Electric cars have evolved tremendously since they cruised into mainstream awareness in this country a few years ago. Introduced in 2012, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV was one of the models initiating the current EV wave, and it’s still in its first generation. Launched in 2015, the Kia Soul EV is one of the segment’s more recent arrivals.
Which of these two plug-in cars is right for you? We take a look at what each has to offer in the areas that matter most to shoppers in this growing niche.
Distinctive EV Looks
The i-MiEV and the Soul EV take very different approaches with exterior design. In many ways, these differences are indicative of how much the EV segment has changed in just a few short years.
Many of the earliest models in the current swell of EVs were outsiders and proud of it, and they were instantly identifiable by their quirky pod-car sheet metal. The i-MiEV is reflective of this aesthetic. It’s bug-eyed from the front, with a blunt bonnet and closed grille, and overlooking it all is a vast, curving windshield. The car’s profile calls to mind that of a computer mouse, and its rear features a body-colored bumper and high tail lamps. Overall, the i-MiEV has an oddball charm, but it’s not likely to be hailed as conventionally beautiful anytime soon.
A significant percentage of the most current EVs are variants of gas-only or hybrid models, and the Soul EV falls within this camp. It’s mostly identical to the gas-only 2016 Kia Soul, with the same lantern-jawed front fascia and squinting headlights. It’s boxy all over but especially in profile, while a rear view reveals a tall, rectangular hatch bordered by long taillights. Overall, it has a look that is funky and hip. The Soul EV is distinguished from the gas-only model primarily by its closed grille. Otherwise, it looks just like any other gas-powered car on the road.
There are some EV car buyers who love the idea of purchasing a model with sheet metal that sets it apart from the pack, and for them, the i-MiEV might be a satisfying choice. Other EV buyers want a car that looks more conventional, and the Soul EV is built to cater to these shoppers.
Unique Interior Designs
Technically, the i-MiEV accommodates four, but most adults will be uncomfortable in the cramped back seat. The picture is better in the first row. The vehicle’s tall structure translates into lots of headroom for the driver and front passenger, and there is a fair amount of legroom for them as well. However, the seats are somewhat basic, and the car’s flat chairs feel primitive by today’s standards.
Cargo capacity comes up short, and the i-MiEV provides a stingy 13.2 cubic feet behind the second row. Fold the 50/50-split rear seats and this expands to a more reasonable 50.4 cubic feet.
Overall, the look of the cabin is severely dated, with bargain-bin materials quality. The i-MiEV may have been launched in 2012, but its interior looks like something straight out of 1995.
The Soul EV’s cabin offers more to enjoy, with reasonably roomy accommodations for five. The Soul EV’s battery is located beneath the second row, and this results in reduced rear legroom relative to the gas-only model (36 inches to the gas-only model’s 39.1). Still, the second row is adequately spacious, though the picture becomes less favorable if there are taller passengers in the front row. The seats are comfortable and supportive all around.
You won’t be forced to travel light with the Soul EV, since the car provides 18.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the second row. This figures matches that of the gas-only model and is quite roomy for the EV segment. The car’s 60/40-split rear seats fold to grow cargo capacity to 49.5 cubic feet.
The cabin looks stylish and modern, and the materials used feel premium, with lots of soft-touch surfaces. The Soul EV gets green bonus points for utilizing eco-friendly bio-based materials throughout its interior.
While the i-MiEV’s cabin comes with quite a few compromises, mainstream buyers will find the Soul EV’s interior very easy to live with.
Leading the Charge
The 2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is powered by an electric motor providing 66 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. The motor is paired with a single-speed transmission. This isn’t exactly an abundance of horsepower, but fortunately, the i-MiEV’s relatively slight 2,579-pound curb weight means the engine doesn’t have too much heft to motivate.
Ride quality in the i-MiEV may be a shade bouncy for the average driver. Still, we enjoyed our time behind the wheel, and the lightweight car has a golf-cart appeal to its handling. Power was adequate for typical driving maneuvers.
The i-MiEV offers just 59 miles of range. A figure like this was fairly typical a few years ago, but these days, many choices are available offering greater versatility in this area. The i-MiEV consumes 30 kWh of electricity per 100 miles and is rated at 112 MPGe combined city/highway by the EPA.
This Mitsubishi takes 14 to 22 hours to reach a full charge from a 120-volt outlet, and the EPA estimates a full charge takes 7 hours from a 240-volt outlet. The i-MiEV is equipped with a quick-charger port compatible with CHAdeMO level 3 chargers, and this port facilitates an 80-percent charge in just 30 minutes.
An electric motor motivates the Soul EV, and it generates 109 horsepower an 210 pound-feet of torque. This motor is mated with a single-speed transmission.
The Soul EV’s portlier curb weight (3,289 pounds) gives it handling that’s more composed than the i-MiEV’s. Acceleration was sprightly, and there was sufficient muscle on hand to make short work of merging and passing. Ride quality occasionally felt a bit firm, but overall, this is a car most drivers will enjoy piloting.
The latest batch of electric cars have been raising the bar when it comes to range, and the Soul EV can travel an impressive 93 miles between charges. It consumes 32 kWh of electricity per 100 miles and is rated at 105 MPGe combined, making it a slightly less efficient choice than the i-MiEV.
Charging the Soul EV takes 24 hours from a 120-volt outlet, while the EPA lists a 4-hour charge time from a 240-volt outlet. A quick-charge port is standard, and it brings the car to an 80-percent charge from empty in 33 minutes.
In real-world use, the Soul EV’s extra range gave it a significant advantage over the i-MiEV. With no home charger, we had to replenish energy at public charging stations, and we found level 3 chargers often came with steep price premiums. This left us charging at 240-volt outlets, and we appreciated the Soul’s quicker charge times. Overall, the Soul was simply a more livable and versatile choice.
A Question of Value
The 2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV has a starting price of $23,845 including an $850 destination charge. The list of standard features includes 15-inch wheels, automatic halogen projection headlights, fog lights, heated power-adjustable side mirrors, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker sound system with MP3 playback capability.
Kia Soul EVs start at $32,800 including an $850 destination charge for the -e base trim sold in California only. If you don’t live in the Golden State, you’ll have to step up to the next trim, which starts at $34,800. Standard features for the -e include 16-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, rear privacy glass, automatic projection headlamps, LED accent lights, a soft-touch dash and upper front door panels, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker stereo with MP3 playback capability and satellite radio.
Both cars offer good value. The Soul EV clearly offers much more in the way of creature comforts. However, with its super-low starting price, the i-MiEV is the least expensive electric car on the market, and it makes this technology accessible to the most budget-conscious buyers.
Choose Your Electric Car
When choosing between these models, most buyers will be happier with the Kia Soul EV. It offers more room, more range and a nicer cabin.
Still, for the most cash-strapped car shoppers seeking EV transportation, the 2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV provides affordable access to this growing segment.
Both models tell a tale of how far the segment has come in just a couple of years and speak to the diverse and growing range of choices available for EV buyers.