Kia EV9 review: third row’s the charm

In the world of electric vehicles, the third row remains elusive.

There are plenty of electric compact and midsize SUVs, several trucks, and a bevy of sedans, but once you start hunting for one with a third row of seats, the numbers start to dwindle. And forget about finding one that’s actually affordable.

The Rivian R1S and Tesla Model X have third rows but typically sell for over $75,000. That’s not affordable. The Model Y has an optional third row, but it’s basically microscopic. Three-row SUVs are some of the most popular vehicles in the world of gas. They are beloved by large families and perfect for hauling around a ton of gear.

Suffice it to say that an affordable electric one would go a long way toward reducing our dependence on planet-heating combustion engines and nudging us toward a cleaner, more battery-powered future.

The Kia EV9 gets us part of the way there: with a starting price of $54,900 (plus a $1,495 destination charge), over 300 miles of range, and a legitimate third row, not some bench seat that leaves you sitting with your knees under your chin. The three-row electric family hauler has finally arrived.

The first thing you notice about the EV9 is its hugeness. This is a big boy! The Kia badge is huge, the lights are double stacked, the entire face of the vehicle is just broad. It’s roughly the same size as Kia’s gas-powered Telluride, which is its most popular model but in fact is a couple of inches longer. 

The EV9 is 197 inches long, 70 inches tall, and 77 inches wide, making it one of the biggest electric SUVs to come out so far. Its secret weapon is its wheelbase: because it doesn’t have an engine, the wheels are farther apart than usual to create a roomier interior. 

The three-row electric family hauler has finally arrived

With over 42 inches of rear legroom, the EV9 tops the Cadillac Escalade, Range Rover P400, and Mercedes EQS. It also has more shoulder and legroom than the Tesla Model X. I’m six feet, one inch tall, and I fit comfortably in the second and third rows.

I’ve never driven an electric vehicle this big before. And if you know me, you know I have a real problem with big SUVs. Statistically, they’re more dangerous than smaller vehicles, they cost too much, and they’re less efficient than smaller vehicles. EVs, in particular, carry around a lot of extra battery weight, which creates a lot more safety problems. The EV9’s battery alone weighs over 1,000 pounds. I’m not trying to nitpick; it’s just something to keep in mind when you’re considering a new EV. 

The hood height in particular is a major concern, with safety experts noting that hoods higher than 40 inches are especially deadly to pedestrians. The EV9’s hood is just 40 inches, putting it right on the line between dangerous and slightly less so.

But the fact that no one has gone after the three-row SUV market with an EV yet is just so strange to me. It’s a very popular market! That makes the EV9 the first mainstream electric three-row SUV, which is a big deal. 

The EV9 is massive but handles like a sportier SUV. Behind the wheel, I didn’t feel like I was towering over the road like in some SUVs, which can be attributed to the short overhangs and slightly lower stance. And the driving dynamics were responsive and even a bit springy. Clearly, Kia is taking the lessons it’s learned from its sportier EVs, like the EV6 GT, and applying them to its SUVs.

The EV9 has about 300 miles of range, or about 440 kilometers, thanks to a 99 kilowatt-hour battery. The model I drove was the top-of-the-line GT version, with 379 horsepower and 515 pound-feet of torque. Of course, it’s quick. It has that instant electric acceleration you’d expect. 

The EV9’s hood is just 40 inches, putting it right on the line between dangerous and slightly less so

One of the big advantages of the Kia EV9 is a shortened charge time, thanks to the 800-volt architecture that’s standard across all of Hyundai’s and Kia’s electric vehicles. You can go from 10 to 80 percent in about 24 minutes or around 100 miles in 13 minutes when hooked up to a 230kW fast charger.

The EV9 supports bidirectional vehicle-to-load charging, with a maximum output of 3.68kW, meaning it can charge other devices or even another EV. There’s a 120-volt plug in the trunk area and an optional V2L connector that plugs into the vehicle’s charging port.

Kia offers 1,000kWh of complimentary charging on Volkswagen’s Electrify America fast-charging network. And the company also plans to eventually send Tesla Supercharger adapters to its customers so they can access that company’s superior charging network.

Inside, Kia did a nice job balancing comfort and function. There’s one seamless piece of glass for all your screens. There’s the five-inch instrument cluster, a small little section for HVAC, and then your 12.3-inch central display, which supports wireless CarPlay and Android Auto. 

The rear seats are spacious and comfortable and can lay flat with power folding. There’s a cool little foldout tray in the center console for added storage and USB-C ports all over the place. Everything feels nice and premium, with minimal plastic to be found. 

One of the big advantages of the Kia EV9 is a shortened charge time, thanks to the 800-volt architecture

Then, there’s this line of buttons in the center of the dashboard. I’m just not a fan of haptic feedback. I think it looks better than it feels, and even then, you have to take your eyes away from the road to see where your finger is jabbing. 

The two-tone leather seats are heated and ventilated, and there’s a built-in massager for those long rides. The ventilation includes real knobs to control airflow; shout out to Kia for not forcing you to do that through the touchscreen.

The Kia EV9 is winning rave reviews from many prestigious sources, including the World Car of the Year marquis award and the World Electric Car of the Year. And it’s not much of a stretch to see why. It’s one of the first three-row electric SUVs in a world of sports sedans, compact SUVs, and trucks. Its very existence is notable.

But the price is still going to be a major barrier to most. The base model starts at around $56,000, which is pricier than gas equivalents like Kia’s own Telluride. And it’s the owners of gas cars that need to be sold on the EV9 the most.

The EV9 is not eligible for the $7,500 federal EV tax credit at this time. But it is available for leases. Kia says it’s moving EV9 production to the US, so it may eventually qualify. 

But EV demand is in a weird place right now. The early adopters have adopted. Now, we’re in a more price-conscious phase, where shoppers are looking for the right deal. The EV9 could help convert a lot of families from gas to electric. But that price tag could convince others to wait it out a bit longer.

Photography by Andrew J. Hawkins / The Verge


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