Kia EV9 Makes Strong Case for 3-Row Battery-Electric SUV

More 3-row BEV SUVs will follow the Kia EV9. But will North American buyers go for them in significant numbers?

Gary Witzenburg, Correspondent

September 18, 2023

7 Min Read
Kia EV9 24 front 1.4
Kia EV9’s 99.8-kWh battery provides estimated 300 miles of range.Kia

IRVINE, CA – Because 3-row SUVs are increasingly popular in North America, most major OEMs offer at least one, some more than one. And – mostly due to federal regulations – they are also offering more and more full battery-electric vehicles even as market demand for them has begun to substantially lag their supply.

So here comes South Korean automaker Kia with the impressive EV9 3-row electric SUV. Except for the optional third row available in Tesla’s Model Y, it’s a U.S.-market first. And more will follow. But will North American buyers go for them in significant numbers?

Kia is calling the EV9 its new “flagship,” replacing the highly successful Telluride in that role, and is aiming it at luxury as well as more affordable SUVs such as Chevrolet’s Blazer and Ford’s Explorer –both soon to be offered as BEVs – as well as corporate partner Hyundai’s coming Ioniq 7 on the same BEV platform. EV9 pricing will be announced closer to its planned Q4 2023 launch, but it won’t be inexpensive.

Kia EV9 24 cabin.jpg

Kia EV9 24 cabin

The EV9 is the second Kia model based on Hyundai Motor Group’s E-GMP electric platform. As a state-of-today’s-art BEV, it offers essentially every current technical feature and is the first to feature fourth-generation battery technology for improved energy density.

Its standard 800V electrical architecture enables “ultrafast” charging capable of boosting its battery state of charge from 10% to 80% in less than 25 minutes on high-speed DC chargers. Two battery sizes will be offered, but the smaller 76.1-kWh pack will be available only on the 215-hp base rear-wheel-drive Light trim, which will be good for a Kia-estimated 225 miles (362 km) of range. The larger 99.8-kWh pack will power all other trims including a version of the RWD Light with 201 hp and an estimated 300-mile (483-km) range.

Three other trims – Wind, Land and GT-Line – share the larger pack with 379 hp and dual-motor all-wheel drive, and the GT-Line boasts a healthy 516 lb.-ft. (700 Nm) of torque vs. the others at 443 lb.-ft. (601 Nm). It offers sub-5-second 0-60-mph (97-km/h) performance but less estimated range at 270 miles (435 km) compared to 285 miles (459 km) for the Wind and 275 (443 km) for the Land.

Design

Following SUV trends, the EV9 looks rugged and trucklike with a long 122-in. (3,099-mm) wheelbase, short overhangs, good ground clearance and approach and departure angles for (moderate) off-road usage, yet Kia claims a surprisingly slick 0.28 coefficient of drag. Dimensionally, it’s slightly longer but about the same height and width as the Telluride. Cargo space is 20.2 cu.-ft. (572 L) behind the third row, 43.5 cu.-ft. (1,232 L) with that row down and 81.7 cu.-ft. (2,314 L) with both rows folded flat. There’s also a 3.2 cu.-ft. (91-L) frunk, and maximum available tow capacity for AWD models is 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg).

Kia EV9 24 2nd row.jpg

Kia EV9 24 2nd row

Inside, a panoramic display sits atop an elliptical-shaped dash with dual 12.3-in. (31-cm) screens and a 5.0-in. (12.7-cm) HVAC screen seamlessly integrated into a single panel. Underneath are hidden-until-lit haptic switches for key infotainment features that appear when the EV9 is turned on, plus physical volume, temperature and fan controls. Tri-zone HVAC is standard, and high-power USB-C outlets are available throughout the cabin. Depending on trim, available upgrades include a 12-in. color head-up display; a camera-view central mirror; 708-watt, 14-speaker Meridian Premium Audio; and “Relaxation Mode” front seats with power leg rests and a massage function.

