I like to think I've got my finger on the pulse of the auto market, but I didn't see the Kia Telluride coming. When Kia announced it, I wasn't sure of the point. Kia already had a car-based, three-row crossover in the stable. Why wasn’t the Sorento enough? Turns out the American appetite for family haulers is insatiable, as evidenced by the wild waiting lists for the Telluride. Kia's third three-row, the EV9, may be an even bigger hit.

True, the EV9 isn’t the cheapest EV on the market, but from what I’ve experienced on an all-day test drive around Napa Valley, I think the EV9 is the product that will help Kia push forward as the EV leader it’s shaping up to be. Price issues or not, the EV9 is the reasonably priced seven-seat option that EV drivers have been waiting for. 

2024 Kia EV9: Quick Specs  
Power 201-379 hp
Range 230-304 miles (EPA)
Price $56,395 base ($77,090 as tested)
Cargo Capacity 20.6 cubic ft. (all rows in place), 81.7 cubic ft. (2nd and 3rd rows folded)

What is the Kia EV9?

Kia’s representatives were pretty clear on this: The Kia EV9 is Kia’s flagship, top-of-the-line model, regardless of propulsion type. It sits above the Telluride and Sorento as the most expensive, nicest Kia in basically every market. Based on the same spectacular E-GMP platform that underpins the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5, the EV9 is a supersized three-row crossover that seats either six or seven occupants. 

And, yes, it’s supersized, even if we’ve been desensitized to that in the U.S. As far as length, width, and height the EV9 is within an inch or so of the Telluride. But the EV9 has a nearly 8-inch wheelbase difference, making it appear a little stretched. Its dimensions may not stand out among the thousands of three-row crossovers on the roads these days, but it's a huge vehicle. You’ll be at eye level with bigguns’ on the road like the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Explorer.

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When the EV9 was first revealed, I had no real strong opinion about the design either way. Sure, it was handsome enough, but I didn’t appreciate how it looked I saw one in the metal. In person, the EV9 is stunning. The styling feels fresh and unique in a sea of ultra-streamlined or annoyingly convoluted EV crossovers. It's futuristic, yet familiar. The headlights, taillights, and surfacing might be pretty techno-geek-esque, but if you look closer, everything’s right where it’s supposed to be. There are no weird falcon-wing doors, no strange or confusing door handles, no awkward stainless steel construction with sharp edges. The crossover looks cool, but it's unintimidating and quite conventional at its core.

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I’d wager that its rectilinear styling makes it appear even bigger than it is. It isn't just large but glamorously so. Other cars like the Model X or Mercedes Benz EQS SUV are so blobby, and curvy, as if designers went out of their way to intentionally hide as much mass as they could from seven-seat, three-ton EV crossovers. The EV9 leans into its size without becoming a caricature of itself (like the Hummer EV). It feels like a car that's proud to be as large as it is. Buyers in search of a more svelte crossover may not like it, but most Americans seem to love their big-ass crossovers. 

Family-Sized Space With Luxury Accoutrements

Kia insists the EV9 is an aspirational luxury SUV, able to go toe to toe with premium offerings like the Rivian R1S, Cadillac Lyriq, and Tesla Model X. That’s a pretty big claim, but one Kia says it’s able to back up based on information it’s learned from selling its Telluride gas-powered crossover. Kia says it’s been able to conquer a surprising number of buyers from brands as lofty as Range Rover, and I believe it. The Telluride (and its twin, the Hyundai Palisade) hit hard on the refinement and interior quality front while still being able to carry fully grown adults. I can see how a buyer could be impressed enough by the Telluride to sway them out of an (older) Range Rover. I mean, Tellurides were going for higher than $60,000 during the pandemic for a reason.

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The EV9 keeps a lot of that same energy. Like the Telluride, the EV9 has a well-finished, well-packaged interior that puts function at the core of its being. It starts with a comfortable, spacious third row, this car’s ace in the hole compared to other EV crossovers. With 30.8 inches of third-row legroom, the EV9 is solidly mid-pack amongst cars like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Mazda CX-90. It's just an inch shy of matching the gas-powered Telluride's rear legroom.

However, numbers are only half the story here. The EV9’s third row is positioned high and upright, without any weird ingress or egress issues. Plus, there's no sloping roofline to impede headroom like in the third row of a Model X or Model Y. I spent at least an hour riding around in the third row of an EV9 and my 5’9” self had no issue with the amount of space. It felt as useful as any gas-powered crossover of this size, so, that means it’ll be perfectly fine as a family hauler or Uber XL. 

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The EV9’s cargo area can hold 20.6 cubic feet of cargo with all of the seats up, beating out the Model X's roughly 15 cubic feet. Fold both rear rows and it'll swallow 81.7 cubes, though, slightly less than a Model X 7-seater with both rows folded (85 cubic feet). The frunk is also smaller than what you'd get in an R1S or Model X. The EV9, then, is ergonomically similar to any gas-powered crossover, and honestly, that’s one part of the big crossover experience that should remain unchanged. Big crossovers work well for their target customers: families. This part of the EV9’s experience doesn’t feel weird or compromised, and that’s a good thing if we want folks to buy EVs. 

All of the models Kia had available for testing were identically equipped top-trim GT-Line models, with every box checked. That means they have power front seats with both heating and ventilation, albeit the driver’s one is the only one that has the massage function. The second-row captain’s chairs recline and include a footrest, and all important touch points feel like they’re made of sufficiently high-quality plastic or metal where appropriate. Every seat in the EV9 was soft and well-padded, even the third row. It's not as luxurious as a Mercedes-Benz or BMW, but the EV9 does feel very nice. 

