What is it?
Riding on 21-inch, four-spoke wheels and with oddly boxy-yet-futuristic styling, this is Kia's new all-electric flagship, the seven-seat EV9 SUV.
At 5015mm long, 1980mm wide and 1780mm tall – with a 3100mm wheelbase – it's also basically as big as a Toyota Landcruiser. It isn't cheap either, at $121,000 before on-road costs. Today we're driving the GT-Line AWD, the top-spec model with dual electric motors. There's also a single-motor, rear-drive powertrain with the lower-spec, cheaper ($97,000) Air model.
Does it have any racing pedigree?
Of all the motoring brands around, Kia is one of the few to have next to no motorsport history – and seemingly little interest in creating any. In a factory capacity, Kia has only dabbled in a few touring car championships around the world. In the US GT World Challenge, Kia won the GTS/GT4 and TCA class championships in 2014 with motorsport-prepped Kia Optima and Cerato coupe touring cars. Kia has also contested the Chinese Touring Car Championship in the recent past, and Swedish racer Emelie Liljestrom completed eight races of the 2015 Scandinavian Touring Car Championship in a factory-backed, rear-drive 313kW Kia Optima touring car (a silhouette series).
What's under the bonnet?
A small storage compartment for some charging cables and a whole lot of plastic – and below that, an electric motor. This one has two motors, one up front and one out back, granting all-wheel-drive. Total output is 283kW and 700Nm, able to shuttle the big electric Kia from zero to 100km/h in just 5.3 seconds (claimed). Maximum speed is 200km/h.
The lithium-ion battery pack provides a useable 95.0kWh capacity, with claimed WLTP range of 505km. With its cutting-edge 800V-capable architecture, Kia claims the EV9 can accept up to 350kW on a DC fast-charger, topping it up from 10 to 80 percent charge in just 24 minutes.
How does it handle?
Surprisingly well for such a heavy vehicle – even though you're always aware of its size, especially its great width, which very much fills the lane. Yet with 285mm-wide Continental tyres on each corner, the EV9 can carry quite a lot of mid-corner speed for what it is.
There's plenty of grunt from the dual electric motors, which punch hard and cleanly from a standstill, enough to startle your passengers. As well as simple silence, varying levels of fake noise are selectable, lending the EV9 a humorous futuristic vibe – and making your passengers feel like they've just stepped into the year 2050.
The suspension is superb – one of the best passive set-ups we've experienced. The ride quality is beautifully smooth, while mid-corner bumps are absorbed without breaking a sweat.
Where would you most like to drive it?
The EV9 is at home on any motorway especially when utilising its excellent advanced driver assisted cruise control which confidently tracks within its lane, such that you can relax that extra 10 percent – a big gain on a very long trip.
That's even if the highway is not particularly kind to the EV9's range. Expect about 400km between recharges driving on freeways and the countryside, making the EV9 feel in that environment like an enormous vehicle with a tiny fuel tank.
What's the interior like?
Big, spacious and light-filled, with a high-tech feel and rock-solid build quality. Truly, this thing feels better screwed together than some German cars.
Dual 12.3-inch digital displays dominate the dashboard, while there's also head-up display and, quirkily, video side mirrors. Mounting small cameras on the end of antennae-like stalks, the side mirrors present a live video on two small screens at either end of the dashboard. They take a lot of getting used to, but once you've familiarised yourself, they're pretty good. Jumping into a car with normal mirrors afterwards feels like going back in time, and you come to miss the small coloured lines that flash up on the video feed when changing lanes, making it effortless to gauge distance and depth to any vehicle behind.
The interior is not without its gripes, however. Our test car had wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – decidedly un-futuristic – requiring cables. Kia said the technology is coming ASAP. Also, at one point condensation got inside the lens of the passenger side mirror camera, rendering it effectively useless.
The speed limit warning also can't be permanently disabled. Exceed the detected limit by a handful of km/h and the car starts chiming at you. This would be less of an issue if it was more accurate – often it thinks the speed limit is lower than it actually is. You have to dive into a menu and turn this off every time you drive the car, which is annoying.
How much does the Kia EV9 GT-Line cost?
The GT-Line starts from $121,000 before on-road costs. Our test vehicle came with a recommended retail price of $124,495 in its $3495 optional Ocean Blue matte paint, putting it around $144,285 drive-away (estimated).
Would I buy one?
It's a lot of money for a Kia, but it's a mighty impressive vehicle. With its what-the-hell-is-that styling, it would turn just as many heads as any Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz SUV, yet somehow feels better built than many cars from those brands and comes with a seven-year warranty. Of course, comparing them on depreciation is another article altogether, and even a $145K Kia's interior still isn't quite as posh as that of a German luxury brand.
But we're very impressed. There's a real depth to its engineering and while it's not without its flaws, it's a pleasure to drive.