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First Drive: Kia Ray EV

By / 4 years ago / New Cars / No Comments

Like most manufacturers, Kia is investing heavily in its future drivetrains at the moment. Micro-hybrid, parallel hybrid, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell powertrains are under development and due for a production launch within the next three years.

But it’s battery-electric models which will come to Europe first, in the shape of the Soul EV. Arriving in British showrooms in small numbers at the end of 2014, this will have directly benefited from knowledge gained during ongoing real-world trials of the Ray EV.

European buyers haven’t really latched onto highly functional city cars such as the Ray, which is a shame because it’s a fantastic piece of packaging ideal for crowded urban areas. Bumper to bumper dimensions are identical to a Picanto, but with its upright body, large windows and stubby bonnet there’s a deceptively roomy cabin tucked inside its small dimensions.

This is also incredibly versatile. On the road side, the doors open as on a conventional vehicle, while the passenger side has no B pillar and a sliding rear door for easy access. The boot is tiny, but the rear bench drops flat to offer a large, cube-shaped loading area as required. Images perhaps don’t do it justice, but the Ray is tiny and every inch of space inside is used effectively.

For the Ray EV, the standard car’s 1.0-litre petrol engine has made way for a 50kW electric motor supplied by a lithium-ion battery. This offers a range of 86 miles from a full charge, which takes six hours from a domestic plug socket or 25 minutes using a CHAdeMO-standard rapid charger, and the drivetrain adds 187kg to the petrol model’s kerb weight. But, at 1,185kg, it’s not a particularly heavy electric car.

With local and national electric vehicle subsidies, the price is around twice that of the petrol version, but the Ray EV isn’t offered to retail customers. Instead, Kia is leasing 2,500 to government agencies in South Korea, and a fleet of 186 are available for short-term loans via a car sharing scheme, priced from around £1.60 for a half-hour slot.

This is proving popular, attracting an average of 650 loans per day and with 15,000 members signed up. Data gathered from these trips is being fed back into the development of future vehicles, particularly the Soul EV.

Electric power really suits the Ray, though. It’s not the last word in handling but is agile enough to weave through Seoul’s traffic jams and the electric motor keeps it responsive in traffic. Visibility is excellent and, while the Eco mode blunts its performance completely, select Brake on the gear lever and it ups regenerative braking enough that it’s possible to drive around town just using the throttle pedal, backing off to slow down.

The Soul won’t get the same drivetrain as the Ray EV, it’ll be more powerful and more efficient with it. But this previous-generation electric car bodes well for the Soul, and as a car sharing option for crowded urban sprawls it’s an idea that European drivers really ought to be more open to.

Verdict:

Battery electric drivetrains are great fit for city cars, which rarely cover enough distance for the range to be an issue. Paired with the Ray’s ultra-efficient packaging, this would’ve made an interesting small-scale model in Europe and an ideal city-based commercial vehicle too.  

Spec:

Segment: City car

Type: Battery-electric vehicle

Price: £26,470/ ₩45,000,000 (£13,530/ ₩23,000,000 with subsidies)

Fuel: N/A

Electric range: 86 miles

CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 0g/km

Charging Port: Type 1 AC & CHAdeMo DC

Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.

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