2022 Kia EV6 first drive review: An EV defying expectations

2022 Kia EV6 first drive review: An EV defying expectations

“Whoa.” That’s the actual word that escaped my lips when I first engaged Sport mode on the EV6. It could be used to describe most of my experience with the vehicle during a first drive event, though.

Kia’s move from entry-level car maker to mid-market darling with the help of the Telluride SUV continues with its latest offering. The EV6 showcases the evolution of not only the brand, but its EV offerings. The EV6 is a larger-than-you-expect vehicle that Kia calls a CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) with the space of an SUV and the driving stance of a sedan. Everything about it is more than you anticipate.

Roberto Baldwin/Digital Trends

While other automakers have been crowing about their move to EVs with their first vehicles over the past few years, Kia has been in the game for a few generations. From an electric version of the Soul to the Niro EV, the Korean automaker has been busy. Recently, the Hyundai Motor Group (the parent company of Kia) introduced an EV architecture dubbed the E-GMP (Electric Global Modular Platform). The EV6 is the inaugural Kia on that battery and powertrain system, while Hyundai has its own Ioniq 5.

In photos, both vehicles look smaller than what you experience in real life. The reality is that the EV6 has the exact same wheelbase as the Telluride at 114.2 inches. The illusion is pulled off thanks to the wheels being pushed to the edge of the vehicle. So while it might look like a compact hatchback, it’s actually closer in dimensions to a mid-sized sedan, with a length of 184.3 inches — only an inch and a half shorter than a BMW 3 Series.

Everything about it is more than you anticipate.

Its real-life size isn’t the only surprise. Frankly, the EV6 delivers likely far more than most people expect from Kia. While driving the all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive versions of the GT trim level in Northern California, it’s clear that the Korean automaker is ready to take on both the automotive upstarts and traditional OEMs.

At the core of this performance is powertrain technology that in many ways has evolved above and beyond that of automakers like Mercedes. The most impressive part of E-GMP is that it’s an 800-volt architecture, which means that it charges quickly. The vehicle will support charging up to 350kW at compatible DC fast-charging stations. That’s faster than anything else on the road right now and is only matched by the Hyundai Ioniq 5. Kia says that it will charge from 10 to 80% in under 18 minutes at a 350 kW charging station.

Fast. Maybe too fast.

That’s sitting around. On the road, the GT trim is quick in a way the numbers don’t fully capture. The AWD version has 320 horsepower and 446 pound-feet of torque, which gives the AWD version a zero to 60 time of 5.1 seconds — two seconds quicker than the RWD GT version at 7.2 seconds. It’s not the quickest EV I’ve ever driven, but that initial jolt can push you back in your seat in a way that the Volkswagen ID.4 and Chevy Bolt just don’t.

Kia EV6 next to a vineyard
Roberto Baldwin/Digital Trends

While taking on the Northern California switchbacks, I encountered a bit more body roll than I anticipated on a vehicle with that much power. For 90 percent of drivers, it’s a non-issue; Kia unleashed us on technical mountain roads with more switchbacks than most people encounter in a month. But for those looking for a hot hatch with acceleration matched by its cornering, the EV6 just isn’t quite there. It’s close, though.

As you would anticipate, there was more oversteer in the RWD version of the vehicle than the AWD variant. Even when I got the tires to break free, the safety system was quick to set things right. And even with the body roll, I still enjoyed myself on the roads that were likely better suited for the Kia Stinger than the EV6.

So much room for activities

Inside, again, it’s bigger than you think. The vehicle feels spacious. The large windows only enhance the mid-sized vehicle’s dimensions. Tall people should rejoice. At over six feet tall, I usually have to push the seat all the way back to drive. In the EV6, there was still room for those taller than me to sit comfortably behind the wheel.

Even with the driver’s seat pushed back that far, I was still able to sit comfortably in the back and even had a few inches of space between my knees and the front seat. The rear seats also recline to further enhance the experience. There is room for three in the back seat, but one of them should be a small child for all three to make it more than 30 minutes before becoming irritated with their companions’ elbows.

