Los Angeles is electric vehicle country. You have access to thousands of charging stations when you’re away from home and the right to use the carpool lane all by your lonesome on the freeway. If you have a mere $80,000 or so to spare, just pick up a Tesla with over 200 miles of range and you’re ready to start life in a zero-emissions vehicle.
That formula doesn’t work out for most Americans, let alone Angelenos grappling with expensive home prices. As a result, green vehicle consumers have to survey the second tier of EVs, and none can top 100 miles of range. After the Model S, the Kia Soul EV can travel the farthest on a full charge of any electric car on sale: 93 miles.
Is this EV ready for prime time in Los Angeles and other states out West? Kia was kind enough to loan us a 2015 Soul EV+ for four days in L.A., and we got the full lay of the land in an attention-grabbing Caribbean Blue model. From travels through West Hollywood, Laurel Canyon, Echo Park, Alhambra, and Santa Monica, it proved itself a worthy green ride no matter what test we threw its way. If you don’t want to kiss practicality goodbye when saying adios to gasoline, it might be the answer.
Versatile as the L.A. terrain
In the first few minutes with the Soul EV, we got a taste of the small wagon’s chops on a trip from West Hollywood to downtown L.A. You feel the pull of the 210 pounds-feet of torque immediately. Matched against a meager 109 horsepower, the torque gives you the jump to accelerate past mini traffic jams and lights about to flash red. The car is compact enough that you feel comfortable in any aspect of city driving, and it can get tight in L.A.
Later on, we ran the car up to Echo Park before heading to Laurel Canyon, our final destination for the evening. On some steep hills and a few passes through the freeway, we didn’t have any complaints about performance. Range was as advertised as well. We stopped in downtown L.A. to juice the battery for a few hours and either matched or beat the distances quoted by GPS when comparing the battery gauge to the mile counter. The Soul EV does not feel like a powerful car, especially when on the freeway, but you are never overmatched and can easily run to 65 miles per hour when the speed limit allows it.
Compact, funky, and frugal
In Caribbean Blue, the Soul EV is a head-turner in a city relatively flush with electric vehicles. Not once in our travels did we see another electric Kia, and you would have noticed. At 13.58 feet (163 inches), this car is shorter than you might expect at first glance. (By comparison, the Ford Focus Electric hatch is 10 inches longer; the Focus sedan, 15 inches longer.) Parking in town is easy with a vehicle of this length.
Carrying along your things is another story. We were struck by the space limitations (re: length) when putting a six-foot surfboard into the back with the rear seats folded down. In this setup, you have the board’s nose peeking through to the front seat, so for anyone toting a longer board (as most surfers will), a roof rack is the best call. Its height (63 inches) and cargo volume (49.5 cubic feet) are as good or better than rival electric vehicles.
As far as economy and frugality are concerned, it’s hard to top the Soul EV’s specs. Between 120 miles per gallon equivalent in city driving and a cost of $0.96 to power the car every 25 miles, the EPA says it will cost you about $600 to run the car for a year (to 15,000 miles). Over five years, that economy will save you about $5,000 compared to the the average car running at 24 miles per gallon.
The Soul EV+ we drove has a base price of $35,700 and only had $125 of extras, which made the model $36,625 after delivery. Subtract the $7,500 federal tax credit and the California rebates on the table and this EV can be had for a purchase price in the mid-$20K range.
Fit for L.A. living
In Los Angeles, the housing system is better suited for electric vehicles than, say, New York, another city grappling with high greenhouse gas emissions. As long as you don’t run over 90 miles in the course of a day, you would be able to use the Soul EV as a primary car or as the secondary option to a gasoline vehicle of any make.
If you need to charge, stopping at an EV station ran us between $1 and $2 per hour, except when you want to use a fast charger. (These are capable of delivering 80% battery power in 30 minutes yet remain scarce in L.A.) We found several ChargePoint stations on the street or in public places that meant no parking costs added to the bill. Even when we stopped for a full four hours of charging on the beach in Santa Monica, parking fees only amounted to $5.50. You’ll pay that whether or not you are charging your car.
We found charging stations in prime positions (i.e., close to the entrance) in every public lot we used. In Marsh Park off Los Angeles River, we even got to see a giant African turtle being walked by a park employee while the battery charged. Exercise machines are also available in the park.
In short, we got around Los Angeles for four days without once using the charger in the Echo Park home where we staying. Dancing at the Granada in Alhambra, surfing in Santa Monica, turning up for the Skyline Electric show at the Hyperion Tavern … we led a full life for our brief time with the Soul EV. As a second car, it’s a no-brainer, and for the craftiest of green car lovers, you can make it your primary transportation option with some extra work. It’s a bona fide green car fit for L.A. living.
Disclosure: Kia Motors U.S.A. provided a 2015 Kia Soul EV+ free of charge for the four-day test, including pickup and delivery of the vehicle as well as charging costs.