Expert Reviews

2024 Kia EV9 First Drive Review

The 2024 Kia EV9 represents a major milestone for the mainstream automotive market at large.

Never before has a proper three-row SUV been built with an all-electric powertrain – something of a surprise given the popularity of the segment, not to mention all the space these behemoths offer for batteries. Of course, the bigger and heavier a vehicle is, the less efficient it will be. That’s as true about a gas-powered peoplemover like the Kia Telluride as it is an electric one like the EV9.

Even with that expectation-tempering disclaimer, this electric vehicle (EV) is kind of a big deal. Finally, families in need of space for people and their stuff have an emissions-free alternative that fits the bill. The EV9 also happens to deliver the sort of special experience we’ve come to expect from EVs while feeling every bit as functional as a sport utility like it should.

Size Matters

When it comes to three-row SUVs, size matters. It’s the reason Toyota recently added the Grand Highlander to its range, and why most other entries have gotten bigger with time. And while the EV9 isn’t exactly imposing, it certainly plays up the proportions of a sport utility this size.

Next to its Telluride sibling, there’s little discernible difference to the naked eye that sets this all-electric offering apart. At 5,010 mm (197.2 in) from bumper to bumper, the EV9 is barely longer overall. It’s the wheelbase that’s been stretched noticeably, spanning 3,100 mm (122 in) compared to the Telluride’s 2,900 mm (114.2 in).

That doesn’t translate into much more room inside, at least as far as the numbers are concerned, with a handful of millimetres separating them here and there. However, the EV9’s third-row bench is bolted to a much lower floor – a luxury of its electric architecture – and the result is a surprisingly spacious set of seats for kids or adults alike.

Likewise, there’s plenty of space for stuff inside this electric SUV, with 573 L behind the third-row seats – only a little less than the Telluride offers (601 L), not to mention the hulking Volkswagen Atlas (583 L). The gulf grows only slightly with the rearmost seats stowed, but even then the 1,233 L the EV9 offers is downright cavernous.

Efficient by Design

In spite of its big and burly size, this SUV shares the same drag coefficient as its smaller, slipperier sibling, the EV6. That number – 0.28, according to Kia – helps the EV9 cut through the air with surprisingly little resistance, which is certainly a welcome surprise. (For reference, the soap-bar-shaped Hyundai Ioniq 6 has a drag coefficient of 0.22 in North America, while the redesigned Toyota Prius is good for 0.26.)

As with any EV, the bulk of this Kia’s weight comes from its battery pack. In the case of the range-topping all-wheel drive trim tested here that was also equipped with the GT-Line package ($14,000), that means a total curb weight of more than 2,600 kg (5,732 lb). And while weight is the enemy of efficiency, the 99.8-kWh battery this one’s been fitted with means a range estimate of 439 km. While that’s notably less than the Tesla Model X and its maximum range of 560 km, the EV9 offers more utility for less money.

Appealing Price Point

There are three versions of the EV9 available – two in a rear-wheel drive configuration, and one that powers all four of them. The first is purely about the price point, with the cheapest trim boasting a 76.1-kWh battery and 370 km of range for its $59,995 starting price. Meanwhile, the bigger 99.8-kWh battery pack costs just $3,000 more and delivers an estimated range of 489 km.

To add all-wheel drive pushes the price to $64,995, while range drops to 451 km. The distance the EV9 can travel on a full charge remains unchanged with the Premium package ($10,000), while the GT-Line package shown here is pricier still – and range drops to 439 km. Add in this tester’s $250 paint job and pricey freight charge ($3,049), and the pre-tax total rings in at $82,294.

But then that’s before any government incentives have been applied – and since the MSRP stays below the $65,000 threshold (albeit barely), even the all-wheel-drive EV9 qualifies for the full $5,000 federal rebate, plus any provincial ones where they apply. Compare that to the Tesla Model X that starts at $109,990, while its optional third-row seats add thousands more to the asking price.

Satisfying Smoothness

Opting for all-wheel drive means picking a dual-motor version that comes up well short of the output generated by the base Model X; but then the 379 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque this EV9 spins up is more than enough for most everyday scenarios. No, it isn’t capable of grin-inducing quickness, but this all-electric Kia can get up and go with more urgency than just about any gas-powered SUV like it.

More importantly, the EV9 is exceptionally buttery out on the open road, gliding along with the elegance of a premium entry. In fact, it’s almost possible to forget how this sport utility is powered when cruising along the highway, with a certain sense of familiarity to the drive.

That changes just a bit on a winding road, with the tremendously low centre of gravity created by the battery pack cutting down on the sort of top-heaviness that’s expected with these oversized entries. And the steering has a surprisingly satisfying weight and resistance to it. While there’s the characteristic smoothness of electrified steering systems like this, it’s a nice execution overall.

The most telltale sign that this is an EV, at least from a drivability perspective, is the regenerative braking that can feel rather abrupt when activated. While the system can be adjusted to better suit the uninitiated, it works all the way up to full one-pedal capability that doesn’t take long to learn how to properly modulate.

Just like the EV6 – and its corporate cousins, the hatchback Hyundai Ioniq 5 and the Ioniq 6 sedan, and the Genesis GV60 crossover – this three-row rides on an 800-volt electric architecture that allows it to charge at speeds as fast as 350 kW. Hooking up to a high-powered station means it can make the benchmark jump from 10 to 80 per cent in 20 minutes with the smaller of the two batteries, and 24 with the 99.8-kWh unit. Those times jump to 63 and 83, respectively, when hooked up to a 50-kW charger.

Pulling Out the Stops

As with any new Kia, the EV9 has more than a few party tricks that help it stand out – although the fanciest among them are unsurprisingly saved for the most expensive versions. For instance, the front seats feature deep reclining functionality that’s ideal for resting while parked at a public charging station. Likewise, the available second-row captain’s chairs feature deployable leg rests and wrap-around headrests like the ones in an airplane.

Up front, the mesh-like headrests are reminiscent of those found on high-end office chairs. They’re nothing if not unique, providing plenty of upright support on soul-sucking highway drives while looking pretty cool in the process. Plus there’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which finally occupy the entire 12.3-inch widescreen infotainment display, and a whole host of advanced driver aids including a smoother highway driving assist system.

More basically, the cabin looks and feels like one of the newest EVs should. There’s a sense of sameness here as far as current and former Kias are concerned; the infotainment interface, for example, feels like an evolution of the highly touted system the brand has used for years. But then the haptic sensors for infotainment shortcuts, or the steering column-mounted gear selector stalk, complete with vehicle power button, feel just revolutionary enough without going overboard.

Final Thoughts

There’s a tangible sense that Kia’s done something long awaited, highly anticipated, and totally unique with this all-electric entry. The 2024 Kia EV9 may be the first SUV of its kind – a proper mainstream midsize offering with three rows of seats and an emissions-free powertrain – but it’s also fairly spectacular.

While its range can’t quite rival that of the Tesla Model X, the EV9 manages to be equal parts cutting edge and exactly what it needs to be. It’s been a long time coming as far as family-sized mainstream EVs are concerned; but now that this new Kia is here, the rest of the industry has a lofty new target to chase.