This was a watershed year for cars.[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row border=”none” bg_color=”rgba(255,255,255,0.27)” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”20px” inner_container=”true” no_margin=”true”][vc_column width=”1/1″ fade_animation=”in-from-right” fade_animation_offset=”350px”]
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As the new Kia Soul EV and the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron bear witness, 2014 may eventually be remembered as the moment when the electric car moved from the margins to the mainstream.
Up to this point, electric and hybrid electric cars have drawn attention to their unusual engineering set-up by having outward appearances that could kindly be described as malformed or mutant. Toyota’s Prius started this misbegotten trend with a body that might have been roughed out at lunchtime by the school’s Head of Physics. Even while it had no style, its bulbous, portly body made a statement about style: “This car is far too important and serious to bother with such fripperies,” it appeared to declare. Subsequent electric cars have emitted the same mixed message: showily drawing attention to themselves while being puritanically aloof.
The Soul EV and the A3 e-tron signal a departure from that regrettable fashion. They are simply stylish cars that happen to be driven by electric or hybrid electric power. “What’s the big deal about my powertrain?” they might be asking. “Ain’t I pretty enough for you as I stand?”
In the case of the all-electric Soul EV, this is a particularly welcome development. A car which was always a little flibbertigibbet of fashionable posturing has actually acquired some serious bottom.
The original Soul came into being in 2009 as a flight of design fancy. The opportunity to devise a fashionable urban crossover was handed to Kia’s design department as an excuse for them to get out on the dance floor and cut loose. Prior to the creation of the Soul, Kia had specialised in making sensibly-priced cars for prudent people who cared as much how their cars looked in the eyes of their neighbours as they cared what their kids thought about their own dress-sense. Meanwhile, however, Kia had recruited Peter Schreyer – one of Europe’s most spectacularly fashionable designers – who, in turn, had hired a team of smart-alecks so achingly cool and groovy that one imagined they insisted that even the office cleaners should wear tailored black overalls. Those trendies needed something enjoyable to exercise their talents upon. The Soul is the car they came out with.
High and boxy, with a steeply sloping roofline, it looked to unfriendly eyes like a 1940s delivery van with ideas above its station. It came on as if it was tough with its square shoulders but was, in fact namby-pamby. Performance on the road was paltry while – despite the high wheel clearance, suggesting off-road endeavours – it never had four-wheel drive. It rode like an iron bedstead on steel casters and handled like an old sow under the sway of anaesthetics.
Am I giving the impression I was underwhelmed? Everybody else in the world, it seems, took another view. The Soul has been a massive hit for Kia, having sold 943,518 worldwide since 2009 and 16,828 in the UK so far.
Now here comes the Soul EV which – mercy be! – is not only a brilliant addition to the ranks of electric cars on the market but also hoovers up all the deficiencies in the Soul’s driving dynamics.
Outwardly, there’s little sign that this is an electric car. The differences between the EV and a standard Soul are in the snazzy, stacked rear-light clusters, the badges on its flanks and the radiator grille on its nose – replaced with sliding panels that reveal the charging sockets for the specially-developed lithium-ion polymer batteries (which give a theoretical range of 132 miles on a single charge that takes five hours on a wall box).
Those 282kg batteries are mounted under the main body of the car between the axles while the rest of the electrical componentry is under the bonnet in the space where the engine would normally be placed. That distribution of weight gives the Soul EV a reassuring firm but compliant ride and, meanwhile, the batteries inject a solid whack of torque or pulling power into this car’s straight-ahead acceleration. Figures of 90 mph for top speed and 0-60 mph in 10.8 seconds don’t convey the actual sensation the Soul EV generates if you floor the accelerator at the lights: there’s more than enough oomph under that pedal to get you in front of the rest of the queue if, for instance, you need space in which to change lanes.
Kia admit that the Soul EV “won’t be for everybody”. Only 13 dealers throughout the UK will sell this car and they are expecting that few more than 200 will be bought in 2015. One of the main disincentives will be the price – £24995 even after the £5000 bribe from the government to purchasers of electric cars has been taken into account. How much of that outlay will be recoverable after Kia’s standard seven-year warranty runs out? Nobody can guess.
All the same reservations – with knobs on – apply to Audi’s new plug-in electric hybrid A3 Sportback e-tron. The full price for the one I drove at the recent launch would be £40025, from which the government’s £5k kickback can be deducted. That still leaves a price which invites the response “you-must-be-having-a-laugh”. A small, Golf-based hatchback for £35000+ seems beyond the realms of the known world. Dear God, you can get a good second-hand Porsche Cayman S for that kind of money.
Anybody who can afford to ignore the price will get a terrific little car with the A3 Sportback e-tron. As with the Soul, the normal, conventionally-fueled A3 Sportback is a car which could be most kindly described as “lacking outstanding appeal”. The hybrid electric version, however, lifts it onto an altogether different level of appeal.
The combination of its 1.4TFSI engine and 75kw electrical motor provides a startling shot of go. Power, at 204 bhp, is more than 35% greater than the conventional 2.0 TDI Sport S tronic and torque, or pulling power, is raised by three per cent. In fact so much power pours through the front wheels of this car when the accelerator pedal is floored that the steering wheel pulls nervously in your hands from side to side. Such an effect of “torque steer”, as it is called, makes you wonder if this car would be a candidate for Audi’s four wheel-drive Quattro system (which would make it even more expensive). Top speed of 138 mph and 0-60 mph is less than 7.5 seconds are indicators of serious performance intent.
Integrating the electric motor – together with separating clutch and dual-mass flywheel – has the same effect on this A3 as the batteries in the Soul EV: that ballast adds tangible stability while handling, steering and braking remain sharp. As a car for an enthusiastic driver, the e-tron version is 50% more satisfying than a conventional A3.
It may still not be a Cayman but it has the advantage over the Soul EV of a complete absence of range anxiety. You can run the e-tron for about 30 miles on electrical power alone but if you choose to operate it in hybrid mode – where it automatically switches between power sources and the electric motor kicks in as a booster for the internal combustion engine – this car will keep going, like any other, until the tank is empty.
As with the Soul EV, the e-tron does not make much of a show of its unusual powers. The radiator grille has been modified to cover the charging point behind the four-ring front badge; modest e-tron badges decorate the front wings, tailgate and door sill trims; and the bumpers and air vents have been discreetly customised.
Nobody would see much difference; but the customer who has paid a 25% premium for such a special car would probably never spend a day in this car without counting the cost.
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The Interior of the Kia Soul EV[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row border=”none” bg_color=”rgba(255,255,255,0.27)” padding_top=”250px” padding_bottom=”250px” bg_image=”54704″][vc_column width=”1/1″ fade=”true” fade_animation=”in-from-right” fade_animation_offset=”350px”]
The Audi A3 Sportback e-tron Dashboard[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row inner_container=”true” no_margin=”true” border=”none” bg_color=”#207fb1″ padding_bottom=”120px” padding_top=”60px”][vc_column width=”1/2″]
Kia Video of the Soul EV and its benefits
Audi video of the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron