WE ALL knew the electric automotive revolution would eventually gather some sort of momentum and move on quickly from the Neanderthal technological base it has been operating from for the last decade or so.
That is not to say, of course, that there was massive amounts of research and development work ongoing in the background, all during a period when what was on offer to Joe and Jane Public were propulsion and battery systems which would have found favour with Fred Flintstone.
I mean, when companies will not actually sell their battery systems to the buying public — lease only — for fear of litigation down the line from disgruntled customers who found they could not safely dispose of said environmentally-unfriendly technology, you knew there had to be a catch somewhere.
And when that technology only offered you a workable range of tens of kilometres rather than hundreds or thousands of them, you also knew that the hype was not as sustainable as the manufacturers would like you to believe.
That was — albeit in the very recent past — then, but this is now and this week we get to drive what, on paper, appear to be two very convincing electric cars from Kia — the e-Soul and the e-Niro — which both have very workable operational capacities.
In many ways they are very different cars and the quirky looking e-Soul will not be everyone’s cup of tea, while the e-Niro will very definitely be on the list for families and empty-nesters alike thanks to its spaciousness and practicality. What they have in common is a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor with a 64 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery.
This means that both have an aspirational range of more than 450km and while I found both cars well capable of largely delivering on this promise, I also found two very different tests on each, produced very different results.
With the e-Soul, I took the car over a predictable weekly route involving a trip from Cork city to west Cork and all the driving that entails while embedded there. With the e-Niro, on the other hand, I got it to do a dose of city driving, along with one 225.8km motorway haul. The difference in the two tests was illuminating.
Having a wall-socket in West Cork with which to recharge electric cars is now a complete necessity for this gig, given the increasing numbers of electric and PHEV (plug-in hybrids) that are being made and motoring hacks are being asked to test.
That being so, there was absolutely no anxiety attached to having the e-Soul as it reached West Cork with nearly 200km of range left. Wheeling around for the week did not diminish that level of power much and only a short time connected to the wall-socket was necessary to ensure a smooth return trip to the city.
On the other hand, the e-Niro performed admirably around town and did not appear to soak up much of the available power and so it was with absolutely no trepidation whatsoever that we took on our motorway trip. Armed with the car’s standard adaptive cruise control (which is pretty impressive, it has to be said), we set it at the legal speed limit and sat back.
You might have reasonably expected that with the car telling us at the outset that we had more than 350km in hand, this would be a fret-free task. Well, not really. At the half-way point there was still an indicated 180km available, but the car clearly did not really like the motorway cruise — at least not in terms of offering decent consumption.
By the time I got back home there was less than 50km left on offer — according to the car’s own calculations, which meant that a trip of less than 230km had soaked up 70km more of power than the car said it would. That’s a pretty big hole in the whole performance parameters, you’d have to say.
It also calls into question the car’s ultimate ability to undertake long distance motorway hauls without having to stop and find a charging point of any description, let alone a working one.
The Cork-Dublin haul is therefore not without its anxieties, in the same way as a trip from Cork to, say, Tuam, or Dublin to Tralee.
Now, while I laud the fact that Kia has come up with two cars which largely remove any range anxieties you might have about all-electric cars and I while I was also very conscious not to deliberately hammer them in order to make them look silly (as would have been possible), I was still mindful that huge progress has been made to make electric cars truly feasible.
Kia deserve a lot of praise for this and for also being at the sharp end of making useable electrics, but for anyone losing the run of themselves here, there are a few other things to take into consideration.
While both the e-Soul and the e-Niro are jam-packed with added specification and plenty to keep the tecchies among you happy and the e-Soul has that added funky vibe thanks to its outré look, neither car was particularly riveting to drive. In fact, both had little or nothing to offer the press-on driver.
It does have to be said that with the equivalent of over 200 bhp on offer from both as well as a shared top speed of 167kph and a 0-100kph capability of under eight seconds, the naked performance figures seem impressive, but there is a down-side.
Both had a distinct tendency to run out of grip such is the torque on offer (395Nm) and both had a very crashy ride, thanks, no doubt to the added weight of the batteries and the fact Kia has had to beef up the suspension as a result. The result is two different cars with a ride quality which will please few.
Given that Kia does know how to make decent handling cars, there can be little excuse from them for making two largely impressive (and cost effective) cars which handle and ride as poorly as these two do.
But, the positives on offer here largely outweigh the negatives and the biggest positive is the fact that Kia has made two electric cars that are good to go for long distances — albeit with a little careful nursing and a bit of pre-journey planning involved.
With these cars we are finally seeing something of what electric cars can offer and that indicates the future is quite bright for the genre.
Kia e-Soul, Kia e-Niro
The cost: E-Soul from €35,995-€37,495 as tested; e-Niro from €33,495- €37,495 as tested (all figures including tax reliefs and grants).
The engines: None — they’re electric.
The specification: Terribly impressive.
The overall verdict: Electric gets legs.
Star rating: 3.5/5