We drove Spiff, named after Spaceman Spiff in Calvin and Hobbs, off the lot last week. It’s our first all electric vehicle and full of surprises. But before I tell you about it, I want to have a moment of silence for our dear departed Toyota Sienna van, Blando, the best vehicle to date I have ever owned. Just last week I had five heavy 5/8″ 4 X 8 sheets of OSB, three sheets of 4X8 drywall, and three eight foot lengths of drywall corner bead INSIDE my van. It was an amazing workhorse while we did our house renovations. It functioned totally reliably while I pushed the odometer up to 226,000 kilometers. It had great acceleration for highway driving and was a pure pleasure to drive. And it’s gone. Crushed for financial gain. Sob. Spiff will not be able to replace Blando for practical use, and maybe never in my heart. But there you go. Time passes and things change.
I marvel that anybody as currently impecunious as I could be driving a brand new EV. So let’s start with the logic that allowed this to happen. Blando broke a front strut a couple of weeks back, valiantly fighting the rare snow drifts and ice packs of our streets. It was still driveable, but we were facing a $1,500 repair bill on a vehicle with a $1000 trade in value. It had all those aforementioned kilometers on it, and a few minor things were going wrong, like the flashing airbag light on the dash I covered with tape. So I could expect it to nickel and dime us to death from here on. We had been thinking that our next vehicle should be an EV. This seemed like a good time to look into them. We made an appointment to repair Blando, then started checking out EVs at the dealerships, starting with the Toyota Prius (we decided we didn’t want a hybrid. Why include all the complication of an ICE machine with the simplicity of an EV?). Then we tried the Hyundai Kona (we liked it but… no.), and finally the Kia at Harris Auto here in Nanaimo.
We had been thinking we would probably lease our next vehicle. Matt, Harris Auto financial guy, suggested we look at financing. He worked out the numbers, subtracted the $5,000 federal subsidy and the $3,000 provincial subsidy, added in an amazing warranty package, and told us how to apply for the Scrap-it program, for which they still had a few tickets left. Scrap-it is an industry program that pays $6000 for any ICE vehicle that has been insured for six months and is taken off the road, meaning driven into a crusher. It turned out that we could finance our new EV over 96 months, making payments of $208 bi-weekly, which was stretching what we felt we could afford, but still within range. The FOMO of the situation is that the subsidy programs, especially the Scrap-it program, have very limited funds. When the money is gone, there’s no guarantee the funds will be topped up again. There is talk that EVs are over-incentivised. So that was it. Deal.
I should mention that our salesman, Roland Holland, is an incredibly personable and helpful guy. The fact that this would be his first sale, and Ruth would get to cut his tie in half once it was completed, added a lot to the fun.
So here’s the timeline: Ruth heard a horrid kasproinging noise in the van on a Friday. We got a diagnosis on Saturday, and made an appointment for a repair for Tuesday. Checked out the Prius on Saturday and new EVs on Monday, and decided on the Kia Soul EV Monday evening. Called to cancel the repairs to Blando Tuesday morning and drove Spiff off the lot that afternoon. Delivered Blando to the crusher Wednesday morning, with Roland following behind to drive us back into town, then returned to the dealership to cut Roland’s tie in half, which apparently is a thing here. It all happened so fast.
But, okay. What you really want to know is what I think of the new 2020 Kia Soul. So here goes. Spiff seems to be incredibly well made and solid. It has the same feeling of thoughtful design and construction that I liked so much with our old Toyota. It doesn’t have the hauling capacity of Blando, but the trunk space is not bad. Here it is loaded with twenty one boxes of laminate flooring, four rolls of cork underlay, and a couple of lenghts of drywall bead. Not bad for a little car.
The learning curve to get used to driving an EV hasn’t been bad at all. The pleasures of the new experience have been many.
Let’s start with the most unexpected pleasant surprise. I absolutely love not having to put a key in the ignition. That seems like such a small thing, but it really isn’t. I unlock the door with the fob and put the fob in my pocket. Then I get in, put my foot on the brake and push a button to boot up the system, turn the big nob to drive. And I’m away. One of the greatest improvements in automobile technology has been the remote door lock. It’s hard to believe we used to walk around the car locking, or unlocking, each door. This takes the remote lock one step further, and it’s a big deal for me.