While we have touted past South Korean-brand models for simple, intuitive touchscreen controls along with knobs for both volume and tune/scroll and a half-dozen or so hard buttons for quick, easy access to major functions such as radio, media, phone, climate, etc., their interior and human-factors designers have lately followed the unfortunate trend toward hiding nearly everything in touchscreen menus, with a learning curve required to find most functions. You can try voice commands, but otherwise needing three or four screen pokes/swipes to switch from one function to another is annoying and distracting.  And the EV9’s physical on/off/volume control is a clumsy roller instead of a simple knob. Why?

The floating center console stretches to the second row with front under-tray stowage, rear cupholders and an available sliding table. The second-row bench in 7-passenger EV9s allows easy third-row access with a tilting walk-in system that works even with a child seat installed, and available captain’s chairs offer Relaxation Mode. Second-row legroom is an ample 42.8 ins. (109 cm), while third-row riders get just 32 ins. (81 cm).

Technology

EV9 will be the first Kia offering over-the-air updates, a Boost feature will temporarily increase front-wheel torque for 5.0-second 0-60 mph capability (in certain trims), Remote Smart Parking Assist 2 (standard on GT-Line, available on Land) will provide diagonal parking support and premium data service will deliver Wi-Fi Hotspot and music streaming.

Kia EV9 24 cargo.jpg

Kia EV9 24 cargo

Standard advanced ultrawide-band-based Digital Key 2 allows customers to use compatible phones or an NFC-enabled smart card as virtual keys to lock, unlock and drive the EV9. Expected to be available at a later date, V2X (vehicle-to-everything) capability will enable it to return power to the grid or to the owner’s home via an available Wallbox Quasar 2 bi-directional charger.

Notable among its 20 standard and available advanced driver assistance systems is Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist – enhanced to detect vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists ahead, oncoming vehicles while turning left and crossing vehicles while passing through an intersection – and capable of providing braking and/or steering to help prevent or minimize collisions. Debuting at a later date will be available Advanced Highway Driving Assist, which utilizes lidar-based technology to keep the EV9 in the center of its lane while maintaining distance from the vehicle ahead.

Like other recent BEVs from Hyundai, the EV9 has four levels of regeneration selectable by steering wheel paddles, the highest of which enables one-pedal driving.

Driving Impressions

Because production ’24 EV9s will arrive at U.S. dealerships in Q4 2023, we drove prototype (GT-Line) examples at Hyundai Motor Group’s California Proving Grounds, but not on public roads. We tested straight-line acceleration, reaching 97 mph (156 km/h) from a standing start in Sport and 87 mph (140 km/h) in Eco mode. (Other selectable modes on AWD models are Normal, My Mode and Snow.) Returning from each run through a wide slalom course, the 5,800-lb. (2,631-kg) SUV felt heavy yet relatively responsive. Very annoyingly, the shoulder belt suddenly cinched up tight each time the vehicle felt some pre-set level of cornering Gs – a potentially important safety feature (in case of an impending impact or off-road excursion) that should be recalibrated to a higher trigger level.

Then came several lead/follow laps on the road-racetrack-like handling development course, where (again) the EV9 felt planted and composed cornering at medium to high speeds despite its substantial size and weight. The cabin was quiet at all speeds, the steering felt precise and the braking was strong and linear. Finally, we followed an instructor through a moderate off-road course to demonstrate the AWD EV9’s capabilities on rutted, unpaved surfaces and up and down loose-dirt hills. The suspension absorbed such abuse smoothly, and the AWD powertrain descended (with hill descent control) and climbed steep hills without drama. But the front camera, important to see over hill crests, inexplicably turned off at 6 mph (10 km/h).

Among the many BEVs coming to market in the next several years, we see no reason why this very nice EV9 should not be a hit for customers wanting a 3-row BEV SUV, and it’s good to be first. The key question for all OEMs: How many such customers will there be?

Kia EV9 24 rear 3.4.jpg

Kia EV9 24 rear 3.4

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