Review: Kia EV9 first drive

From £64,995

When you’re looking for a premium, luxury SUV with space for six or seven then chances are you look to brands like BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz or Volvo. Now you can throw Kia into the mix, because the arrival of the EV9 takes the South Korean automaker into the true premium territory it has been aspiring to in recent years.

Its new flagship gets there with some serious electric power, courtesy of a 99.8kWh battery pack within an 800V architecture. It also has some serious looks, all purposeful and chunky, like something vast from the US. It certainly has the dimensions to match, measuring in at over five metres in length and more than two metres wide.

It looks like it means business, whether in the city or seeking out adventure, which is just what we did when we travelled to the Scottish Highlands to see whether Kia’s new electric luxury SUV is a match for more traditional rivals.

Kia EV9 – Exterior

The designers are mixing things up at Kia, switching between elegant and geometric, just like sister company Hyundai with the big contrast between the Ioniq 5 and 6. In the EV9 Kia has gone all in on the big, bold and brash looks, with an angular design, chunky wheel arches, a high bonnet and attention-grabbing, animated, Star Map lighting signatures. Even the door handles have a chunky feel to them when they appear from within the doors as you unlock the car.

Kia EV9 side view

All this brashness is just one side of the styling, which follows Kia’s strategy of ‘Opposites United’. In the EV9 that manifests as ‘Bold for Nature’, a theme which sets out to combine the beauty of nature with futuristic looks. It’s a whole new direction for Kia’s design and while the company says it has a digital version of the Tiger Face of other models, it’s not exactly obvious.

There’s a really solid look to the side profile, particularly the squared wheel arches and plastic cladding that gives it that sense of being able to go anywhere. The rear has a clean look, with the various lines of the design coming together in the tail lights. It all looks very impressive and from what we have seen so far, translates well into the smaller models coming over the next couple of years, the EV3 and EV5. They all make a dramatic statement that Kia is on a mission when it comes to its new generation of electric vehicles.

> Futuristic winning combination: Read our review of Kia EV6

Kia EV9 – Interior

The interior is less about making a dramatic statement and more about a premium feel combined with the latest technology and plenty of versatility. Where the EV3 and EV4 concepts have fashionable interiors featuring eco-friendly materials, natural colours and minimal buttons, the interior designers of the EV9 haven’t gone all in. There are lots of recycled materials though, more than 34kg of them in fact, including bioplastics made from such things as vegetable oils and corn extract, fabrics made from recycled plastics and upholstery created using Bio Polyurethane.

> Kia releases “10 must-have sustainability items” with new EV9

There’s a familiarity to the feel of all the trim and the colours, which are mostly dark with some contrast in the seats. You can switch this all up by choosing one of the many ambient lighting colours, provided you can find them in the vast number of menus and sub-menus.

Those are accessed through one of three screens, all neatly integrated into one wide panel across the top of the dash. One is for infotainment, settings and connectivity, a smaller one in the middle for seats and climate control and the third is the instrument panel. There are still a few buttons for easy access to certain functions and there are more on the steering wheel, including those for the drive and off-road modes.

Then there are the seats, with the choice of six or seven of them. Honestly, go with the seven because while the two captain chairs in the six-seater might seem cool with the ability to rotate, the legroom is seriously compromised. They do make it easy to access the third-row thanks to the aisle between them, but if you want practicality, seven is the magic number here.

> A surprisingly good package: Read our review of BMW iX3

Overall, the interior is a spacious and comfortable place to be, with loads of clever storage, tech that is easy to use and if those in the third row feel too far away, then deep in the menus is a passenger talk intercom button so you can stay in touch. Luggage space is not great with all seats up, but there’s enough for a couple of suitcases or some holdalls and at the touch of a button you can fold the second and third rows down to have the space a small van driver would be envious of.

Kia EV9 – Performance and economy

With a 99.8kWh battery pack, 380bhp and all-wheel drive, the EV9 in the GT-Line S spec that we drove at launch is not short on power. Switch through the Eco, Normal or Sport driving modes and the differences are more subtle than you might expect though. So too is the acceleration, which is rapid at 0-62mph in just 5.3 seconds, but you don’t feel it. There’s no being pushed back in your seat, instead, it’s all smooth and composed.

There are three levels of brake energy recuperation and a fourth mode, engaged through paddles on the steering wheel, switches into I-Pedal, which in most situations means one-pedal driving using just the accelerator. It’s all very easy and unlike some EV models, very sensible.