If I want to get nostalgic, I could lament the loss of the girlfriend test. Do you remember that one? The idea was you picked the girl up for your first date, unlocked her door, waited until she was seated, then closed her door. If your door wasn’t unlocked by the time you walked around the car, that would be the last date. But I digress.
There are a few things I love about modern cars. Remote door locks top the list. Electric controls for side mirrors comes next. Power windows would be third, then cruise control. And going way back I suppose I should list power steering and power brakes and automatic transmission. (I remember my father buying his first automatic transmission way back in the fifties, and complaining about having a foot he didn’t know what to do with.) Then there are the frills like heated seats and a heated steering wheel. All these things we take for granted, and the new Kia Soul takes them one step further.
Take cruise control as an example. The Kia Soul takes this to the edge of being an auto pilot. If the car ahead of you is doing seventy, and you have cruise set for 90, you slow down as you catch up. If the car ahead stops at a red light, you gently stop behind it and only need to touch the + sign on the steering wheel to start coming back up to speed as the car ahead moves again. On a clear day with the lines visible, the cruise control, or maybe it’s the driver assist, will give a tug on the wheel if you wander out of your lane. It will even take you around a curve. It doesn’t do that smoothly, but it does it.
Just a couple of things more to mention. The first is silence. Start up the system and it is silent, so silent that using the rear wiper seems loud. Then there’s acceleration. Step on the accelerator (not the gas, there is no gas) and you get instant smooth acceleration. Lots of it. Pin you to the seat acceleration. And then my favourite feature when it comes to driving – regenerative braking. You can set that to a level from zero, which means you just cruise down a hill like you normally would, to maximum which means the car noticeably starts to slow when you take your foot off the accelerator. I set it at maximum and drive without touching the brakes. Pretty much ever. The regenerative braking puts the energy of momentum back into the battery. It’s set with paddles conveniently placed on the steering wheel, and pulling and holding the one on the left will bring the car to a complete stop. Of course this means that my brakes should last forever.
For a couple of years now, the big name in EV has been Tesla, and it still has the status, plus a price tag twenty grand or more higher than the Kia. But I find the Tesla quite conventional looking, by comparison, and I think the big touch screen monitor protruding well out from the dash is downright ugly. Also, as Ruth has mentioned many times, a touch screen is a bad idea when you are driving. We want buttons, conveniently placed and activated by feel. I don’t know how much of the Tesla controls can be activated by feel, or voice control, but the emphasis seems to be on that big, ugly touch screen. So the way I’m feeling right now, I wouldn’t trade. Not even if you threw in the twenty grand.
Final word: We liked the folks at Harris Auto. We got a lot of attention from Roland Holland, our salesman. Matt made the number work for us. And the car itself is just a total blast to drive. We did find some aspects of the navigation system counter intuitive, but nothing that familiarity won’t fix. So…happy campers here. If you want to check out the Kia Soul EV at Harris Auto in Nanaimo, tell Roland that Zale sent you.
UPDATE: February 2 2020 finally found something to complain about. The rear view mirror has buttons under it. One summons roadside assistance. The other is for emergencies. Not sure what the third is for. Anyway, I have to adjust that mirror every time Ruth drives the car. Yesterday I accidentally hit the roadside assistance button. The call went out, and I couldn’t cancel it. I tried hanging up the phone, with the button on the steering wheel for that purpose. It ignored me. Maybe if i had pushed the button on the rear view mirror again instead it might have cancelled. But I tried a few things and then just waited for somebody to answer, explained the situations, and had THEM hang up. Not a big deal really, but very strange. And the first thing about the car I didn’t like. That is a very strange place to put buttons calling for assistance. Bad choice, really. It seems the designers assumed that only one person, of only one height, would be driving the car
UPDATE 2: And this one is NOT A COMPLAINT. I was delighted when we dropped in to Harris Auto with a few questions and Matt showed me this feature. Pushing the button on the door handle opens the locks as long as I have the fob in my pocket. This means I never have to take the fob out of my pocket unless I forget to lock the car and want to lock it from inside the house. Push the button. Get in. Foot on the brake. Push the power up button. Rotate the big nob to put it in gear and drive away. It may seem like a small thing, but to me it isn’t. It means no fumbling around in my over stuffed pocket trying to find the fob to get into the car.