2022 Kia EV6 First Drive: The New Electric Benchmark

The first chance that any car gets to make an impression is with its styling. Long before reviewers start trying to get rear tires to break loose, or bury themselves ten menus deep in touchscreens to surmise a car's real capabilities, we appraise its sheet metal for a glint of insight into the design briefs or – deeper still – its true purpose. At this, the all-new 2022 Kia EV6 — the company's first electric-only model — got me excited long before I'd slid into the driver's seat.

Just look at it. It visually sits somewhere between a crossover and a wagon, but no matter how you appraise it, it's stunning.

Kia has built electric cars in the past with the EV Niro and Soul, but this is the company's first clean-sheet design. It's part of why the EV6 can afford to be so bold. Based on the E-GMP EV architecture shared with sister company Hyundai – and used on new Hyundai Ioniq 5 – the EV6 is not just Kia's latest offering to electric car shoppers, it's a statement of intent to critics, consumers, and competitors alike that they can electrify with the best of the legacy and new-wave automakers, and look good doing it.

After I'd pulled myself away from the heckeblende tail lights and double-scalloped hood to surmise its spec sheet, it turns out the EV6 makes a solid statement on paper, too. Kia will offer it with three different drivetrains: The "Light" base model trim punches out 167 HP to solely the rear wheels, whereas the higher tier "Wind" and "GT-Line" trims can be optioned with either a single 225 HP motor driving the rear wheels, or a pair of AC synchronous motors — one at the front and one at the rear — putting out a combined 320 HP and a more-than-respectable 446 foot-pounds of torque.

Base buyers will find themselves with a 58 kWh battery rated at 232 miles of range, while the higher-trim Wind and GT-Line are rated at up to 310 miles on a single charge of their 77.4 kWh power pack. Additionally, Kia's fast-charging system can add over two hundred miles of range in 18 minutes assuming you can locate a 350 kW charger, which will help reduce travel times drastically when 310 miles alone just won't quite cut it. A port at the rear offers an alternative way to use power, providing a 110V outlet capable of delivering up to 1,900 watts with an adapter, though you can't – yet – plug the EV6 directly into a home's breaker board to overcome outages.

Pricing is competitive for the electric car market. Kia comes within extremely close range of nearly every competitor it hopes to put a shot across the bow of: the EV6 starts at $40,900 (plus $1,215 destination fee) for the Light trim, climbing to $55,900 for the fully-loaded twin-motor GT-Line AWD. Unlike with the Ioniq 5, Kia will sell the EV6 in all 50 states from the get-go.

No matter which trim buyers choose, they end up with a roomy vehicle that neatly straddles the line between wagon and crossover. With 50.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded, and a Telluride-length wheelbase of 114.2", it has the size of a crossover, but – with its 60.8" height, excellent forward visibility thanks to its low hoodline, and car-like seating position – it feels like driving a wagon. Buyers also get neatly integrated, dual 12.3 inch screens that serve as the instrument cluster and the infotainment and navigation displays. CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, albeit only with wired connectivity. Wireless charging, however, is standard from the base model up.

More impressive than comfort, though, is the suite of safety features on the EV6, which comes standard with Kia's unobtrusive yet phenomenally helpful Drive Wise assist package. Navigation-assisted cruise that automatically slows down on sharp corners, one of the best lane keep systems on the market, and stop-and-go traffic cruise control are all standard from the base Light trim level.

Buyers moving up to the GT-Line trim get standard blind-spot cameras that display via the instrument cluster on turn signal activation, as well as 360 degree parking cameras. In its fully-optioned form, it's almost difficult to drive the EV6 dangerously thanks to how comprehensive and well-integrated the Drive Wise system is.

But I've found that with a lot of the EV market's current offerings it is nearly impossible to glean how a car will actually behave from the numbers on the page, or the features in the cabin. ICE cars all have some familiar traits I've learned — a turbocharger's tsunami of torque when it spools, a V8's earthmoving grunt at low RPM — but this early into the days of electrification it's hard to surmise just how any given car will feel simply by glancing at some numbers. To help me learn just what the EV6 is made of, Kia tossed me the fobs to a pair of GT-Lines and set me loose in wine country.

And in the AWD, fully-loaded GT Line with Sport mode engaged, acceleration is downright stunning in true EV party-trick form, with .75 maximum G's upon launch. What's more impressive, though, is how well-composed the EV6 stays after it pulls off the line. As I continued to push the EV6 well past where a typical crossover should stay composed, it actually felt enjoyable to drive.

There's hardly any body roll to speak of, and the AWD does an excellent job scrambling for maximum grip, allocating power to the corners that need it most without hesitation. The electronic power steering is sharp and, combined with the extremely strong regenerative braking, helps move the 4,600 pound wagon around like it weighs a fraction as much.

Switching back to "Normal" or "Eco" modes, though, with their less-harsh regenerative braking mode engaged, makes it a vastly more sedate, comfortable crossover. In Eco, the acceleration becomes downright leisurely and efficient, thanks to a novel electric front motor clutch that allows the drive unit on the front axle to disengage when not needed. Additionally, despite the lack of body roll and general composure I found at the limit earlier in my drive, the suspension remains one of the most comfortable I've found at this price point when meandering through the hills of Northern California on the 101.

Road and tire noise is minimal, and that comfortable, car-like seating position makes eating miles a cinch. With the driver-assist package engaged, it's a pleasure cruise, especially ensconced in the vegan artificial leather the GT-Line is equipped with.

Unfortunately, despite my joy at finding the EV6 had both poise and comfort in motion, I had a few gripes with the ergonomics of the interior. The 12.3" main screen is a touch-activated unit, and while it's integrated beautifully in the dash, it is simply too far from the driver to be easily used while driving. The center console holds the capacitive-touch panel that activates seat and steering climate controls, and while it's easier to reach, it's also incredibly easy to bump accidentally with the palm of your hand while trying to adjust the climate control panel directly above it.

The Meridian sound system that the GT-Line is equipped with trails behind many other branded audio systems on the market, with a disappointing top end and minimal bass. And at a lanky 6'2", I found my head a bit uncomfortably close to the roofline, which made the EV6 feel a lot less roomy than I'd expect for a car of this size.

Despite these quibbles, though, the Kia is still a markedly compelling entry to the EV market. I found the driving dynamics preferable to the rival, similarly-priced Polestar 2. It offers nearly the same space of the Mustang Mach E while riding and looking like a much smaller vehicle. The interior, despite the less-than-ideal touchscreen positioning, is vastly more friendly to the driver than Volkswagen's ID.4 or Tesla's Model 3. And it does all this while offering driving range that puts it at the very top of the sub-$60,000 EV market.

As a result, the EV6 is an easily recommended must-test for a prospective EV shopper. It seamlessly combines the best attributes of a crossover and a wagon in one of the most attractive cars of the decade thus far, and does so at a price point that is extremely competitive. For Kia, it seems, the first time putting electric first is the charm.