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The EV9’s tandem-mounted twin-screen setup is familiar to anyone who has driven a gas-powered Hyundai or Kia in the past three years. They all kind of look and feel the same, with specific additions or omissions depending on the propulsion type. Yet, the EV9 adds a slight twist, adding a mono-chromatic HVAC panel between the main gauge cluster and infotainment screens. The infotainment screen itself is just like any other Kia. It's intuitive, high-resolution, and speedy, but the new HVAC panel is fussy. There are piano-style hard keys to control temperature and fan speed underneath the screens, but more complicated HVAC interactions like changing the fan direction or turning on the defrost need to go through that touch interface. It’s not always the sharpest with acknowledging finger inputs, nor is it the easiest thing to navigate while on the move.

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At least the EV9 comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, unlike some competitors. Currently, CarPlay is only available via a wired connection, but Kia did say that wireless CarPlay will come soon in an update. 

Smooth Ride, Hushed Experience, And Quick Charging 

The Kia EV9 is on the same purpose-built EV platform, called E-GMP that’s already in use on the Kia EV6, Hyundai Ioniq 6, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and Genesis GV60. I’ve driven all of them except the Genesis GV60. They’re all solid vehicles that are good at being electric cars. They charge well, they’re reasonably efficient (especially the Ioniq 6), and they're well-sorted dynamically. With that in mind, I expected the EV9 to follow suit. 

It did.

Like the rest of the E-GMP cars, the EV9 was both agreeable and mannerly on the road, even if it’s not the most exciting thing to drive. Our test drive was equal parts winding forest roads in Napa Valley, with a few divided highways and towns mixed in for good measure. The EV9 was smooth riding and well-resolved, the suspension and chassis were exceptional at managing bumps and road imperfections, and only the very harshest of impacts upset the cabin. It's well-specced to handle its weight, so there’s no motion-sickness-inducing on-the-road jiggle from the suspension. It’s not exciting in the curves, but why the hell would you want that from a big family hauler? Nope, the EV9 is confident and comfortable, once again, the exact thing that I’d imagine families are looking for. 

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The EV9’s powertrain comes in several forms, either single-motor RWD or dual-motor AWD, but power output, range, and even charging abilities vary by trim. The base-model 230-mile range Light RWD model with its 76.1-kWh battery uses a 215 horsepower motor. The range-leading 304-mile Light Long Range model uses a less powerful 201-horspower motor fed by a 99.8-kWh battery, while the dual-motor AWD units produce 379 horsepower.

Interestingly, the smaller battery is capable of a higher DC fast charge rate, a peak of 235 kW, whereas the larger battery has a slightly slower peak rate of 210 kW. Still, Kia says the long-range EV9 can charge from 10 to 80% in just 24 minutes, which isn’t bad at all. Level 2 charging happens at a max speed of 11.5 kW, provided you’re connected to a charger that can provide at least 48 amps of service to the EV9. From flat to full, the EV9 will recharge in 8 hours and 45 minutes on large battery models, or 6 hours and 45 minutes on small battery models. 

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Also, unlike other E-GMP cars, the EV9 natively supports vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-to-home (V2H), where it can automatically feed its power back to the grid or power the home, as needed. Kia says the EV9 could power the average home for up to two days in the event of a blackout. 

A Little Pricy, But Nearly Perfect

The EV9 is a strong and compelling product, but there are a few odd things that give a bit of pause here. For starters, the EV9’s seating setup could be frustrating for some buyers – because the third row is narrower than in cars like the Telluride or Pilot, it only has seating for two, not three. Many families view seven seats as the bare minimum for a car to be viable for family hauling duty, and three of the five EV9 trims are six-seater only. If a buyer wants a seven-seat (2+3+2) layout, they’re limited to the base Light RWD, or the mid-tier Wind AWD. The range king Light Long Range RWD, and top two GT Line and Land AWD are six-seat only. Kia says they’re watching the market, and if it sees a need to add the seven-seat format to other trims, it will.

Similarly, I question the value of the Light Long Range RWD. At only 201 horsepower, it seems like a huge loss in performance for a measly 24 miles of range over the Wind AWD. I would either save money and buy the base Light RWD model, or pony up a little more cash for the Wind AWD. It has nearly double the power as the Light Long Range and still offers 280 miles of range. 

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The only other snag is the price. The EV9 certainly isn’t the most affordable crossover on the market, as the GT-Line tester I drove stickered at $77,090. That’s cheaper than cars like the Tesla Model X and Rivian R1S, but by no means cheap. Kia plans to move production from South Korea to its Georgia assembly plant, which could make the EV9 eligible for a $7,500 point-of-sale tax credit. If that happens, the EV9 would be put more in line with its gas-powered brethren.

Still, those qualms feel somewhat minor considering what Kia’s brought the world. The EV9 is an electric Telluride wrapped in a concept-car exterior. The whole package might not feel groundbreaking behind the wheel, but arguably that’s the beauty of the EV9. Kia’s succeeded in making a crossover that feels just as functional and useful as its well-executed gas-powered crossovers. Unlike other EVs, the EV9 doesn’t feel like it has some weird caveat or compromise, it’s the perfect vessel to get ordinary folks into an electric vehicle and feel happy about the entire process. 

In a world where many EVs are more flash than substance, that's a good thing. 

Gallery: 2024 Kia EV9 First Drive

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