2024 Kia EV9 First Drive Review: Next-Level Comfort in a Three-Row Electric SUV

The 2024 Kia EV9 is a pretty interesting car any way you slice it. For you as a potential buyer, it’s a solid new entry to the tiny market of fully electric three-row vehicles. From an industry perspective, it’s a big step in Kia’s ongoing glow-up. And as a product of design, it’s a cool interpretation of the quintessential SUV shape.

On a jaunt from the South Korean capital of Seoul to the mountainous country’s east coast and back again, I got to experience the EV9’s highway manners, interior appointments, and a suite of driver-aid features. The responsiveness and suspension tuning of the Korean-spec car, I was told, would be a little softer than what we’ll get in American markets. Having now driven on Korean roads I understand why that is—speed enforcement is so strict that you rarely have the opportunity to do more than 60 mph.

Kia

2024 Kia EV9 Specs

  • Base price: TBA
  • Powertrain: dual electric motors | all-wheel drive (single motor/rear-drive also available)
  • Horsepower: 379 (with dual motors) 
  • Torque: 516 lb-ft (with dual motors) 
  • Seating capacity: 6 (7-seater also available)
  • Curb weight: TBA
  • Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds (with dual motors) 
  • Cargo volume: 20.2 cubic feet (81.9 cubic feet with seats folded down)
  • Ground clearance: 7.8 inches
  • 0-60 mph: 5 seconds (with dual motors)
  • EPA range: TBA 
  • Quick take: I’m not sure what’s more coddling, the EV9’s driver-aid features or massaging seats.
  • Score: 7/10

I came away with a pretty favorable impression of the EV9, though I had a much better time relaxing in the heated and massager-equipped deep-reclining second-row seats than I did driving the thing.

Your first impression of an EV9 will be that it’s large—it stands a hair longer than a Telluride at 197.4 inches tip to tail. At 70.1 inches tall and 77.9 inches wide, it’s got hefty visual presence despite not being very high off the ground.

Kia EV9 SUV from the side.
Kia

The silhouette is old-school 4×4, but the unusual light-show headlights and low-sidewall tires give the design a decidedly on-road focus. Inboard of the main headlights is an array of little illuminated cuts in the bumper’s paint, which make constellations of light with a few display patterns you can cycle between.

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Opening the door brings you into a clean cockpit with just enough familiar physical buttons retained to make luddites like myself feel comfortable. But wrangling most of your attention is a single wide screen that’s used for both the gauge cluster and infotainment.

The row of large buttons in the middle of the dashboard is pretty standard stuff, but the hard keys right below the main screen are unique. They’re made to be somewhat invisible—looking like just text floating on a blank interior panel. That gives them a very delicate and futuristic look, which is cool but somewhat betrayed when you actually go to push them. You’ve got to press harder than you would expect, and when you do, the whole piece moves like you’re hitting a space bar. It’s not terrible, but it does break the spell that might have you thinking you’re in a higher-end luxury car.

Kia

The driver’s seat is incredibly comfortable, though. Beyond good, it’s one of my recent favorites in any class of car. The material and cushioning themselves are nice but what really delighted me was the depth of adjustability. I really like to sit with my knees higher than my butt and very few cars allow for this, but the EV9’s seat is so bendy you can almost put yourself into a squat without being out of reach of the controls.

The second-row seats, at least with the right options pack, are even sweeter. The things recline so deep you almost sink into the cushion. A deployable ottoman (which the front passenger seat also has) as well as multi-modal massage controls can either energize you or put you to sleep depending on how many times you hit the button.

Riding around in the back of that thing, looking up at raindrops through the panoramic sunroof, is a truly blissful passenger experience.

The third-row seats are viable for grown adults—I’m six-foot-zero and I could stand it, though my knees were a little tucked. The seat itself was plenty comfortable and kids would have no problem getting cozy after clambering back there. If you do plan on carting family and friends around in this thing, you’ll be pleased to note that there’s a healthy block of cargo space even with the third row of seats in use. The frunk is considerably more modest as most of the space under the hood is taken up by some vehicle system and covered in fixed plastic.

So the interior design is nice and space is well-utilized; pockets are plentiful up front and a great retractable side table completes the private-jet feeling of the second-row seats. General material quality is good but not great; Kia’s designers did a nice job making the cockpit feel modern and airy but you won’t quite be able to convince yourself you’re in a highline car as you touch the dashboard and soft bits.

Shifting the EV9 into drive is easy to get used to but took me a minute to figure out—the gearshift is a twist-action on a stalk, like a windshield wiper controller. At no point did I accidentally trigger it, though.

A somewhat unusual, but intuitive, gear-change control. That power button is effectively the “ignition.” Andrew P. Collins

Once moving, you can alter the car’s personality pretty dramatically by cycling through drive modes with a button on the steering wheel. In Eco mode, the vehicle feels pretty lethargic to accelerate but light to steer, while Normal is similarly light in your hands but much more ambitious when you lean on the go-pedal. Sport triggers a downright aggressive sprint and slightly heavier steering feel, and it even tightens the bolsters around your body, but the EV9 I drove did not provide the guts-in-seatback forward accel I’ve experienced in other electric cars. I don’t doubt Kia’s five-second 0-to-60-mph claim, but the car is so insulated that the sensation of speed kind of placidly plateaus.

This is observation, not detraction, though. For the family hauling duties the EV9 was dreamed up to perform, there’s more than enough energy to merge and make passes. You do have to set yourself up to accelerate, though—the drive mode button is not easy to rapidly access.

Kia

Regenerative braking controls, however, are very easy to grab quickly. Like many electrified cars, a paddle-shift style control on the left increases the intensity of the car’s regenerative braking while the right one releases it. So you can click-click-click-click down into a one-pedal driving mode as you approach a wall of traffic, then cycle back into a coasting mode as you pick up speed.

For steady-state cruising, the EV9 is in its happy place. Adaptive cruise control keeps you safe relative to whoever you’re following, lane-keep and adaptive cruise control worked so nicely on Korea’s immaculate highways that I would have had a hard time staying awake if I hadn’t been blasting Blackpink [Ed. note: … IN YOUR AREA. -CT] and BTS through the Meridian stereo at full volume. The lack of noise, vibration, and harshness combined with the crispness of the audio system really does create a glorious listening platform inside the car. I don’t consider myself an audiophile but I’ve bumped K-pop through enough sets of speakers to call out a banger system when I hear one, and this certainly qualifies.

I really appreciated the EV9’s docile highway behavior and welcoming design. If you’re keen to experience an electric car and want six or seven seats, this car would be worth your attention even if there were a dozen comparable options on the market. But, there aren’t, so you’d be crazy not to look at it even if you’re just stroking your chin between this and the Tesla Model X.

The 2024 Kia EV9 is slated to go on sale at the end of this year, but there are still some fairly significant considerations to think about as we continue evaluating cars like this. The list price is obviously a huge one (still TBA on that), but real-world range is also a big question mark. Kia claims that the single-motor, rear-drive, 99.8-kWh battery variant of this vehicle will be able to hit 300 miles, but we have not yet heard about other specs. Furthermore, we know weight is a big factor in EV range and if you’re buying a six-seat car you’ve probably got a lot of people and things to carry, right? A full boat could make for a significant difference in range performance.

The total value of the EV9 remains to be seen, but as far as what I could touch with my fingers and feel in my seat bottom, this is a damn decent family car I’d be happy to take another road trip in. I’ll let somebody else drive, though—you’ll catch me leaning way back in the second-row right seat.

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