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Everything I want in a three-row family EV

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The EV market is hotter than ever in the US, but there are only a handful of options for families who need three rows of seats and tons of storage space. There’s the Rivian R1S, a beautiful and well-reviewed car, but one that’s firmly in luxury territory with a starting price of $75,900. Tesla’s Model X is similarly pricey, and its tiny rear row isn’t suited for adults (the smaller Model Y’s third row option is even worse). That’s why Kia’s EV9 is such a big deal. It offers even more internal space than the company’s massive Telluride, and it starts at a more palatable $54,900 (along with a $1,495 destination charge).

It makes sense why car makers were more focused on smaller EVs up until now. Large batteries are expensive, and many people don’t really need three rows of seats. But I’m a dad of two kids still using child car seats, and we also need to travel with my two parents on occasion. So the additional room is a must. And even without rear passengers, we often need extra room to lug two kids’ worth of gear to local parks (especially if we bring along our wagon stroller).

Kia

The Kia EV9 is fast, stylish and relatively affordable. It’s practically everything we’d want in a three-row EV SUV.

Pros

  • Stylish design inside and out
  • Excellent driving performance
  • Fast charging support
  • Relatively affordable
  • Usable three rows of seating
Cons

  • Can ride rough at times
  • Price escalates quickly
  • Wireless phone charging is finicky

$54,900 at Kia

There are, of course, legitimate reasons to be wary of large EVs. Like any massive vehicle, they’re more dangerous for pedestrians, especially when coupled with the near-instant torque power of EVs. They’re also far worse for the environment than smaller cars, because they require those aforementioned large batteries and all the rare earth material they contain. If I lived in a city with usable public transportation, I’d give up on the EV9 in an instant. But for now I’m stuck traversing Atlanta suburbs, so the EV9 (ideally a pre-owned one in a few years) is our best worst option.

Kia  EV9
A Tesla Cybertruck parked next to the Kia EV9. (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

Like Kia’s EV6, the EV9 (available in Light, Land, Wind and GT-Line configurations) looks striking up close. It doesn’t shy away from being a large SUV — its boxiness is a feature, not a bug. And what it lacks in curves, it makes up for with polygonal body panels that look futuristic without being garish like Tesla’s Cybertruck. From the front, the EV9 pairs vertical headlights with customizable LEDs. (You have to buy additional lighting patterns separately, though, a truly unfortunate choice by Kia.)

Kia didn’t stray too far from the original EV9 concept it revealed in 2019, and that’s a good thing. There aren’t any rear-hinged suicide doors, but I don’t miss them. Structurally, standard door frames are safer for passengers, especially during accidents.

Kia EV9
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Upon opening the driver side door, you’re greeted with an elegant setup: well-cushioned seats with comfortable mesh headrests; Kia’s 30-inch “Triple Panorama Display,” which features a gauge cluster, HVAC controls and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen; and tons of clean and usable space. It’s similar to the EV6’s setup, but a bit less cluttered since gear controls are handled by a stalk on the steering wheel, instead of a dial by the cupholders.

Even though it features a massive screen, the EV9 also has a combination of physical and capacitive buttons. You can change the temperature, mode and fan speeds with rocker switches on the driver and passenger side (rear passengers also have easily reachable HVAC controls). You can also control heating and cooling using the small display next to the infotainment screen, but I found that a bit awkward while driving. It was sometimes obscured by the steering wheel, and there wasn’t much feedback when changing settings on the screen.

Kia’s infotainment software is zippy and responsive, befitting the EV9’s modern displays. Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto support also makes it easy to connect your phone without fiddling for cables. The EV9 has a large wireless charging pad that should fit my iPhone 15 Pro Max just fine, and there’s enough room to squeeze in even bigger phones. It was a bit finicky to find the right wireless charging zone, so much so it made me wish Kia had implemented MagSafe or the newer Qi2 standard to keep my phone in place. I’d recommend always having a USB-C cable handy to take advantage of the EV9’s fast charging port.

