Officially unveiled at last week’s Chicago Auto Show, the 2015 Kia Soul EV is expected to be a low-volume ‘compliance’ car sold in key U.S. markets to satisfy zero-emission mandates in states like California, Oregon and New Jersey among others. With a 27 kilowatt-hour battery pack, an 81.2 kilowatt motor driving the front wheels, and an expected range of between 90 and 120 miles per charge, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Kia Soul EV is just another plug-in compliance car from an automaker forced to make an EV in order to sell cars in various U.S. states. Nothing remarkable, nothing you could consider a breakthrough.
Except that’s not the case, says Kia. In fact, the Korean automaker insists, its first globally-available, mass-produced EV hides a whole host of breakthrough technology designed to produce the highest efficiency possible. At the heart of its efficiency-saving tech is a smart heating and ventilation system which Kia says ensures your winter range doesn’t suffer when you turn the heating on.
Like the Renault Zoe EV, high-end Nissan LEAFs and the recently-launched high-end BMW i3, the Kia Soul makes use of a high-efficiency heat pump instead of a heating element-based system. Operating like the pump in a refrigerator in reverse, the heat pump system is filled with a refrigerant compound which has a very low boiling point, enabling heat energy to be transferred from outside the car to heat the interior, even if it’s minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit) outside.
Since heat pumps are massively more efficient than traditional heater systems (they typically have a coefficient of performance of between 3.0 and 4.0 while a resistive heater has a COP of 1.0) they require far less energy to keep the interior of the car warm than a traditional heater. Less energy used in heating equates to more energy available for propulsion.
What caught our eye with Kia’s system however is the additional steps taken to ensure maximum efficiency. Even though an electric car is far more efficient overall than an internal combustion engined car — where most of the energy consumed is lost as heat and noise — some energy is lost as heat within the car’s motor inverter power control circuits. What Kia’s engineers have chosen to do is to use the same heat pump which keeps the cabin warm to capture that lost heat energy to help keep the cabin warm.
By plumbing the power inverter electronics cooling and motor cooling circuits into the same HVAC system used to provide heat to the cabin, Kia says it has managed the best possible efficiency for the highest possible heat production. Meanwhile, a smart air intake, humidity sensor and automated air control make the cabin the perfect temperature for you without steaming up the windows or wasting energy.
The Kia Soul EV also features cabin preconditioning either via a timer or smartphone connectivity, something we’ve come to expect as a de facto feature on all modern EVs, but also adds a neat feature we really like: driver-only ventilation.
Fitted on the dash is a ‘Driver only” heater switch that basically turns off air vents elsewhere in the car but directs heating at the driver, turning off all other heating and ventilation systems on the passenger side of the vehicle when they’re not needed.
It makes sense too: by heating only the driver’s immediate area, the Soul EV should bring even more efficiency gains over its competitors, although we do wonder if it will be at the expense of misted windows, something Kia hasn’t elaborated on.
Like any new EV to market, the proof will be in the driving, but we really do like what we’re hearing about the Kia Soul EV. Let’s hope it performs as well in the real world as its engineers say it does.
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