Kia’s second dedicated battery electric vehicle is almost guaranteed to be a hit. Combining the best parts of the highly desirable three-row Telluride with the underpinnings of one of our favorite electric cars, the EV6 crossover, the Kia EV9 is on target to arrive on US roads later this year at a time where EV adoption is steadily gaining steam and American buyers are SUV crazy. It’s no wonder the EV9 is our Most Anticipated EV of 2023.
Rather than sitting tight while the electric SUV gets here, I headed across the Pacific to Kia’s homeland of South Korea to get an early drive in a pre-series 2024 Kia EV9 AWD to see if it’ll be worth the wait.
Room for 6… or 7
I was disappointed to learn that one of the EV9’s most innovative features, the 180-degree swiveling second-row seats, doesn’t meet US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards and so won’t be available on US models. Bummer. We’ll have to make do with upgrading to the plush second-row sliding captain’s chairs with power-adjustment, deployable leg extensions and massage — a six-seater setup that seems to have evolved from our previous long-term Kia Carnival Prestige minivan.
Legroom is plentiful on the spacious second row and even the third row offers reasonable head and legroom for this 5-foot, 10-inch adult. The EV9 will come standard in a seven-passenger configuration with a folding second-row bench, as well. In addition to people, the EV9 also boasts ample space for cargo with 20.2 cubic feet of stowage behind the third row opening up to a cavernous 81.9 cubes with all rear seats folded.
Revised dashboard tech
The front seats haven’t been neglected either. My example featured heated and ventilated surfaces and a broad range of adjustment, extending into a full-on recliner lounge position with leg rests when parked for charging. The EV9’s available front seat massage function isn’t as targeted or firm as I’d prefer, but I loved how it periodically activates during extended driving sessions to relieve fatigue and boost awareness.
Ahead of the driver’s seat is the EV9’s monolithic triple-display infotainment suite, which builds on the automaker’s established dual-12.3 inch screens with a small 5-inch monochrome segment display with at-a-glance climate control information. Kia has once again revised its software, presenting the EV9 driver with a new, more personalized home screen that can display more information at a glance via customizable widgets and shortcuts. The new system features improved over-the-air update capability and compatibility with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Digital Key support for certain Android and iPhone devices.
Haptic capacitive touch shortcut keys for Map, Audio Source and more seem to disappear into the dashboard surface below — finished in wood veneer on my example — which is aesthetically nice, but can be difficult to accurately hit from the driver’s seat. Functionally, I’m glad these shortcuts are now completely separate from the dedicated physical buttons for temperature and fan speed control below. Overall, the dashboard feels like an organizational improvement over EV6’s already impressive formula.
The EV9 uses a very Hyundai Ioniq 5-like stalk shift knob mounted to the steering column to toggle between drive, park and reverse. Look closely and you’ll also note this dongle integrates the start button. This bit of space saving that frees up space on the center console for storage and more forward-positioned cupholders, which is nice.
If I can pick one more ergonomic nit, it’s the placement of the drive and terrain mode buttons on the EV9’s four-spoke steering wheel. Tucked low beneath the center hub, I found them more difficult to reach without awkwardly bending my wrist. I vastly prefer EV6’s big convenient drive mode button that falls within easy reach of a thumb at the 8 o’clock position. In Kia’s defense, the central location is more difficult to accidentally hit while shuffle-steering and the average EV9 driver with an SUV full of family members probably won’t bounce between drive modes as often as I do. But as a driver who enjoys quickly double tapping into Sport mode for a quick pass, I wish there were a middle ground here.
Like the similarly large Telluride, the EV9 is also available with a digital display rearview mirror, which greatly boosts visibility, especially when passengers’ heads or tall cargo blocks the back window.
