Kia EV9 First Drive: The Family Electric SUV We’ve Been Waiting For

We've been waiting for the Kia EV9 electric 3-row SUV; the spoilers, digital delights and fancy touches are a true bonus! Here's what we found on our first drive.

The Front End Of The Kia Ev9 Electric Vehicle
The front end of the Kia EV9. Photo: Scotty Reiss

It’s Fresh Modern Looks Don’t Hurt, Either

Digital natives, listen up. The car you’ve been waiting for is here: It’s electric, it goes the distance, it has lots of cloud-based goodies, it has some nice tech surprises and you can subscribe to things you want —or not, if you don’t.

It has room for all your babies, including rear facing kids car seats and full size adults in the 3rd row, and it drives like any good SUV, which is to say, few unpleasant surprises.

Then, it has all the things we love about electric cars: One pedal driving, a flat rear floor, lots of passenger space and all the latest, greatest tech.

After spending a day tooling around Northern California in the Kia EV9 I can report it’s all it’s cracked up to be: An electrified Telluride with a modern design, ample seating and all that electric driving promises.

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My Drive Partner Carly In The 3Rd Row Even At 6 Tall, She Fit Just Fine

My drive partner Carly in the 3rd row even at 6 tall, she fit just fine. Photo: Scotty Reiss

First, People: Will They Fit?

It’s the conundrum of electric cars: They are great for daily driving, errands around town, school pickup runs, a guilt-free heated space where you can sit and relax while the kids are on the practice field.

But without a functional 3rd row, they don’t always work. Getting rid of this compromise was Kia’s goal: room for 6 or 7 passengers was the top priority. Kia already demonstrated it’s ability to build a fast-charging, long-range driving electric car with the EV6. Now, to add people to the equation.

The result? A roomy front seat, a very comfortable center row and an admirably sized 3rd row. I sat in all 3 and can say without hesitation, they all work, even for tall passengers. Carly, my drive partner, is about 6’ tall and she had no problem, both climbing in and getting comfortable, though I did need to slide the center seat forward for her a bit.

I also appreciated USB ports at every seat, a “power wall” in the front seat that allows you to choose which of the two USB ports connects a smart phone to the multimedia system and which just charges. And, the pull out cargo drawer in the rear center row, the floating center console in the front seat and a bin that is perfect for a handbag. Thank you, Kia.

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Access To The 3Rd Row With Slide And Tilt Seats

Access to the 3rd row with slide and tilt seats. Photo: Scotty Reiss

How Do Kids Car Seats Fit?

There’s good news here, too. There are four full sets of LATCHes: two in the center row outboard seats and in both 3rd row seats. That means rear facing, toddler/big kid seats and boosters can all be LATCH installed.

We looked at Kia’s demonstration model outfitted with two kids car seats, one forward facing and one rear facing, and noted that they fit solidly on the seat and that it was not hard to climb past them into the 3rd row. Most impressively, the rear facing car seat was easily positioned to give both the seat in front and the seat behind enough legroom to be comfortable. You can see it here, and it’s pretty impressive.


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Can you install two rear facing kids car seats? Yes. For drivers who are not overly tall, a rear-facing seat will fit behind the driver’s seat. If you need more legroom, opt for the bench seat, which is available in all but the GT-Line models, and install them in the passenger and center seats, leaving the driver’s side center row seat open for 3rd row access. Can you install 3 across the into center row? Yes to that, too, with the right seats.

A Caveat About the Center Row Seats

(Updated with additional information): Center row captains chairs are ‘one touch’ power seats designed to slide and fold forward with the push of a button on the seat’s shoulder. I tried this with my seat belt on and the seat didn’t move. Kia also reports that this function won’t work while the car is in gear. This is good to know; you can’t slide and fold them with a car seat installed using the seatbelt, while driving or if a passenger is buckled in.

