One of the downsides of electric cars — as noted in our previous Kia Soul EV long-term update — is that cold weather really cuts into the driving range. That’s likely due in part to the battery being less efficient in cold temperatures, and certainly to the fact that creating heat from electricity is an extremely inefficient endeavor.
Although the Kia Soul EV uses a high-tech heat pump for both heating and cooling, we still experienced a 25- to 30-percent drop in range during the winter months, even more in really cold temperatures. But much depended on how long our trips were — and whether we used the neat pre-heating feature (more about this in a sec).
If it’s cold and your trips are short, much of your drive will be spent with the heat going full blast trying to get the interior up to temperature. While this happens very quickly compared to a gas car, it eats up a lot of electricity. But once the interior is warm, the heater goes into an energy-saving “coast” mode, which doesn’t drain the battery near as much.
Take the cases of two of our editors. Damon drives just three miles to work, while John drives 27. As noted in our previous update (though I had to do some math to figure this out), John found that the range estimate given by the car after being fully charged was typically pessimistic, at least for his longer commute. In the example he sited, he started the weekend with a full charge and an estimated 66 miles of range on the meter, but ended up driving 72 miles with 6 miles left — which makes for a total of 78 miles, or a good 18 percent more than the initial estimate. Damon’s short trips, on the other hand, sucked up power like there was no tomorrow.
However, despite the Soul EV’s main negative as a winter driver, our cold-weather experience with it was not without its upsides. One feature we definitely appreciated when the weather went arctic was the Soul EV’s heater (yep … the same one we just slammed for cutting the range), which can be enjoyed in one of three ways:
- You can wait to turn on the heat until you get in and “start” the car. Even when the temperature indicator on the dash was reading 5 degrees, it only took a few blocks – probably less than two minutes – before comfortably warm air was blowing out the ducts. In any gas-powered car, we’d be freezing through the first three miles. Furthermore, the Soul EV has heated seats and a heated steering wheel, which were likewise appreciated. This is the only option if the car is not plugged in.
But if the car is connected to either a Level 1 charger (which comes with the car and plugs into a normal 110-volt outlet) or a Level 2 charger (as we have at our office), there are two other options. Note that both not only let you climb into a toasty car but also extend the range, as the initial heating is done using electricity supplied by the charger rather than by the battery.
If you know when you’ll be getting into the car – say, heading for work at 8 am – you can enter that time and the desired temperature (70 degrees feels nice) into the “Pre-heat” screen, and the car’s computer will figure out when it has to turn on the heat based on ambient temperature in order to have the interior toasty by the time you open the door. And it can even be programmed to automatically do that on requested days, such as Monday thru Friday. This also applies to air conditioning in the summer, but note that either will turn off at 8 am whether you get into the car or not, so if you oversleep, it won’t be at 70 degrees when you get in. Call it the “incentive plan.” One beauty of this is that it can be activated in a closed garage, which you can’t do via remote start with a gas car, as the garage would fill with exhaust. Or at least, you can’t do it twice ….
There’s also an app for that.
On our 2015 Soul EV, we found that only one person can use the downloadable app, but it appears that’s been changed on the new models. In any case, it allows you to start the heat (or air conditioning) at any time through your smartphone. This is great if you don’t know in advance when you’ll be leaving, and since it typically only takes a few minutes to get the inside up to temperature (longer on a Level 1 charger than on Level 2), you can probably activate it just before putting on your coat and walking out the door. The interior might not be quite to the desired temperature when you get in, but it will certainly be warmer (or cooler) than it otherwise would be.
All of which means that — if range is not your biggest concern — electric cars like the Soul EV can really take the bite out of a frigid midwest winter.
Tested vehicle: 2015 Kia Soul EV
Base price: $35,700 (Before federal or state incentives)
Price as tested: $36,625, including floormats ($125) and destination ($800)
EPA city/highway/combined ratings: 120/92/105 (MPGe)
EPA estimated range: 93 miles