As the sweeping evolution of electric vehicles washes over the car industry, while we're still in relative early days, and the choice of EVs is growing and expanding through luxury and premium vehicles, there is a segment that's still largely unexplored.
While we have small and relatively affordable SUVs and medium hatches, the multi-person large SUV or people-mover is just starting to show some signs. And it's a similar look with the new Kia electric vehicle line-up.
Possibly the most numerically logical range, the EV6 sports sedan/coupe has recently been joined by the new medium SUV EV5, new compact SUV EV3 and EV4 sedan concepts, and we've even eyed the new small City SUV EV2, all part of an electric model introduction scheduled for the next two years. See more at our Kia EV Day 2023 story, from last week.
The good news for families looking for car for the future is that the Kia EV9 is about to arrive into New Zealand showrooms, joining the EV6, and while we're about to see the seven-seat SUV go on sale, we have had the opportunity to drive the seven-seat SUV in Korea last week, during the 2023 Kia EV Day event.
At 5.01metres, it's a big beast, 3cm longer than a Toyota Highlander, and 1cm shorter than the new Mazda CX-90, meaning plenty of space it's also 2cm longer than a Sorento but 14cm shorter than a Carnival.
It's boxy and bold, with Kia's tiger face and futuristic lines, bulging guards and a range of wheels that all offer a modern, Back to the Future 2 2015 Hill Valley appearance... at least the modern cars in the future scene.
And unlike those two rivals, the Kia EV9 is fully electric, offering maximum packaging for three rows of occupants, along with a flat floor and lots of space - up to 2318 litres with seats folded, or a decent 333 litres with all seats occupied.
And lots of battery, too! Price and range are the key numbers for reluctance of EVs, and the Kia EV9 offers some future numbers. The EV9 will arrive into NZ in three models, the rear-drive Light, along with AWD Earth and GT-Line specs.
We sampled the equivalent of the mid-spec $115,990 Earth model, in a rich Flare Red (sadly not offered in NZ as yet), but very representative mechanically of what we can expect to see on our roads.
We had under 100km of road with the EV9 but in Korean traffic, around two hours of mixed motorway and urban roads to be impressed by the EV9. Very impressed.
Range is a key attribute, and while the 76.1kWh battery in the Light model offers over 540km, the large 99.8kWh battery in the AWD models should offer similar numbers, around 390km - though Kia NZ is yet to confirm the AWD number.
It's a similar story with the economy figure, though we saw quite impressive numbers around 16-20kWh, remembering anything less than 20kWh is considered EV-efficient, and that was with a majority of motorway miles, which is known to consume EV power significantly higher.
Performance is in a good space, with 8.2 seconds for the entry model and 6.0 seconds for the AWD versions, and this feel plenty fast enough, while it's delivered in a softened way to eliminate the sickening nothing-then-everything way of early EVs.
It'll also tow a big weight, too, and while it's still to be confirmed in NZ, the tow rating of 2500kg is promising - and yes, to preempt criticism, of course, it would affect the range.
The interior is big, lots of space, practical and function with a logical mix of commonly used tactile buttons like cabin temperature and fan speed, and a touchscreen for deeper menu items. There are six USB-C ports dotted throughout the rows, and the Korean model we drive had a power socket in the rear. However, Kia's V2L unit allows it to plug into the charge port and offer offer 3.6kW of 220v AC power for a fridge or light or power or cooking.
The 12.4m turning circle is on the large size, vehicles this size tend to do that, but the steering itself is quick.
Recharging figures are very impressive, with Kia quoting up to 350kW charging speed: given NZ's ChargeNet Hyper Chargers are 300kW, this offers a recharge of 10-80 per cent of just 24 minutes (or 20 mins in the RWD model), which is as fast as recharging an EV gets, remembering it's a large 100kWh battery. It'll of course take longer on the more common 50kW chargers, though we'll be interested to see what its maximum intake charge rate is once it's hooked up to a Kiwi 300kW charger.
Fingerprint starting is a very cool feature, though for our temporary drive, it was a tap and twist of the shifter buttons, we're off and immediately impressed by the EV9's mix of power, response and smoothness. A big centre console, retracting cup-holders and a wireless p[hone charger are nice additions up front, with a large and integrated 12.3 inch screen offering a neat and clean layout for information. It's a mix of modern and conventional, not overwhelming or confusing like some EV displays tend to be, such as the head-up display that offers the important info.
Though we tested a six-seat layout with captains chairs on sliding rails, NZ gets a three-seat second row for a 2x3x2 seat layout.
The front trunk/frunk also offers more storage: 52 litres in AWD models, or 90 litres in RWD.
The ride quality is simply outstanding, offering quietness at speed commensurate with the nature of EVs, partly thanks to the slippery 0.28Cd, combined with the ability to soak up both bumps and lumps and undulations - though it does come with a big asterisk. Kia NZ lists Nexen, Kumho and Continental our its tyre brands, in 19-, 20- and 21-inch sizes. Our text vehicle was fitted with 21-inch Michelins, so hopefully we'll see at least some even remotely similar qualities when it starts negotiating our potted ruts and holes, and that long wheelbase will carry over the outstanding abilities, thanks to a suspension tuned specifically for Aussie/Kiwi needs.
As far as a people-moving seven-seat SUV goes, the range afford by the big and fast battery should alleviate any range fears with at least 450km in real world driving. And with performance, practicality, technology and equipment, the Kia EV9 is outstanding, and a perfect way to top off the Kia range as the world makes its slow migration from ICE to EV.
TEAR IT DOWN
2023 Kia EV9
MOTOR: 160kW (RWD), 141kW & 141kW front and rear (AWD)
BATTERY: 76.1kWh (RWD)/99.8kWh (AWD)
POWER: 160kW/300Nm (RWD), 283kW/600Nm (AWD), 700Nm with boost
ECONOMY: TBC (16-20kWh/100km as tested)
RANGE: 540km (RWD), 490km (AWD)
0-100KM/H: 8.2sec (RWD), 6.0sec (AWD)