The styling of the new EV9 is striking. It’s fresh, angular, unmistakably Kia, and incorporates both the brand’s traditional cues (the “Tiger Nose” front panel now features an optional LED light show on some models) and new looks for that will be seen on future Kia EVs. The look is chunky, blocky and very upright — yet it’s still sleek, featuring an aerodynamic coefficient of drag of just 0.28, better than some sports cars. It’s nearly the same size as a Telluride, one of our favorite three-row SUVs, but the 7.8-inch-longer wheelbase means that it has a lot more legroom inside than a lot of traditional big SUV competitors.
The model I drove was the GT-Line, top trim spec, with 21-inch blocky four-spoke-style wheels and a lot of gloss-black trim on the fenders, bumpers, windows and mirrors. It’s a decidedly futuristic look that’s likely to turn some heads — at least until the truly wild Hyundai Ioniq 7 gets here later in the year.
Inside, the spaciousness of the EV9 is undeniable, especially in the second and even third rows. We thought the Telluride was plenty roomy with usable third-row seating for adults, but the EV9 is even better — although it does reduce that third-row seating to just two adults, instead of three kids, in order to maximize comfort. But any of the EV9’s seats is a good place to spend some time, with all manner of adjustability, heated and cooled functions standard on all trims for the front thrones and even an extraordinary massage function for the driver. Kia may not be a luxury brand, but given the price of the EV9 and its status as the company’s flagship model, it does come with features that one would expect to see on competitors costing this much or more — showing that Kia is trying to punch above its weight in this class.
The second row can be had as a three-person bench or as two-place captain’s chairs; if you go for higher trim levels, captain’s chairs are your only option, as there’s no bench on the GT-Line (yet, anyway; Kia is apparently “examining” the possibility). Those captain’s chairs do feature power folding and sliding to allow for relatively easy ingress and egress to the third row, and they can be lowered from the cargo area, as well. The third row is not powered — it’s a manual pull-strap release to lower or raise them, which is less convenient than a power folding system but still works fine.
The design of the interior is also pleasingly Kia, meaning it’s stylish, well laid out, solidly constructed and features a ton of easy functionality. Front and center is a nearly 30-inch panoramic display made up of two 12.3-inch screens (one for the driver’s gauges, one for the next-generation Kia multimedia touchscreen) bookending a 5-inch climate control panel. While a lot of controls and displays are now done through the touchscreen, not everything has been given over to touch-sensitive controls — there are still some hard buttons for frequently used items like audio and climate controls for occupants to use. The small touchscreen climate control panel, however, is of questionable use — it’s too far from the front-seat passenger to be used by them, but it’s 50% blocked from the driver’s view by the thick and chunky steering wheel. This is really only one of two missteps in the EV9’s interior design, but it’s a rather significant one.
The other questionable element of the EV9’s interior is the materials quality. Yes, everything is meant to be recyclable, sustainably sourced or made from recycled materials. Even the leather is fake. But it feels as if this is the area where Kia cut a little cost out of the vehicle in order to accommodate the big, expensive battery. It certainly doesn’t feel cheap in the EV9, but it doesn’t feel like a $78,000 car, either — at the lower end of the EV9’s price spectrum, it’d feel fine, but as that price climbs commensurate with the trim levels, the materials on the dash and doors should feel nicer than this; the top Telluride trims certainly do. Ironically, most more expensive Mercedes-EQ models actually feel worse.
How It Drives
Silently fire up the EV9 by pushing the slightly hard-to-find power switch (it’s on the drive selector column, just below the right-hand windshield wiper control stalk), and off you go. My time in the EV9 was only in the top spec GT-Line with the larger battery and the most power output you can get in the vehicle: 379 hp and 516 pounds-feet of torque. The biggest sensation you’ll get while piloting the EV9 is that it’s massive — not overly huge, mind you, but massive in the traditional sense, meaning it has a lot of mass to it.
That’s the big battery, of course, but it’s low in the chassis, so it still handles decently through twisty switchbacks. The steering feel is outstanding for an EV and even quite good for a conventional vehicle — there’s heft to the wheel, precision and excellent feedback. The ride quality is mixed; on one hand, it absorbs bumps and pavement imperfections fairly well, but it can also experience a lot of side-to-side motion over undulations. Again, the EV9’s copious mass comes into play here; it feels like a really heavy SUV — because it is, with the GT-Line AWD model ringing in at more than 5,800 pounds. For comparison, despite being nearly the same size as a Telluride, the EV9 GT-Line weighs nearly 1,400 pounds more than a loaded AWD Telluride. It’s not easy to hide that kind of extra heft, and the EV9 only does a moderately successful job of it.
Dynamically, overall, I’d call the EV9 a success. It rolls in corners, but not excessively. It’s a bit bouncy on broken pavement, with some unusual body motions, but it’s not upsetting or nauseating. It’s exceptionally quiet at speed, with no wind or powertrain noise, just road noise coming through the low-profile tires and big wheels. There are several levels of regenerative braking all the way down to one-pedal driving, and it works beautifully; when you need to push the pedal yourself, it’s firm and well modulated. Overall, thanks to an excellent driving position, outstandingly comfortable seats, good efficiency (we averaged about 3.1 miles per kWh on our test, which is excellent for a big SUV), copious cargo room and flawless electronics on board, the EV9 is an all-day-friendly cruiser. It’s going to make a lot of families really happy.
Those that can afford one, anyway. Part of the Telluride’s appeal is its almost unbelievable price — starting at just $37,585 (all prices include destination), it’s well under what the average price of any new car is today for a big, V-6-powered three-row SUV. It tops out in the mid-$50,000 range, where the new EV9 takes over. The starting price for the new EV9 Light is $56,395, and it will range up to $78,000 for a fully loaded GT-Line model. The actual starting price is less than $55,000, however, which will make the EV9 eligible for federal tax credits when the company shifts its production to its West Point, Ga., plant later in 2024.
Still, that’s a lot of scratch for anything with a Kia badge on it. And while the brand might not have the cachet of luxury competitors, the products it’s pumping out do deliver significantly on comfort, quality, value, performance and all of the other hallmarks of luxury-branded items. As the true first semi-affordable three-row electric SUV, Kia has a little bit of breathing room for a while and will be establishing itself as the benchmark against which all comers will be judged. I think it’s going to hold up that title quite handily.
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