Kia takes a glimpse at boxy, hard-edged electric SUV future
The utility vehicle market has gone all in on the small, curvy crossover look, but some customers still crave large dimensions, hard corners and vertical surfaces. Kia has already found some success with the formula in the Telluride, and if the new Concept EV9 is a guide, it has no plans of shying away from it as electricity takes over for internal combustion. With powerful surfaces, flared fenders and three rows of seating, the EV9 looks like a futuristic, all-electric interpretation of a Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series, a win for lovers of large, rumbling, back-to-roots utility vehicles.
The Concept EV9 is much more a design study than a production preview, but the LA-debuted SUV concept is billed as the "clearest signal yet from Kia as to what might be the next addition to its new-generation EV lineup," a potential first sibling for the EV6 crossover. Kia says that the EV9 concept rides atop the same Electric Global Modular Platform (E-GMP) that underpins the EV6. However, the new concept comes with a very limited selection of spec estimates that includes a 300-mile (483-km) range and a roughly 25-minute 10-to-80 percent 350-kW ultra-fast-charging time.
As a design study, the 194-in (493-cm) Concept EV9 folds inspiration from nature into Kia's new "Opposites United" design language. Kia explains that the rugged, upright stance is meant to convey an adventurous, outgoing and recreational spirit. The level floating roof and long, flat glasshouse stand at the top of the classic, powerful proportions, hinting at a generous amount of passenger and cargo space inside. Along the sides, Kia adds some three-dimensional volume, but in place of softening curves, it maintains hard lines and surfaces with bulging, crystalline-inspired fenders highlighted by contrast wheel arches.
All those hard, angular elements "unite with their opposites" in the choice of paint color, a deep blue that brings to mind the smooth, angle-free flow of water. It's as if Kia shaped clean, sparkling water into the rough, jagged form of a boulder.
Up front, Kia focuses in on an all-electric iteration of its signature tiger-nose grille, a body-color "Digital Tiger Face" panel that stretches the full width between the left and right daytime running lamps. The grille panel also serves as a playing surface for the star cloud-patterned lighting housed behind it, showing "welcome" patterns when the driver approaches, before the lighting refocuses for driving.
The Concept EV9 uses some next-gen tech to boost efficiency, starting with a solar panel integrated into the hood vent duct. The roof rails can be retracted at the push of a button when not needed, improving airflow up high.
The interior of Kia's newest concept rolls its flat EV floor, light seating, glass-ceiling-topped panorama and light, neutral colors into a bright, roomy lounge-style space. While it's not a Level 5 autonomous concept, the EV9 does share the feature of revolving front-row seats with such designs, a function only accessible when the vehicle is parked. This "Pause" mode allows the first- and third-row occupants to face each other and converse while the second-row seats fold down into a table, a mode that would be even more useful on an electric camper vehicle than an SUV.
Another mode begging to be integrated into a camper van, "Enjoy" mode spins the seats 180, turning the opening left by the popped tailgate into something of a natural viewing screen. Undoubtedly inspired by the bottomless Instagram stack of photos showing van lifers staring dreamily out the thrown-open double van doors, this mode will work especially well when the EV9 is backed up in view of the lapping waves of the ocean or exploding sunset beyond a cliff's edge.
The third and last mode is your basic drive mode, which puts a "pop-up steering pad" in the hands of the driver, in place of the oh-so-average steering wheel. The massive 27-in ultra-wide display shows infotainment and houses basic controls.
Kia doesn't say when a diluted, production-ready version of the EV9 might join the EV6, but it reiterates multiple times that the EV9 could in fact be the next addition to its BEV lineup, another step toward its recently outlined goal of achieving carbon neutrality in its value chain by 2045.
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Also, most of the snub-nosed vans I’ve seen were aesthetically quite unappealing, the VW bus being one obvious exception, of course.