Saturday, January 31, 2015

Driving Soul EV keeps eyes on the mileage prize

Mark Glover’s AutoGlo car reviews also can be seen on the Business page of The Sacramento Bee’s website

Sacramento, California – I was thinking about those brave motorists of the early 20th century during my recent week in the 2015 Kia Soul EV, the all-electric version of Kia’s quirky-cool vehicle.

Imagine being a motor vehicle owner at the dawn of the automobile age in America.  You like the car and consider it the wave of the future.

But you’re asking: Where can I fuel it up?

And how to keep it in one piece, looking at the rutted minefields that passed for roads back then?

I’ve written a lot copy about electric vehicles and the accompanying infrastructure over the past 20 years, and let me say up front that EVs and their alternative-powered ilk are absolutely the wave of a glorious, diversified energy future in California and elsewhere.  Bravo to the automotive engineers and technicians making it happen.  Bravo to those who turned ideas into hardware reality.

But I was a nervous wreck after my week in the Soul EV.  I can boil it down to one word: infrastructure.

In my little corner of the world – which includes a daily round-trip commute of about 30 miles – there is not enough quick-charge infrastructure to ease my mind with an EV in my hands.  To be sure, there are quick-charge EV sites within fairly close range of where I live, and in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are plentiful outlets.

But in my commute loop, the infrastructure is not yet developed to the point where I can hook up and charge up conveniently.

And that left me with one option: Use the on-board, standard, plug-in charger.  The owner’s manual on the Soul EV calls this a “trickle charge.”

And they aren’t kidding.

I received the vehicle with a range of 55 miles on it, and it was around 39 miles when I got home that night.  An overnight charge brought it back up to 57.  WOW!  I was actually fortunate in that there was a standard plug on a light pole in my workplace parking lot.  An uninterrupted, eight-hour charge, however, bought me only an additional 22 to 25 miles at a time..

Suffice it to say that my eyes stayed almost constantly glued to the mileage range readout when I was driving the Soul EV.  It was an obsession…”Oh no, I lost another mile,” I would say in my head. “It didn’t seem like I was driving that fast.”

That’s another thing.  I am not the only Soul EV driver who confessed to – I hate to say it – “driving like grandma” trying to conserve as much range as possible.

And that’s a shame, because the Soul EV that was totally redesigned last year is an otherwise enjoyable motor vehicle.  With a sloped-back roofline, it looks ready to take off like a scalded cat at a moment’s notice.  Interior comfort and controls are exceptional.  Storage area is likewise impressive.

But if you’re a daily commuter, as I am, all other issues are crushed by the need to conserve energy … not a bad thing in the scheme of things, I suppose.  And you do get help from the car, which charges the on-board battery under braking and coasting.

Kia computes the equivalent horsepower to 109, adding that the EPA-estimated miles per gallon gasoline equivalents are 92 miles on the highway and 120 mpg in the city.

As for me, even with an all-night charge, the biggest mileage range number I saw on the in-dash readout in my week with the Soul EV was 85.

More numbers: The price range on the Soul EVs two trim levels is about $33,500 to $36,000.

Bottom line: I like the car and the technology.  And I’m sure my EV-driving grandchildren will, in the distant future, love driving incredibly evolved EVs with 300-mile ranges on roadways where getting a quick-charge boost will be as routine as stopping at a Starbucks.

I can envision their future, and I feel good about it.  But as for me, where did you say the nearest charge point can be found?

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