It won’t surprise you to learn though that an electric SUV weighing nearly 2.8 tonnes is not the most efficient. On our drive around the Highlands, it averaged 2.3mi/kWh, not far off Kia’s claimed combined figure of 2.7. On the WLTP cycle, the combined range is 313 miles, more in the city and less if you spend lots of time on the motorway but it will certainly cope with most longer-distance adventures. There are also a few Terrain modes for the adventurous, but let’s be honest, the lettering isn’t going to wear off that button.

> Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 N and Kia EV9 to premiere at Goodwood

Kia EV9 interior

Kia EV9 – Handling

The roads of the Scottish Highlands can be thrilling and challenging, especially on very narrow parts of the popular NC500. Where the roads were smooth and open, the EV9 felt like a luxury SUV, cruising along effortlessly. At nearly two metres wide and over five metres long, it didn’t even feel that cumbersome in towns and villages, where let’s face it, most SUVs live.

Decide to make the most of a great road and the EV9 has tremendous composure. It remains calm and reassuring through the corners, providing a fantastic level of grip. Even with temperatures below freezing it inspires confidence at all times, but it is a bit like having the right result when the equation doesn’t seem to make sense.

Kia EV9 boot space

The steering lacks proper communication, with a noticeably fake feel to it. The five-link, self-levelling rear suspension often felt like it was competing with the front suspension, resulting in the occasionally disconcerting feeling that the body is floating on cushions. Yet despite the flawed formula, the result is correct, the EV9 provides a great level of ride comfort in all situations.

There are some distractions while enjoying all this great handling though and that comes in the form of beeps, bongs and flashing warning lights. The lane-departure system can be a bit over-exuberant, the speed limit notification beeps to warn you a change is coming up, then when you reach a different limit and then of course if you exceed it.

At one point, the traffic sign recognition system did think the limit was 80 in a 30mph zone, which meant it didn’t beep at all there. Fortunately, it’s not an autonomous car, yet. Dive into the menus for more than a second to switch any of the systems off and the attention detection system will start flashing at you and then bonging at you too. Best to set everything up the way you want it before you head off anywhere.

Kia EV9 – Verdict

The EV9 arrives in January 2024 with the GT-Line S models, which start at £75,995 and have the top spec and all-wheel drive. That’s mighty pricey for a Kia, even one as feature-packed and comfortable as this one, but it still undercuts many of its traditional luxury SUV rivals. When it comes to specification, performance and ride, it beats many of them too. Most of its main rivals are petrol or diesel models, so it has very few contemporaries in the EV space, for now anyway. Entry-level, rear-wheel drive versions of the EV9 will arrive later in 2024, priced from £64,995 and with a driving range of up to 349 miles.

The design is refreshing, the interior comfortable and spacious and it thoroughly deserves the accolade of being Kia’s flagship model, in more ways than just its size. It has a quality feel throughout, has all the toys and gadgets you need (and quite a few you don’t) and it’s rather good at long distance road trips along snowy Scottish mountain roads, in case that’s what you need it for. We suspect most will find homes in our cities, but the EV9 is an electric SUV for all reasons, as well as all seasons.

> Check Kia EV9 prices, on sale from January 2024

Kia EV9 charging

Tech Specs: Kia EV9 GT-Line S

Price: from £75,995 (RWD models will start from £64,995)
On sale: January 2024
Battery Capacity: 99.8kWh
Maximum Power: 378bhp
Torque: 700Nm
Transmission: Single speed
0-62mph: 5.3s
Top Speed: 124mph
Dimensions: L/W/H 4,800/1,875/1,460
Boot Capacity: 333-2,393 litres plus 52 litres up front

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The design is refreshing, the interior comfortable and spacious and it thoroughly deserves the accolade of being Kia’s flagship model, in more ways than just its size. It has a quality feel throughout, has all the toys and gadgets you need (and quite a few you don’t) and it’s rather good at long distance road-trips. We suspect most will find homes in our cities, but the EV9 is an electric SUV for all reasons, as well as all seasons.
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Quality

4.00/5

Performance

3.00/5

Range

4.00/5

Comfort

4.00/5

Dynamics

3.00/5

Fast Facts

Price

£64,995
-76,995

Battery Capacity

99.8 kWh

WLTP Range

313-
349 miles

Maximum Power

378 bhp

Torque

700 lb-ft

0-60

5.3 secs

Top Speed

124 mph

Boot Capacity

333-
2393 litres

Pros and Cons

Competitively priced against established seven-seater premium rivals
Unique styling inside and out
Excellent driving comfort
Irritating safety alerts
Cramped third row legroom
Weight could be an issue for towing
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