Electric vehicle consumers don’t have a ton of options. In many ways, talk about EV adoption and a shift to greener cars has been theoretical. Where are the cars? Automobiles like the Toyota RAV4 EV, Chevy Spark EV, and Fiat 500e upped the ante in electric range yet remain available only in limited release to West Coast consumers. That won’t do as an industry game-changer any more than the Tesla Model S will. People need access to a real automobile.
Nearing the arrival of the 2015 Kia Soul EV, there is a noticeable shift in the industry. This funky all-electric model wears the body of the Soul with a new powertrain and an electric range that makes it viable. Joined by brand-new models from Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen, there are going to be several legitimate options for consumers (even ones outside California) by early 2015.
Here is a look at how the 2015 Kia Soul EV matches up in a comparison of specs against four new electric vehicles: three German entries and the currently industry leader with a new 2015 model, the Nissan Leaf. Miles-per-gallon and electric range ratings are quoted from fueleconomy.gov.
1. Kia Soul EV
What makes the Kia Soul EV noteworthy? First of all, its 93 miles of EPA-estimated driving range will rank it third behind the pricey Tesla Model S and the largely unavailable (and also pricey) Toyota RAV4 EV. In other words, the Kia Soul EV has the longest range of any electric vehicle middle-class consumers could afford. Kia announced the Soul EV would retail at $33,700 in the base model trim and $35,700 for the Soul EV Plus. After rebate, that puts the new Kia EV at a starting price of $26,200. That’s doable.
The Kia Soul EV’s efficiency puts it on the leader board as well. With a rating of 105 MPGe, it ranks eighth among all U.S.-ready vehicles in fuel economy (tied with the Ford Focus Electric), yet many of the cars ahead of it are either unavailable or akin to golf carts. Among cars most consumers would drive, only the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 get better mileage. The electric Soul does the most damage in urban environments (120 MPGe city) while remaining capable on the freeway (92 MPGe highway). Electric motors provide a max 109 horsepower and 210 pounds-feet of torque. Sales will start in California later in 2014 and expand to more states in 2015.
2. Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive
Mercedes-Benz proved it is open to trying new things with the affordable CLA. In the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive the automaker presents its first all-electric model that Car and Driver declared a better Mercedes than the CLA. It offers 85 miles of electric range and 84 MPGe. In terms of performance, it delivers the juice one would expect from a Mercedes: 177 hp, 251 lb-ft of torque, and (for an EV) an impressive 0-60 time of 7.9 seconds.
Car and Driver reviewers saw the B-Class EV as a less-exciting Mercedes with an electric powertrain. At $41,450 before the federal rebate and $33,950 after, the electric Mercedes starts a hefty chunk of change above the Soul EV while offering less range and poorer efficiency. Then again, it’s a Mercedes-Benz, if a less stylish one than its siblings. It has the power and emblem to justify the price hike. EV consumers can order one in 10 coastal states at the moment, with all 50 in the automaker’s sights.
3. BMW i3
For every action from a German automaker, there is an equal and (often) opposite reaction from its rivals. That’s the Newtonian way to consider the BMW i3 compared to the more less interesting Mercedes B-Class EV. BMW went for a sustainable production model, invested heavily in carbon fiber materials, and created an electric car from the ground up (as opposed to sticking batteries inside a gasoline-car frame). The result is a head-turning EV that delivers the best fuel economy of any car on U.S. roads at 124 MPGe combined (137 MPGe city).
This remarkable economy gets drivers a total of 81 miles of range on a full charge. The i3 powertrain delivers a peak 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, plenty more horses than the Soul EV yet trailing in torque by 26 lb-ft. At a base price of $41,350 ($33,850 after federal rebate), it basically stands side-by-side with the Mercedes on cost. Kia’s electric Soul provides longer range with less power and less style than the i3, a more refined funky car. The i3 is currently on sale across the U.S. and had its best month ever in August 2013, nearly tripling its previous total.
4. Volkswagen e-Golf
So das electric. While Volkswagen is sitting out the first round of electric vehicle releases in its Audi division, it is bringing the VW e-Golf to the U.S. in 2014. That means it has a more competitively priced offering compared to its German rivals. In fact, the e-Golf’s pre-rebate price of $36,265 is just a few thousand above the 2015 Kia Soul EV. On the range front, Volkswagen tests have yielded a 70 to 90 miles of traveling distance and 105 MPGe, making it a virtual wash in comparison to the electric Soul. EPA ratings are still pending.
More conservative consumers will obviously prefer the e-Golf’s quiet looks compared to the exuberant Soul EV, but the hike in cost (the Soul EV retails for $2,500 less) will be a factor. Power specs are close at 115 hp and 199 lb-ft torque in the e-Golf. VW’s e-Golf arrives in November and will be available in the usual select markets to start.
5. 2015 Nissan Leaf
What’s old is new again? In the 2015 Nissan Leaf, the mass-market electric vehicle star didn’t get any performance upgrades, but tech and appearance upgrades in mid-range trims might attract more buyers. Range is set at 84 miles; efficiency clocks in at 114 MPGe (best in the midsize class); and the base model MSRP starts at $28,980 before rebate. In terms of overall value, the Leaf remains the top option in the segment despite the moderate (9 miles) jump in electric range provided by the Soul EV.
Power specs are also similar, with the Leaf delivering 107 hp and 187 lb-ft of torque (slight edge to the Soul EV). Drivers who want a little more personality in their vehicle will naturally prefer the Soul.
For now, the Nissan Leaf has the edge in terms of its widespread availability. Automakers seem to be ignoring this factor. If you sell them, they will buy. It’s working for the Leaf and even luxury Teslas. Still, the Soul EV and the German entries are increasing the number of options for green car consumers in 2014. Here’s to hoping they continue expanding their markets to a hungry consumer base.