One in an occasional series reviewing consumer vehicles that are powered by water, natural gas, electricity, hybrid motors, high-efficiency gasoline engines or some other alternative source.
Until Mazda comes out with an electric Miata or, better yet, I score an early 1960s Nic-L-Silver Battery Co. of Santa Ana convertible in mint condition, I may just have to bite the battery and go with a Kia Soul EV, which for 2016 includes a panoramic sunroof as an option.
So, it's almost as if you are driving topless.
To back up, the electric version looks very much like the South Korean automaker's five-door Soul compact charmer that runs on gasoline. I fell hard for Kia's 2015 Soul EV, even without the sunroof.
Like last year's edition, the 2016 drives smoothly and handles curves like a sportscar. It's plenty zippy; the 81.4-kilowatt electric motor produces the rough equivalent of 109 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque.
The EV has a range of 93 miles. When plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet, the batteries take about 24 hours to fully charge, but during my test week I never found myself needing to charge it that long thanks to a feature of the entertainment/navigation/charging status screen on the dashboard.
As the energy bars disappear on a battery gauge akin to the interior fuel tank indicator on traditional cars, you can pop up a map on the screen with dots representing nearby quick-charging stations. The map even indicates which ones you can definitely reach on your remaining charge, which ones you might make and which ones are definitely out of range.
In a little more than a half hour, you can get an 80 percent charge at fast-charing ports. Once home, plug the Kia-supplied trickle charger into a household outlet. By the time you awake the next morning, you're back to a full charge. So kiss range anxiety goodbye! (Not that we'd turn Elon Musk's battery with a 200-mile range, of course.)
The 2016 Kia Soul EV starts at a very reasonable $24,000 and change. I am treated to pretty much fully loaded models for my test drives, so the sticker price on mine was $35,000. It included the Sun & Fun package with the aforementioned large sunroof, LED interior lighting, pulsating speaker lights and EV Plus trim. Various extras packages range from $32,000 to $37,000.
Keep in mind the closest competitors size-wise—the Nissan LEAF and the Ford Focus Electric—come in around $30,000. I confess I found a LEAF I test drove in Huntington Beach very peppy and it handled great. I did wish I could have more time with it. I can't recall driving an EV Focus. (Yo, Ford, return my calls, dammit!)
Except for an old Woody surf wagon, I have never been attracted to boxy-looking vehicles, so it's surprising to me I am so fond of the 2015 and now 2016 Kia Soul EV. Perhaps it has to do with the interior roominess. There are no bulgy battery compartments in the way. Push the back seats down flat and it's like a mini SUV inside.
Other goodies include 16-inch lightweight alloy wheels, keyless entry with push-button starting, power windows, mirrors and door locks, auto headlights, automatic climate control with driver-zone-only feature, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a tilt-telescopic steering column, a trip computer, a unique EV-oriented gauge cluster, climate scheduling (allows preset heating or cooling of the vehicle while charging), FlexSteer driver-selectable power steering, an AM/FM/CD/satellite radio with six speakers and an iPod/USB port.
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If the extra dough is still bugging, consider the government's tax credit that can be as high as $7,500 if you qualify. The electric miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent rating is 120 mpg in the city, 93 mpg on the highway and 105 mpg combined.
And you don't have to worry about rips to a canvas convertible top.