There is no denying that the past few years were key in the “maturing” of the offerings in the electric vehicle landscape. We saw the introduction of new models, new technologies and even entire new brands. But the majority of that was in car shapes that are the hottest right now – think of crossover/SUVs and the odd hatchback. There was a segment that, for the longest time didn’t get a lot of plug-in-attention from manufacturers: the 7-seater SUV. So enter the EV9, the latest EV offering from Kia that should bring all the benefits of electrification to an SUV that can carry big families (and their gear) with ease.
By this time you should have noticed I’m a sucker for designs that go a bit out of the ordinary, and this Kia definitely does that, and then some. The EV9 has a very futuristic presence, and you’d be pressed to mix it for anything else on the road.
And it’s when you’re looking at its full presence that you can appreciate the fluidity of the lines. It has a touch of minimalism to it, with simple and cohesive lines, and it definitely feels like something different that attracts the gaze of onlookers. Kia has been a bit more consistent with their visual identity than the sister brand Hyundai, and the EV9 is quite possibly its final form. I thought it was going to be more polarising, but everyone but one person liked it: my neighbour. One day, he was leaving his driveway and walked past the EV9. Unbeknownst to him, I was inside the car taking the interior shots and could see his puzzled face turn into a head shake. I guess you can’t please them all, but to me it is still a very good looking thing.
I did the same thing I did earlier with my Instagram audience where I hid the badge and got them to play Cardle with me. This time, everyone knew it was a Kia, and some of them were even able to get the model right. Hats off to Kia’s designers, their visual identity is paying dividends even with those that might not know which model they’re looking at.
As with any luxury car, the other half (if not more) of the experience happens after you jump inside, and the EV9 definitely delivers on this front as well. Materials are great throughout, there is plenty of space and the same purposeful, future-looking approach takes place. The mix of squishy plastics, and faux alloys and wood is only interrupted by the massive slab of screens on the dashboard – 3, this time. Gone is the multi-use approach introduced by the EV6, in favour of a dedicated small screen in between the centre and cluster elements. But more on that later, because you actually get two more screens, each one with a live feed from each side mirror. Pixels much?
There’s very little to be said about the implementation, though. The screens are better placed than in other cars of the brand and with amazing refresh rate, they feel natural. It is a different story when you’re trying to back into a tight spot, however, as it’s a bit harder to judge whether or not you cleared the car’s big footprint plus the mirrors using just the virtual image. So the ability to move the car forwards and backward using the key was actually very useful and not just a party trick (but yeah, I did use it as such).
The seat upholstery deserves a good call out as well. In either of the colours, it felt plush and comfortable, from the softest headrests all the way to the extending thigh support – handy for the charging stops. Heating and cooling are available for the first and second rows, but in this spec, the driver gets a massaging function on top of it that is so good that turning it on became part of my routine of turning on the EV9. Three clicks of a button I could find with my eyes closed and I was good to go.
What about the other seats, you might ask? There are 5 more, after all! The two rear rows of seats get and an USB-C port each and roof air vents with trizone A/C. Moving the second row forward to access the third one is dead easy both ways, but space is somewhat compromised once there. Good for short trips, but not to minivan levels (I got you covered, Carnival owners).
Storage is good, not exceptional. The load floor of the boot is quite tall, making it a bit harder to move heavier items (the 556kg of the battery have to go somewhere, I guess). Under the bonnet you get a front trunk, but the space is hardly enough for anything other than the charging cables and the quickest grocery shopping trip ever. Too bad that even still Kia had to put an internal release button there.
The 99kWh battery is enough to get you 505km away from your house, but if you want to stay inside you can use vehicle-to-load to power your appliances. When it’s time to charge, 350kW DC fast charging is your friend and will get you to 80% in 24 minutes.
The Meridian sound is awesome, even if for the first drive I had to resort to tunes that are not the ones I usually use to benchmark a system. That’s because when I picked the car up, I didn’t have a Lightning cable on me, so for the first few drives I didn’t use CarPlay as it’s only accessible with a cable. I had some time to kill with the car so I deeply explored the infotainment and was positively surprised with how intuitive and responsive it is, to the point I didn’t use CarPlay even when I eventually had the cable around. I can’t think of a bigger testament to how good the tech on the EV9 is. Most cars manage to pack the features nowadays, but getting them to a level where they can be a match to the big-tech offerings is another thing.
That’s comfort and tech out of the day, so it’s time we get to driving this shed on wheels. Kia is sticking to using a stalk as the gear selector, and this time the Power button has also been moved there – I just hope you read this before you go test drive the car so you don’t look as dumb as we did while trying to find it when each of us drove it the first time.
Once on the move, however, the story changes quite a bit. Helped by the healthy 700Nm torque figure provided by the twin motors, it moves like only a few other SUVs can. It is proper quick on the 0-100 sprint, and the immediate response helps shrink the car. The different drive modes and regeneration settings allow for substantial customisation of the driving experience, although Sport mode with One Pedal Driving felt like a great mix of artificial sound, steering weight and driving responsiveness. It’s very competent, with suspension calibration that is not too harsh (and better than what I’ve seen in other big EVs) and sure footed thanks to the 285 tyres, that I can only assume cost a decent chunk of change.
But my (and the team’s) main gripe with the EV9 lies in between the two aforementioned topics, tech and driving – it’s the safety features. The Korean brands have for long been doing an amazing work at implementing reliable and comfortable driving assistance systems. Their adaptive cruise is still among the best, and there is a never-ending list of driving assistances, but it’s the implementation of the warnings that got us.
First, it’s the driver’s attention monitor. Cars have so much tech and so many screens now that you inevitably have to look away to do things, only to then have a red eye icon judging you, shortly followed by beeps. And then, the worst offender is the traffic sign recognition, which will read signs and notify you. Stop sign? A beep. A Roundabout? Yes, A beep. Pedestrian crossing? You guessed it, another beep.
But wait, there’s more! If you are a daredevil that ends up going 1km/h over the limit stipulated by the car, you’ll get beeping in yet another timbre. Unfortunately, during our time with the car, we couldn’t find a way to tailor this to be less intrusive without turning the whole system off, which is not only tiresome to do every time but also makes you miss on the tech on offer.
We’re all for road safety and will always defend the usage of all systems cars can offer us to assure that, but wish there’s a way to interact with the EV9 that’s less annoying considering how relaxing everything else is. It could be the case that Kia’s arm was twisted by safety agencies to ensure a 5 star safety rating and that it could be fixed in the future, because everything else considered, the EV9 left me very impressed.
It is an architecturally designed minor dwelling that happens to be a car and manages to tick pretty much every single box the potential owner of a 7 seater luxury SUV buyer will have. Great range and performance figures, good looks, great material choices and just a bit of an intrusive nature. Kia’s on a roll!