However, the Relaxation Seats, the ones that have an extending foot rest, did slide and fold forward when I sat in it and pushed the button without my seatbelt buckled. And while the electrically powered seat did finally stop sliding and tilting when I pushed back against it, which took more force than popping your hand against the elevator door as it’s closing, it was a little scary.

It seems that this issue is limited to the Relaxation Seats, though. I had a chance to try out the same test in the Land Extended Range model and found that even without my seatbelt buckled the seat would not move forward when I sat in it and pushed the button. The seat did release, however, so you could push it forward manually and the seat back will push forward, but there is no power assist.

This is the same as most other power center row seats — a power button on the shoulder or seat back slides and folds the seat forward — but if there is weight in the seat, the button simply releases the seat so you can move it by hand, which is the safest way to operate it. A Kia representative noted that the Relaxation seats, which have extendable foot rests, are intended to move until either they fully move forward or there is resistance.

The Front Cabin In The Kia Ev9 Is Lovely

The front cabin in the Kia EV9 is lovely. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Best of Electric Car Tech

There’s no advantage to an electric car that can’t go the distance; if it can’t charge quickly, or overnight, if it can’t go several hundred miles before you have to stop to charge and if it can’t function in snow and rough weather, it’s not up to the family challenge.

Kia tackled that in three ways: First, the EV9 has a rage of 280-304 miles in 4 of its 5 models. This is enough for a solid family road trip of 500 miles a day with a charge break in the middle. I’ve driven more than my share of 500 mile road trips with the goal of getting there in a single day. This seems very doable in the EV9 with a DC fast charge stop at the 250 mile mark.

Then, Kia ensured that DC fast charging will get you in and out quickly, too; with its 800V architecture it’s designed to charge to 80% in 25 minutes (80% is the goal, but you can charge to 90 or 100% if you’d like) at a DC fast charger that delivers 350 kW. A slower DC fast charger —125 kW to 225 kW are far more common — will take longer but still be faster than level 2 charging, which will take about 6 hours to get to 80%.

Finally, all wheel drive is readily available; it’s standard on Wind, Land and GT-Line models which have a dual motor system and a range of 270-280 miles. The less expensive Light and Light Long Range models are only available in rear wheel drive; Light has a range of 230 and the Light Long Range can go 304 miles.

The Kia Ev9'S Rear Tail Light Signature

The Kia EV9’s rear tail light signature. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Yes, It has One Pedal Driving

This is a feature I highly recommend, but with a caveat: Learn to master this before subjecting your back seat passengers to the joys of one pedal driving. The system, which Kia calls iPedal Max, is a maximum regenerative braking system that slows the car by channeling power back into the battery.

Lift your foot off the accelerator and you instantly feel the car slow; do that too quickly and your passengers will feel it, magnified. Too much of this and they may feel car sick. But once you learn to use it you’ll almost never need your brake, and as hard as it is to believe, that’s a really good thing. You add life to your brakes, charge to your battery and control to your driving.

The Interior Of The Kia Ev9 With Ambient Lighting

The interior of the Kia EV9 with ambient lighting. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Pick Your Technology to Complete the Picture

Kia has rolled out all its next-gen tech in the EV9. It starts with the wide touchscreen that has been redesigned — evolved really; it looks and feels familiar though it has more function — and features 3 panels: A multimedia system on the right side, a climate panel in the center and the driver display on the left side, right in front of the driver.

I really liked all the function on the multimedia system and found the driver display easy to use, especially to see charge and range details.

Key to the tech is a flat panel of controls on the dashboard; buttons are inset into the panel, so you tap them until you feel them vibrate. This takes a second to get use to— but only a second. It’s very fresh and modern.

The Cabin In The Kia Ev9

The cabin in the Kia EV9. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Climate Control, the EV Battery and Cold Days

The climate panel, though, isn’t as intuitive. Some of the icons are touch sensitive, others are controlled by buttons on the dashboard and the whole thing is obscured by the steering wheel so it can be hard to see. I quickly got used to tapping up or down for temperature and fan speed, and imagine that the placement of the climate screen is more of a learning curve than a fault.

