KIA Soul EV Versus Nissan LEAF: An Owner’s Comparison
Hello, EV fans and interested parties! Trish, here. I know I’ve been pretty non-existent on this blog, but I’m finally chiming in to provide my thoughts on my new Soul EV. Further down, you’ll find Ty’s input as well, and a more technical analysis than I care to delve into.
I’m going to start this post off with a disclaimer: I’ve never been a fan of Kia. Moreover, I’ve always thought the Kia Soul was ugly as all get out and assumed that they were cheap and poorly made, and that I would never in a million years want one. So when Kia announced their new Soul EV, I was actually surprised to find myself liking what it had to offer; first, on a visual level, and then on a specs level.
And then I learned that they would only be offered in compliance states. In other words, not Washington. Sad trombone.
But then the 2016 Soul EV arrived, along with the announcement that it would be arriving at Washington Kia dealers this summer. And then they announced that the EV+ trim would be available with a “Sun & Fun Package,” which, most importantly, included a panoramic sunroof. And I was done for. Hook, line, and sinker: Kia reeled me in. On September 19th, we signed the lease papers at Smith Kia in Bellingham, and I drove my new titanium gray Soul EV+ with Sun & Fun Package home. Unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs, so the sunroof needed to stay closed on her voyage home.
*Editor’s note: This post is co-authored by Trish and Tyrel Haveman. It appears on Trish’s blog here.
I’ve had many people in the EV community, most of whom have a Nissan LEAF, ask what I think about the car. After several months of driving it, I think I’m ready to share some of my feelings about it.
The panoramic sunroof
Let’s just get this out of the way right now. Obviously, I love this feature. I’m not a fan of feeling like I’m closed-in when in a car, but I also like small cars. The sunroof lets me drive a smallish car and still have plenty of natural light throughout, making things feel more open. I also hate having my hair blow every which way when my window is open, so I get fresh air and a slight breeze from the sunroof without the tangles. The dogs also enjoy this. It’s not great at high speeds, but then I wouldn’t have my window open at that point, either. Some have questioned added drag from the roof being open, but I counter that any driving I do with the roof open is likely to be putting around town where range isn’t a concern. If range is a concern, the roof will stay closed. It will still let lots of light in, anyway.
Less obviously an EV
This is an interesting topic among the EV crowd, and even Ty and I disagree on it: I don’t like driving a car that is obviously electric. That’s not to say I want to hide it; there’s a difference. The reason behind my position is twofold.
For one, I’d rather not be a target for ignorant bullies. We get a lot of “coal rollers” in our neck of the woods, and I’m not comfortable with how aggressively they drive around me when I’m in my LEAF. If I can drive an EV and not feel unsafe, then I’ll be happier. The Soul EV has three little badges on it which indicate that it’s electric, but most of these people won’t notice. The car also looks slightly different from its gas counterparts, but not enough that someone crossing paths with me is going to notice, let alone have enough time to blast out a plume of black soot in my face.
The second reason is that I’ve talked to many people who would be interested in an EV but hate how so many of the options look really different from their perception of a “normal” car. One could call the Soul EV’s looks into question, but as different as it is from lots of other car designs, it still looks pretty much like the gas Soul; it’s not different-looking solely because it’s electric. Ty has mentioned wanting it to be obvious that a car is electric, so more of the public realize just how “normal” EVs are becoming, but I think there are enough EVs out there to serve that purpose, that I can now go on my own tangent, quietly EVangelizing from my not-quite-as-in-your-face Soul EV.
The infotainment system
Like the LEAF, the Soul EV has a pretty involved infotainment system. The first thing that caught my attention is the difference in usability. In the LEAF, if you want to scroll down a list of addresses, charging stations, or what-have-you, you have to push the little down arrow and it will bring up the next items in the list. In the Soul EV, you simply drag with your finger, just like on your smart phone. These days, that kind of behavior is so intuitive that I was already dragging to scroll down a list before it even occurred to me that I might not be able to do that. This makes navigating the infotainment system faster and less clunky. This also works with the map, where you can drag your finger around to show the area you want, rather than tap it with your finger multiple times to get it to scroll in the right direction, as in the LEAF. Definitely more user-friendly!
For a long time, Ty and I have griped about how we wished the LEAF would let the passenger do things in the menu or with the navigation, while the car is in motion. If you were driving and trying to input the address you want to navigate to, forget about it. I realize that this is a safety feature, but when we drive, it’s always the passenger who’s handling the navigation. The Soul EV doesn’t let you do everything while in motion, but it does let you do much more than the LEAF does.
Another feature that I like the idea of, but haven’t implemented yet, is that you can create a custom menu that is accessible directly from the home screen. So if you regularly go several levels deep into the menus to get to one screen or another, now you can simplify that process and tailor the menu to your needs.
Quality and features
As I said before, I didn’t expect to be impressed with the build of the Soul EV, but truthfully, I was. The EV+ trim has leather seats, which are two-tone gray and have a subtle but classy light blue accent trim. My LEAF was an SV with cloth seats, which I thought I preferred, as I’m not really into the leather seats in Ty’s SL. I really like the build of the Soul EV’s seats, though. The driver’s seat adjusts the same as in the LEAF, forward/back and up/down. The plastics used inside are also high quality and feel solid.
Other features that I’m really liking but won’t go into great detail on:
- A really big glove box
- Auto folding mirrors and turn indicator on the mirrors
- Being able to tap the turn indicator and have it flash however many times you choose (in the settings), rather than pop into place until you turn
- LED parking lights that frame the headlights
- Backup camera with distance overlay (I realize the LEAF now comes with all sorts of cameras, but mine didn’t)
- Parking sensors on front and back
- Increased head room (not an issue for 5′ 2.75″ me, but I like passengers to be comfortable)
- The shifter is a traditional design, which would be less confusing for someone new to EV driving
- Two 12V outlets in front (120W and 180W), with an additional one in the trunk
- Volume and climate/temperature control are knobs rather than up/down buttons, making quick adjustment easier
- Front seats are heated and cooled, with high-medium-low options for each; back seats are individually heated
- Heated steering wheel has more moderate heating, without wild temperature swings
- Windshield washer sprays entire windshield more effectively
Driving the Soul EV
Driving isn’t much different than the LEAF. The Soul EV has the same get-up-and-go and handles similarly. The steering wheel has three driving options to choose from: Normal, Comfy, and Sport. I’ve kept it in Normal; Sport is pretty tight. I often noticed that the steering wheel in my LEAF was pretty loose and would occasionally wobble around in my lane when I would take a corner too fast. I have yet to experience that in the Soul EV. So far it feels very responsive and even though I sometimes feel like the car is larger than the LEAF, it’s very zippy. The steering wheel also telescopes in addition to tilting, so you have more options for adjusting it to your comfort level.
The Soul EV’s regenerative braking is noticeably stronger than the LEAF’s, when in B mode. I’m still re-calibrating my driving habits in order to utilize that more when coming to a stop. I do like that the brake lights come on when you let up enough on the accelerator, so I’m not as worried about someone rear-ending me as I regen.
For those who enjoy driving in Eco mode, the Soul EV has that, too. When I first test drove it, I didn’t realize that Eco mode was enabled and was wondering why it seemed to take so much effort to accelerate. I expected the button to be on the steering wheel like in the LEAF, but it’s actually down by the shifter. Also next to that is a button for enabling the parking sensors and an electronic parking brake, like the 2011/2012 LEAFs had.
I asked Ty to write about some of the more technical differences between the LEAF and Soul EV, for those of you interested in that part. In his own words…
The first time I drove a Soul EV, back in May, I was impressed with the things that Kia had done. I had the impression that they had spent a lot of time driving around a 2012 LEAF and picked out every little thing that could be improved upon, and made sure that the Soul EV did improve upon most of those things. After looking more closely at Trish’s car, I’m even more convinced that this is the case. Kia really wanted to make something that competes well with the LEAF.
The motor in the Soul EV has almost identical performance to the LEAF, at 81.4 kW with 210 lb-ft of torque. Due to the body being less aerodynamic, and possibly other factors, however, it’s not quite as efficient, getting 105 MPGe combined compared to the LEAF’s 115 MPGe.
Kia elected to include a larger-capacity battery than Nissan had at the time. The Soul EV comes with a 30.5 kWh battery (27 kWh usable), compared to the LEAF’s 24 kWh battery (22 kWh usable). Kia chose to allow a smaller portion of the battery to be usable in order to help promote longer battery life. Kia is confident enough in this that they include an outstanding battery capacity warranty, covering 70% of original capacity for 10 years or 100,000 miles. The rest of the drivetrain is covered by a warranty of the same duration. This is substantially more than Nissan’s 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty of 70% capacity.
The larger usable battery leads to the Soul EV having a longer range per charge than the LEAF. It also allows for faster DC charging (up to 90 kW). (The Soul EV does include a CHAdeMO port, just like most LEAFs sold in our area.) The EPA-rated combined range for the Soul EV is 93 miles, compared to the LEAF’s 84 miles, which was better than any EV other than the Tesla Model S, at the time of its release.
Nissan recently announced that the 2016 LEAF will be available in some trims with a 30 kWh battery pack. It will have slightly more range, rated at 107 miles, due to the LEAF being slightly more efficient, as I previously mentioned, but it’s still the same LEAF in all the other ways.
Unlike other types of cars, which generate a substantial amount of excess heat which can be used to heat the cabin, electric vehicle motors run relatively cool. However, the motors and their electronics do generate SOME heat and it has to go somewhere.
In the earlier version of the LEAF (2011-12, and the S trim today), an electric resistance heater was used to heat the cabin. The motor and electronics were liquid-cooled, just like an internal combustion engine, with a radiator and fan at the front. The resistance heater might use a substantial amount of energy, which would reduce the range substantially, especially in the winter. All LEAFs include air conditioning, which runs on a high-voltage electric pump.
In 2013 (SV and SL trim levels), Nissan modified the setup to combine the air conditioning pump into a heat pump. A heat pump works just like an air conditioner, but can “pump” heat in either direction: into or out of the car. The heat pump uses a second radiator at the front of the vehicle to either put heat from the car (when cooling) or get heat to put in the car (when heating). Heat pumps can heat the cabin much more efficiently than a resistance heater, so the range impact is even less.
Kia decided to take this a little farther. Since the electronics of the car are generating some heat, the heat pump in the Kia Soul EV is able to use both the air and the electronics as a source of heat. As a result, in the winter the Kia Soul EV will be more efficient than a Nissan LEAF.
Battery thermal management
Like most modern production EVs, the battery pack in the LEAF and Soul EV is located under the floor, primarily under the rear seat. The LEAF’s battery is not ventilated; if it’s too hot, it cools only if the outside air is cooler and then relatively slowly, as the battery is quite dense. If it gets too cold, the battery temporarily loses capacity, and only gains it back once heated again by driving, charging, or an increase in outside air temperature. Nissan includes a battery heater in case of extremely cold temperatures. Unfortunately, this lack of ventilation leads to issues when attempting to take a LEAF on a long trip, especially in warm weather. High temperatures can damage the battery and the car will limit power output and input in an attempt to prevent damage.
Kia has implemented a very interesting attempt to work around these kinds of issues. The cabin air, which, as I discussed previously, is heated or cooled using a heat pump, possibly using heat from the motor, is also pumped through the battery pack. Since the battery works best when it’s the same temperature that humans tend to prefer (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit), it works out that if it’s hot outside, the A/C is running so the battery is being cooled. Likewise, if it’s cold outside, the heat is on so the battery is warmed up. As a result, the Soul EV is probably a better candidate for long distance drives and will likely perform better in the winter, as well.
In the US, Nissan and Kia both provide connectivity options for their EVs: Nissan Connect EV (formerly called CARWINGS), and Kia UVO. They both allow you to use a smartphone app or website to get information about your car, like the state of charge, estimated distance to empty, and time to complete charging, plus control some things remotely, like turning on climate control.
There are differences, however. Kia UVO allows you to find the GPS location of the car and show it on a map. Kia UVO also shows the exact percentage of the battery’s state of charge, while Nissan Connect EV only shows how many of 12 charge bars the car has. Kia UVO displays the ambient temperature at the car’s location, and which doors are open, closed, or locked. When initiating a charge remotely, Kia allows you to specify whether you want to charge to 80% or 100%, right on the app or website. They also allow you to configure the charging schedule (timers) this way, instead of having to sit in the car and configure them on the dash.
When you wish to pre-heat or -cool your car, Nissan allows you to turn it on immediately or at a specific time, using a temperature pre-configured in the car. Kia allows you to choose, when you make a request to turn on climate control, what temperature you want and even whether you want the defroster on or not. It also lets you configure the climate control schedule.
It’s not perfect, though
There are a few places where the LEAF still has an advantage over the Soul. Obviously the 2016 LEAF is available with slightly more range per charge. The Soul has less cargo space and leg room in the back seats, although the trunk space is taller so you could probably fit some larger things in there that you can’t in the LEAF. The Soul fits better in the garage, though, as the LEAF is a whole foot longer (but 1 inch wider and 2 inches taller).
One feature that we’ve found to be lacking in the Soul EV is the ability to pre-heat or -cool while the car is not plugged in. If you have plenty of battery charge, it’s very nice, with a LEAF, to order the car to start warming up for you while it’s out in the parking lot and you’re finishing up in a store. But that is not an option for the Soul EV. This is probably the most annoying problem we’ve had.
In addition, there appears to be no way to change the dash to display km/h instead of mph! Since we live right next to Canada, this is likely to annoy us at some point. From searching online, it sounds like Soul EVs that are sold in other countries do have this ability, but the option is simply not there in ours.
Overall, we both really like the Kia Soul EV. It’s got great looks and outstanding features. We’ll definitely be using it for our road trips in the future, and we’re very happy to have replaced one of our Nissan LEAFs with a Kia Soul EV.
Let us know in the comments below what questions you have about these cars and we’ll do our best to answer!