Kia EV6 interior front seat
Roberto Baldwin/Digital Trends

Cargo space is about in the middle of the EV SUV field. With the rear seats up, the trunk has 24.4 cubic feet of space. With the two rear seats down, that increases to 50.2 cubic feet of space. That’s more than the Volvo XC40 Recharge and on par with the Kia Niro EV but less than the Ioniq 5, ID4, and Mach-E.

Meanwhile, the materials felt more luxurious than you would anticipate. This is sort of Kia and Hyundai’s secret weapon: Make the interior feel like you’ve paid more for your vehicle. The vegan leather seats felt like suede without the whole killing the animal part. The dash and center console materials were equally impressive.

The layout of the controls did take a few minutes to get used to, considering the vehicle’s interesting center console layout. Heated seats and steering wheel controls are at the end of the console. Once you find them, it makes sense. But, I’ll confess, I spent a few minutes trying to figure out their location.

One intriguing feature is that the control panel below the 12.3-inch touchscreen switches from climate controls to quick keys for the infotainment system. The physical knobs serve triple duty as temperature control, volume control, and tuning control. It’s a bit of a nifty gimmick that gives the driver physical buttons without too much clutter. While it might feel a bit gimmicky at first, I found it to be an exceptional compromise in a world with fewer and fewer controls available outside the infotainment system.

Roberto Baldwin/Digital Trends

The infotainment system isn’t any different from what we’ve seen on recent Kia and Hyundais. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android. There was little to no latency switching between features and home screens. Overall, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it gets the job done without forcing the driver to hunt for hidden features.

What is fun is the head-up display (HUD), like the Mercedes EQS and S-Class. Yeah, Mercedes. The EV6 has augmented turn-by-turn direction arrows that appear and point you in the right direction as you approach a corner or interchange. In a roundabout (we managed to find some in California), the arrows were a great help navigating the circular intersections. Also, like Mercedes, with adaptive cruise control active, the HUD will place a glowing line below the bumper of the vehicle the EV6 is tracking. It’s a nice reminder that the car’s sensors and computer are doing their job.

Go go go

Kia is launching the EV6 with six trim levels and a starting price of $40,900 (not including a $1,215 destination fee). The least expensive version is called Light. It will ship with a smaller battery than the rest of the lineup at 58.0 kWh and a target range of 232 miles.

The automaker will then split the trim levels into Wind and GT. Both will have AWD and FWD variants while Wind will get a third “tech package” trim. All of these vehicles will come with the larger 77.4 kWh capacity battery pack. Kia wouldn’t share information on whether that capacity number was the gross pack size or the usable pack size. Hopefully, they’ll share that info in the future.

kia EV6 front next to vineyard
Roberto Baldwin/Digital Trends

What we do know is that the RWD versions of vehicles with that larger pack are targeting a range of 310 miles, and the AWD versions are targeting 274 miles.

But those numbers may be conservative. Cruising between 40 and 55 miles per hour at a steady clip in the AWD vehicle, the vehicle told me I was achieving 4.9 miles per kWh much higher than the expected 4 miles per kWh efficiency. The AWD GT version I drove started the day with an estimated range of 290 miles, but gave me range of 254 miles at the end of the day with 88 percent capacity left, rather than the anticipated 241 miles.

After some overly aggressive driving later, I obviously diminished those numbers, but it’s likely that both AWD and RWD vehicles will have a bit more range than Kia is letting on once they make their way into the real world.

Right time, right car

The EV6 might not be as tall as an SUV, but its intriguing design and hatchback give it the feel of a taller vehicle in a package that drives more like a car than a utility vehicle. Its heft does create more body roll than you would want from a hot-hatch, but it’s not really going after that market, even though the AWD GT trim level is quick off the line.

While the $40,000 model doesn’t break the 250 miles of range barrier, the $47,000 RWD Wind will get you 310 miles from home without stopping. Best-in-class 350kW charging makes even the smaller battery pack less of an issue, because time spent at fast-charging stations will be far less than anything else on the road. Plus, the vehicle is eligible for the $7,500 tax credit.

Once again, Kia is offering up a vehicle that feels more expensive than its starting price with tech and features that are found on luxury class vehicles from Germany. It’s doing all this in a package that straddles the SUV and car world deftly, and it has a design that stands out from the crowd.

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