Kia brings a concept to life with the EV9 SUV, a spacious seven-seat all-electric vehicle with a bold design.
Kia’s rise into the car design premier league is confirmed by the EV9, its slick, full-electric, flush-door-handled, five-to-seven-seat large SUV. Stage one of the Korean car brand’s transformation from ‘low-cost and value-led’ to ‘reasonable and reliable’ came via ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer from 2006. In 2015, ex-Bentley and Lamborghini designer Luc Donckerwolke joined the team – replacing Schreyer as chief design officer of Kia’s parent company Hyundai Motor Group in 2017 – and steadily upped the ante via award-winning cars including the EV6.
Meantime, its fortunes have steadily risen, Hyundai Motor Group becoming the third-biggest vehicle manufacturer in the world in 2022 with 6.83m sales. That places it behind only the VW Group (7.85m) and Toyota (10.1m). Compared to sister brand Hyundai, Kia is the smaller player with 2.9m sales, but is now nonetheless a major brand in its own right, easily outselling, for example, Mercedes (2.04m), BMW Group (2.3m) and Tesla (1.3m).
Since October 2019 ex-BMW designer Karim Habib became Kia’s senior design VP and the 2023 EV9 is the first Kia created under his direction. While sharing the same electric-only platform and naming strategy as the compact crossover EV6 launched in 2021, the large EV9 is a visual departure, especially in its exterior. The design is more geometric and less soft-surfaced than the EV6, and the Kias that will arrive in the next few years – to populate the missing numbers in the rest of its EV range – will follow this approach.
What is also pleasing is that the production vehicle isn’t so far removed from the EV9 concept car revealed at the Automobility LA 2021 show. That’s because both concept and production car were developed at the same time, as Habib confirms: ‘The concept was pulled out of the process of the production car and the designs were by the same Turkish designer, Berk Erner, from our Californian studio.’
Kia EV9, an all-electric SUV
Where the production car differs most from the concept’s proportions is in its height – it has less ground clearance, partly for aerodynamic reasons – but also in other small changes. ‘The production car’s bonnet is shorter, the cabin longer and the beltline definitely lower than on the concept,’ Habib says. ‘In its glass-to-body proportion, it’s less-classical SUV, but that was all part of the message of this “living space” architecture.‘
That ‘living space’ cabin is also a significant move on from the EV6 and was developed in Korea, led by senior VP of interior design Jochen Peasen. The Belgian designer – behind the interior concept that became the BMW i8 earlier in his career – has created a similarly floating monochrome interior for the EV9, albeit in simpler form here. He describes his aesthetic vision as ‘the antithesis of the over-busy interior design approach of other SUVs and concentrating on negative space and shadow‘.
In final production guise, that translates to elements like the dashboard, screen, internal grab handles and door and centre armrests all appearing to float within the cabin’s shell via carefully hidden attachment points. Sitting on the dashboard like a slim, frameless TV, that instrument panel is made up of a large 27-inch screen with a trio of slim screens underneath covering driver display and central touchscreen infotainment. Paesen says this system represents an upgrade from the one within the EV6 and confirms that it will be rolled out across the Kia range.
The SUV also gets a new chamfered steering wheel design that flattens its top to make viewing that driver display easier, while all of the key physical driver controls are clustered around the steering column to avoid visual clutter elsewhere – the only other major controls being quick-reach, centrally located buttons for air-conditioning and volume control.
More functional ability reveals itself in the back, where the EV9 can accommodate five-to-seven people with a level of flexibility more associated with MPVs. In six-seat mode, the EV9’s second-row captain-style chairs can do a 180-degree turn. First through 90 degrees to face the rear door opening to allow easier entry and exit, and then on to 180 degrees, to face rearward to the third-row seats, creating a neat lounge space for convivial face-to-face chats when parked up, while recharging or resting, or both.
Sat in the third-row with the second-row seats facing forward, it’s a bit tight for passenger knees, due to flat, rather than hollowed-out seat backs in front, but on a positive note this design does improve loading functionality when second- and third-row seats are folded. A large boot is promised (no volume figures have been given yet) and there’s also a sizeable ‘frunk’ under the bonnet lid able to carry charging cables and a bit more.
The cabin is a vegan, leather-free space, using recycled PET within many of its materials, and although the colour palette, on the two early vehicles we saw, both featured muted shades of grey, Paesen says brighter options will be available from the EV9’s late-2023 on-sale date. ‘We wanted a two-tone approach, with less chrome, less gloss black and more fabric. But other colours are coming.’
The Kia EV9 is firmly targeting practicality with its style and should be aided in that pursuit by a circa 337-mile electric range and 800-volt rapid charging capability. Prices are set to start from €74,000, which is a lot of money for any car – and this brand especially – but with the EV9, former Korean ‘also-ran’ Kia, is now definitely one of the ‘leaders of the pack’.