Kia EV9 first look: One of the most important electric SUVs of 2023

Thanks to good tech, a third row of seats and an expected price of around $56,000, the EV9 could be a great EV for families.

photo by Sam Rutherford/Enadget

After entering a new generation of electrification with the EV6, this week at the New York Auto Show we got a chance to check out Kia’s upcoming flagship electric SUV in the Kia EV9. And while we weren’t allowed to drive it just yet, after seeing it up close, it low-key might be one of the most important electric vehicles of the year.

Like the EV6 and Hyudai’s recent EVs including the Ioniq 5 and Ioniq 6, the EV9 is based on the E-GMP platform which supports an 800-volt architecture and up to 350 kW charging which Kia says can refill the battery from 10 to 80 percent in 25 minutes. As for range, the EV9 will be available in a few different configurations starting with the base model that features a single motor paired to a 76.1 kWh battery, while the long-range version will come with a larger 99.8 kWh power pack. And while Kia has yet to get official numbers from the EPA, it’s expecting the long-range model to deliver about 300 miles on a charge, with the standard-range spec coming in at a bit less (probably around 260 miles or so).

Unfortunately, both of those models won’t be especially quick, with an expected 0 to 60 time of around 8.2 seconds for the base model, which actually goes down to 9.4 seconds for the long-range model due to its bigger and heavier battery. Thankfully, if you want something a bit speedier, there's also the GT-line which gets the same long-range battery but with a more powerful AWD dual motor setup, which promises a 0 to 60 time of 5.3 seconds. Though if that's not enough, Kia president Ho-Sung Song said there will also be a full GT version of the EV9, though it won't be available until sometime in 2025.

Meanwhile, when it comes to design, while the EV9 features similar proportions to the Telluride, at 197 inches, it’s a touch longer than Kia’s gas-powered SUV. But the real difference is its styling, which is bold and modern, featuring a blocky silhouette softened by just enough curves and sweeping body lines so that it doesn’t look overly sci-fi, like Hyundai’s forthcoming Ioniq 7.

At launch, the EV9 will be available in two trim levels: a base model with an optional long-range battery and the more premium GT-line model.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

In front, Kia offers what it calls its digital tiger nose grille, which features hidden lights that can even be customized with a selection of animations. On top of that, because the EV9 will be Kia’s first car to support over-the-air updates, you’ll be able to download new software including things like additional lighting patterns post-release. The car also features 15 exterior sensors including two LiDAR arrays in front which use object detection to help the driver spot potential obstacles.

You also get flush door handles for a sleeker look and improved aerodynamics. And while your taste may differ, I also want to call out the wheels on the EV9. The base model features funky triangular rims with a bit of aerodynamic streamlining, while the GT-line gets 21-inch alloys with a neat plus-shaped design that reminds me of a D-pad from a game controller and seems like a direct nod towards attracting younger buyers.

And in a way, that’s sort of a theme for the EV9 as a whole, because similar to late-model Teslas, Kia is hopping on the chrome delete trend by using very limited amount of shiny metal and completely eliminating the use of high-gloss finishes (like piano black) throughout the interior vehicle.

Instead of a traditional front fascia, on the EV9 Kia has installed what it call its digital tiger nose grille which features customizable lighting.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Inside, the EV9's design is centered around the idea of "reductionism" and "technology for life" which you can see in things like hidden haptic switches on the dash that are only visible when the car is on and a clever dual-level center console that offers tons of storage for passengers in both the front and second-row seats. Kia even included little design touches like mesh headrests in front, which are meant to give parents an easier way to check in on children in back. The one bummer is that due to U.S. safety regulations, the EV9’s optional second-row swiveling seats will only be available in Korea.

However, the real star for families is that third row of seats. Even for me at six feet tall, I had no trouble getting in back. Sure, it’s a bit cramped, and if the second row of seats is pushed all the way back there isn’t much room for my legs. But if you don’t mind pushing the seats up a few inches, that third row has more than enough room to accommodate adults on short trips.

Finally, when it comes to tech, the EV9 should be rather well-equipped. The car will come with a digital car key that works with both NFC and UWB connectivity. There’s also a full-color head-up display for the driver built into the dash along with an optional rear-view camera system instead of a traditional mirror. I also appreciate the EV9’s rather minimalist infotainment system that splits its long, skinny display into two sections: one that extends behind the steering wheel for the driver, while the other half is reserved for general stuff like music, navigation and more. I also think Kia has hit a nice balance between on-screen touch controls and dedicated physical buttons for stuff like heat and AC. And like every good car nowadays, the EV9 has a built-in wireless charger and plenty of USB-C ports (two for every row of seats), plus a full household-style power outlet in the trunk.

So after taking a close look at the EV9, I think it looks great, it's surprisingly roomy for a midsize SUV, and its tech looks solid too. But more importantly, I think Kia may have succeeded in trying to make an affordable all-purpose three-row EV SUV. That's because while Kia is still waiting to announce official pricing, we're expecting the EV to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $56,000, which sort of makes it a rarity in the current EV market.

In back, the EV9 features a minimalist design highlighted by its three-branch LED taillights.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The EV9’s potential pricing presents a huge discount compared to almost every other three-row EV SUV on the market like the Tesla Model X, Volvo EX90 and the Mercedes EQS SUV – the cheapest of which starts at around $80K. And when you look at the EV9 next similarly-priced rivals like the Model Y or the EQB, while those cars do have optional third rows, they're even more cramped and not suitable for anyone besides children or pets. And then there are others like the BMW iX, Cadillac Lyriq which the Polestar 3 we saw last week which are either significantly more expensive or don't even have three-row seating (or both).

So while a lot will hinge on the EV9’s final price, for people looking for a big but still relatively affordable electric family car, the Kia new flagship EV SUV looks like a great candidate when it eventually comes out sometime later this year.