During its initial model year, the EV9 will be offered with three electric powertrain configurations. The Standard Range model starts out with a 160-kilowatt motor that drives the rear wheels to the tune of 215 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque matched with a 76.1-kilowatt-hour battery. Upgrading to the Long Range model swaps in a larger 99.8-kWh battery. The EPA hasn’t yet weighed in with range estimates, but Kia is targeting around 300 miles for this, the farthest roaming configuration.
Both battery packs include Kia’s fourth-gen chemistry and heat pump thermal conditioning for optimal operation and charging speed in various climates. I wasn’t able to charge the EV9 myself during the two days of testing, but the electric SUV is capable of up to 230 kW DC fast charging at a powerful enough station. That should be fast enough to fill the big battery pack from 10 to 80% in around 25 minutes.
Like its E-GMP-based family members, the EV9 will also support vehicle-to-load via an adapter to power electronics or appliances via its onboard 3.68 kW inverter. And in certain markets, the EV9 will also introduce vehicle-to-grid capability, which owners will set up and manage via the Kia Connect app marketplace.
At the top of the line, is the model I was able to test: The dual-motor configuration which ups the ante with a second motor on the front axle, bringing the system total to 379 horsepower (283 kW) and 516 pound-feet of torque. With the addition of a towing package, the dual-motor EV9 claims up to 5,000 pounds of towing capacity, which Kia warns may «significantly reduce electric range.» But that’s the case when towing with any EV.
Testing the Kia in Korea
Hustling the SUV off the line in Sport mode will also eat into the EV range a bit, but rewards with a 0- to 62-mph (100 km per hour) sprint in just 5.3 seconds. Unfortunately, the Korean highways we tested on are restricted to a 100 km per hour maximum speed and closely monitored by speed cameras every dozen kilometers or so. (The infotainment system was almost constantly issuing verbal speed zone warnings.) The addition of wet, rainy conditions during most of the drive meant my testing pace was more sedate than normal.
There was a short jaunt away from the major highways, where I was able to get a taste of the EV9’s agility around narrow, serpentine switchbacks. I found the SUV more nimble than I expected tackling the narrow bends with poise and agility that left me eager for more time behind the wheel on my home turf.
The drive took us over around 300 miles, crossing from coast-to-coast across the Korean peninsula and back. The electric SUV tackled the mountainous terrain with aplomb, cruising and passing confidently and slipping silently through the many tunnels along our route — including the 11-kilometer Inje-YangYang Tunnel, the longest continuous tunnel in Korea and the 11th longest in the world. (It’s so long, the tunnel’s designers engineered colored light sections and even a musical road segment that plays Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star as your tires pass over the texture to keep drivers from being hypnotized by the monotony.)
My co-driver and I averaged around 3.3 miles per kilowatt hour over the course of two days of slightly boring, if not also extremely comfortable driving — not too far off of the 3.5 miles per kilowatt hour that I average in our long-term Kia EV6, though I imagine that number would dip a bit when subjected to the higher average speeds around my neck of the woods.
Driver aid tech
With the vast majority of the drive taking place on smoothly flowing highways, I was able to test the newest version of Kia’s Advanced Highway Driving Assist technology, which improves with more confident and accurate lane centering steering assist and automatic lane changing steering assist when the turn signal is activated. The EV9 will be available with two lidar sensors onboard which brings the total number of exterior sensors and cameras to 15 points. I’m told that the EV9 is «level 3 autonomous capable» in certain markets but the EV will only be approved for hands-on highway driving assist in the US at launch.
Coming to America
First the Telluride, then the EV6 and now lightning strikes thrice with the excellent 2024 Kia EV9. After this positive first impression, I’m hankering for another turn behind the wheel, which I expect I’ll get when the North American spec arrives at dealerships later this year (the fourth quarter of 2023). Leading up to the on-sale date, we’ll also learn more about specific trim details, EPA-rated range and pricing.
Shortly after the initial batch of imports, Kia says it will move EV9 assembly to its West Point, Georgia plant starting sometime in 2024, making the EV9 the automaker’s first battery electric vehicle built in the US from globally sourced parts.
Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET’s staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.