I was blown away by the GT-Line EV9’s 14-speaker Meridian system, which has just enough low-end oomph (thanks to an open-air subwoofer) for music and precise clarity for voices while listening to podcasts and audiobooks. Meridian says its DSP (digital sound processing) optimizes sound for the EV9’s cabin, and it also upmixes audio for 5.1 surround sound (or the equivalent with many more speakers).

Kia  EV9
The EV9 is chock full of ambient lighting at night. (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

The company’s Intelli-Q Equalization also transforms audio as the EV9’s in-cabin noise changes — instead of just raising or lowering the volume, it can emphasize specific frequency ranges to cover something like tire noise. In my testing, the Meridian system sounded great during both noisy highway driving and relaxed local trips. I definitely noticed when the Intelli-Q software kicked in, but it wasn’t unbearable like older cars that would just get louder on the highway. (You can also adjust the level of automatic sound equalization, and audio purists can disable it entirely.)

The EV9’s second row captain’s chairs are just as comfortable as the front seats, but they have cushioned headrests instead of flexible mesh. As much as I like the second row, though, my family would likely be better off with the 7-seat arrangement from Light or Wind EV9 models. Those rely on a bench seat instead of two captain’s chairs, which my wife prefers when she needs to ride beside my two-year old.

Kia EV9
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The EV9’s third row seats are comfortable as well, but as in many three-row SUVs, most adults won’t have much legroom to work with. I was able to squeeze in my 5-foot 8-inch frame, but I wouldn’t call the experience ideal. Anyone riding in the EV9’s last row will likely have to bargain with the person in front of them for some leg space. It’s also worth noting that the second row is immovable with child seats, since they lock seat belts down. So be sure to have the second row at a comfortable spot for rear passengers before hooking up child seats.

Unfortunately, the US version of the EV9 won’t have second-row seats that can swivel 180-degrees to face the third row, because they don’t meet federal safety standards. That feature, which was a major part of Kia’s initial EV9 publicity blitz, will be available in South Korea and other countries.

Kia EV9
The EV9’s trunk space with the third row of seats folded down. (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

For cargo, the EV9 sports 20.2 cubic feet behind its third row seats, and a more usable 43.5 cubic feet of storage when the third row is folded flat. If you push down the second row seats as well , you can fit in up to 81.7 cubic feet of gear. There’s a front trunk, or frunk, underneath the hood too, but it’s not as useful as other EVs. It can hold 3.2 cubic feet in the rear-wheel EV9, and an even more minuscule 1.8 cubic feet in the all-wheel drive models. In both cases, you have just enough room to hold Kia’s level 1 charging cable and a few other small items.

Kia EV9
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

On the road, the EV9 feels like a paradox. Similar to Rivian’s R1S, it’s a large SUV that’s surprisingly quick and nimble for its size. I was able to effortlessly glide through local traffic, launch quickly from stoplights and pass cars on the highway with ease. It wasn’t as easy to maneuver as my 2019 Volvo XC90, but I was still impressed since the EV9 is a far boxier car.

After visiting my parent’s home, a 45-mile highway trip each way, the EV9 dropped from 80 percent charge to 52 percent. The AC was blasting heavily to combat Georgia’s heat and humidity, so that range felt about right. Just be aware that an EV’s estimated mileage can easily change depending on AC usage, external temperatures and how fast you’re driving.

My wife, who hasn’t spent much time with EVs, noted that she didn’t feel like she was actually driving while behind the wheel of the EV9. On well-paved roads, it rides smoothly without much discernible road noise. My wife took a while to adjust to the EV9’s touchy brakes — it’s easy to slam the vehicle to a halt — but that’s something I’ve noticed on many EVs. You can use the EV9’s paddle shifters to adjust regenerative braking, which puts a bit of power back into the battery and doesn’t use the car’s traditional brake pads.