Climate will be an important factor in the Kia EV9, so, Kia included heated and cooled seats as a standard feature on all models so you can keep the cabin temperature at a minimum. Even the rear seats are heated and cooled in the Land and GT-line models.

And, Kia added heat pump technology to more quickly warm the cabin and the battery— which is a big deal many that new electric car drivers found out this winter. Kia says the heat pump will help to preserve the EV9s range even on the coldest days.

The Cargo Area In The Kia Ev9

The cargo area in the Kia EV9. Photo: Scotty Reiss

But Wait, There’s More!

In the “What will they think of next,” category, Kia EV9 also has a vehicle-2-load adapter that allows you to use the car as a generator and reverse power things, or even a house. You can purchase a power wall for your house that will automatically make the switch if your power goes out.

Add to that an updated digital key (phone-as-key) and the biggie: Kia Connect Store options. Buyers can subscribe to services through the Kia Connect store and stream music, add wifi, remote parking or most interestingly, add Boost mode and in the top two trims, as well as customizable digital headlights on the grille.

Before getting critical about the subscription, I had to think about this: I don’t have to pay for these features, I can add them if I want to. And, they are added after the sale, which means I can decide later to add Boost mode and unleash an additional 73 lb.-ft. of torque for a fun wind-in-your-hair experience. I didn’t get to try this but if the experience in the Genesis, Hyundai and Kia EV6 models are any indication, this will be fun.

However, it’ll cost a bit. Boost, enhanced music streaming, remote park assist, wifi and customizable front grille lighting come with a price. Boost is a one-time $900 charge; Dynamic lights is a one time $250 charge; data is $20 a month, music streaming is $10 a month (andApple CarPlay and Android Auto separate from this) and remote park assist is either $600 for lifetime access or $20 a month. Buy it if you want it, or decide later. I like it.

The 2024 Kia Ev9

The 2024 Kia EV9. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What Does This Electric 3 Row SUV Cost?

First let’s start here: The EV9 has a lot of top-tier standard features: a full suite of safety systems including blind spot monitor, parking monitor, lane departure warning, navigation with adaptive cruise control, a center row bench, smart key, passenger talk speakers so first and 3rd row passengers can hear each other, 3 zone climate control with vents in all 3 rows, heated/vented front seats, leatherette upholstery, flat screen display, wireless phone charger, wireless Apple CarPlay Android Auto, front seat ‘power wall’ and power lift gate; from there, features like panoramic sunroof, captains chairs, rear seat entertainment ($1,500) and in the Land and GT-Line, ‘relaxation seats’ with extending leg rests in the front and center seats ($2,000).

From there, Kia adds some goodies, but mostly, the price difference is all about battery and motors. Here’s how pricing shakes out:

  • Light rear wheel drive with 230 miles of range and 215 HP- $54,900
  • Light long range with 304 miles and 201 HP – $59,200
  • Wind AWD with 280 mile range and 379 HP- $63,900
  • Land AWD with 280 mile range and 379 HP $69,900
  • GT-Line with 270 mile range and 379 HP, $73,900
Ambient Lighting On The Floating Console In The Kia Ev9

Ambient lighting on the floating console in the Kia EV9. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Which is the One to Get?

In my opinion, the Wind AWD is nicely optioned and has enough standard features, range and horsepower to get through the week or the road trip.

Yes, it’s expensive. But buyers may qualify for some or all of the federal tax incentives starting this summer when Kia begins building the EV9 in its West Point, Georgia assembly plant.

And then, there’s the pricelessness of charging at home and never having to get gas — there’s real value in that. And if you feel like you’re saving enough to warrant splurging, the GT Line is a spoiler with things like a digital rear view mirror and side and rear view mirrors that tilt in reverse. And those are just the things I discovered in a day. There’s a lot to uncover, but that’s the fun of being a digital native: The unending delights and surprises.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Kia for this test drive. Travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own. Additionally, A Girls Guide to Cars may earn a commission from affiliate links in this story.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss