing if she needed a car. At 13 years of age, she might be up for the second generation model if/when it comes to market.