THE race to the top as car companies switch their business focus from traditional engines to electric vehicles has shifted into top gear.
And some mind-boggling amounts of loot are being bandied about too.
Korean manufacturer Kia, for instance, has been a front-runner in the innovation and development stakes for some years and its Plan S strategy – which will see the arrival of 11 new electric vehicles by 2025 – will involve an investment of no less than 25 billion US dollars.
Of course Kia is already a serious player in the EV market having offered a fully electric vehicle in its line-up since 2014 and introduced a range of mild hybrids, hybrid electric vehicles and plug-in models.
Now the brand has come up with a completely new generation of that first electric car in the shape of the latest Kia Soul EV, and it’s simply light years ahead of that version from six years ago.
The Soul, it’s worth remembering, was the car that propelled the company into a fresh dimension, taking it from one offering affordable quality to a brand young people in particular aspired to.
No sooner had the original Soul urban crossover hit the streets of California where it was designed, than it was quickly embraced by the student fraternity. Within months it had become cool to be seen in a Kia.
That same charm which won the car so many fans remains with the new Soul EV. It is still very individual and a real head-turner, just not quite so quirky.
For the UK it comes with a single trim choice, a high spec grade called First Edition, and is electric only – the petrol and diesel powered options have been dropped.
The Soul EV’s price, a princely £33,795 even after the Government’s £3,500 grant, may not sound much like a bargain, but then electric cars aren’t cheap.
And when it comes to the single biggest consideration to concern potential buyers – range anxiety – the Soul has the edge over its rivals.
Kia insists that no other electric car on the market at that price can get near the Soul’s range of 280 miles on a full charge, a figure that rises to 402 miles for city driving.
That’s down to a 64kWh battery pack paired with a 201bhp electric motor, making it 84 per cent more powerful than the outgoing Soul EV. It all equates to acceleration of 0-60 in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 104mph.
As for keeping the juice flowing, the battery pack can be replenished to 80 per cent in as little as 54 minutes from a 100kW charge point, otherwise a full hit from a 7.2kW charger will take nine hours 35 minutes.
Impressive figures are all well and good but the proof is in the pootling, and the widespread floods combined with a late winter sleet storm made for interesting road conditions for the Soul EV’s UK press launch.
A two-hour drive in the worst of these conditions through a mix of busy urban roads and Chiltern countryside saw the Soul cope commendably, those up front able to enjoy the heated leather seats.
This is a comprehensively equipped, extremely stable, nicely balanced and enjoyable car to drive, and while it’s near silent there’s also a lovely whirring sound as you accelerate – almost like an old fashioned kettle nearing the boil.
Reassuringly, by the end of the drive the car’s read-out was still showing that 230 miles of power remained.
This was partly down to the Soul’s regenerative braking system, operated by paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, which allows drivers to slow the car and recuperate kinetic energy to maximise its driving range.
There are also drive modes – Normal, Eco, Eco+ and Sport – so the car can be adapted to preferred style or the prevailing road conditions.
When those first Soul compact SUV models arrived in 2008, the sound of young America came blasting out of boom boxes and speakers that throbbed and pulsed, changing colour to the beat of the music.
And this third generation model’s interior is still inspired by music courtesy of shapes and textures aimed at creating a sensory experience, sharpened by a 10-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system with subwoofer and external amp.
That’s in addition to a list of standard kit like 17-inch alloys, rear privacy glass, LED headlamps with daytime running lights, auto air con, a 10.25-inch touchscreen, sat nav, leather upholstery and a head-up display.
You also get a full set of safety features plus Kia’s seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which also covers the car’s electric motor and battery pack.
This new Soul EV is a really impressive package – and it looks the part too.