In its most extreme form, the EV9’s regenerative braking allows for one-pedal driving, which allows you to completely stop the car simply by lifting your foot off of the accelerator. It’s an odd feature to get used if you’ve only ever driven gas cars, but it’s one of those things that EV owners learn to love quickly.

Kia EV9

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

It would be nice to see Kia offer adaptive suspension on the EV9 eventually, since you can feel the impact of rough roads and large bumps far too easily. For a car that scales up to near $80,000 — like our GT-line review unit — smarter and smoother suspension should at least be an option. Without it, the EV9 doesn’t feel nearly as luxurious as the Rivian R1S as driving conditions get worse.

I didn’t have much trouble parking the EV9 in most lots, but backing out of spaces could sometimes be painful. That was particularly true in locations designed for smaller cars–I’m looking at you, Trader Joe’s. It took me six bouts of reversing and precarious turning to make it out of one spot at my local Regal Cinema. Even then, I could only leave in one direction, thanks to a slew of other large cars (including a particularly ugly Cybertruck) sitting around me.

Thankfully, the EV9’s high-resolution cameras, proximity sensors and 360-degree overhead camera (on the GT Line only) helped me get out of tight spots. But even with those assists, it was still more annoying than the chunky Pacifica hybrid minivan I used to own.

Kia EV9
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Kia EV9 supports 210 kilowatt fast charging, and it’s compatible with both 400- and 800-volt chargers. Using the most powerful 800V hardware (which admittedly isn’t always easy to find), the EV9 can charge from 10 percent to 80 percent in 24 minutes. Using a local Electrify America charger, which clocked in at 150kW, the EV9 went from 21 percent of battery to 90 percent in 39 minutes.

I don’t have a Level 2 charger at home, which could completely juice up the EV9 in six to seven hours, but I was able to plug it into a Level 1 charger using a standard 120V outlet overnight. That typically added an additional 10 to 15 percent of charge after eight to 10 hours. This level of charging may not be feasible for the long term, but it’s helpful if you don’t have the ability to add a Level 2 system at home, or if you’re traveling and need to add a bit more juice to reach the next fast charger.

Kia EV9

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Kia EV9 starts at $54,900 (not including destination charges) for the “Light” model, which includes rear-wheel drive, 215 horsepower and 230 miles of range. Leasing options start at $487 a month on average, with $2,000 due at signing for a 36-month term. These numbers could also change depending on the offers Kia makes available, as well as what local dealers are willing to charge.

The “Light Long Range” model gets you a bigger battery with 304 miles of range for $59,200 and a slightly weaker 201hp motor. Higher-end trims are nearly twice as fast with 379hp all-wheel drive motors. That includes the $63,900 “Wind” EV9 and the $69,900 “Land” model, both of which have 280 miles of range.

At the top end, there’s the flagship GT-Line model we reviewed, which starts at $73,900. It has a bit less range (270 miles) than mid-range choices, but it also has just about every feature Kia could throw in, including a 12-inch heads-up display on the windshield, 21-inch alloy wheels and the 14-speaker Meridien sound system.

While its price escalates quickly, the EV9 is still a better deal than every other three-row EV on the market. The Rivian R1S starts at $75,900, and it currently leases for $699 a month with at least $8,500 in signing fees. The aging Tesla Model X starts at $77,990. Those cars are also both significantly faster than the EV9, and they offer better ride options like adaptive suspension.

Kia EV9
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

After eagerly awaiting the perfect family EV for years – following my time with the Rav4 hybrid, Sienna hybrid and the Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid – I’m surprised it’s coming from Kia and not a more established brand like Toyota. The EV9 is spacious, more affordable than other EVs and it drives (mostly) like a dream. It charges quickly, and most models have more than enough range to deal with the occasional road trip. Simply put, the Kia EV9 is everything I’ve been looking for in a three-row family EV.



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