Kia EV9 review

Kia EV9 review

We road test the Kia EV9 – the stellar South Korean brand’s all-new, all-electric flagship SUV

With its concept car looks, long range and effortless drive, the Kia EV9 is quite the statement.

About the same size as a BMW X5, it’s available as a six or seven-seater – the former sporting swivelling middle-row seats.

Kia EV9 review

Priced from £65,025, it’s expensive for a Kia, but you sure get big bang for your bucks. The big question is – will it tempt buyers away from prestige EV rivals from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz?

First impressions couldn’t be better. It’s an epic car with a bold, boxy design that focuses on maximising interior space and passenger comfort. And despite its size, the EV9 looks much better in the metal than it does in pictures.

Previewing Kia’s future design direction, the combination of a long wheelbase and completely flat floor creates generous space for all in the three rows of seats.

Kia EV9 review

And even with all the seats occupied, there’s still 333 litres of cargo space – expanding to a superb 828 litres with the third-row seats flipped, or an enormous 2,320 litres with the second and third-row seats folded down.

The Kia EV9 is equally impressive on a technical level. All models in the range come with a large 99.8kWh battery, and there are two electric motor options.

First up is the 201bhp Single Motor model that powers the rear wheels. Or step up to the Dual Motor all-wheel drive EV9, which has 378bhp and a massive 516lb ft of torque. If economy trumps performance on your tick-list, then the former delivers a claimed 349 miles of range, while the flagship model still offers a respectable 313 miles.

Kia EV9 review

Or to put it another way, the Single Motor can sprint from 0-62mph in 9.4 seconds (19-inch wheels), while the more potent model takes just 5.3 seconds (21-inch wheels).

Ultra-fast charging is standard, meaning 154 miles can be added in just 15 minutes. Or to put it another way, a 10-80% charge will take as little as 24 minutes via a 350kW connection. Naturally, it will also charge overnight at home, if you have a wallbox.

The Kia EV9 is generously equipped too, with a three-screen dash layout combining a 12.3-inch infotainment screen, a 12.3-inch driver’s display and a 5.3-inch touchscreen for the climate controls. With a few physical buttons thrown in too, it’s as logical and slick as ever – just what we’ve come to expect from Kia.

Kia EV9 review

There’s also wireless phone charging, Apple and Android connectivity, heated and cooled seats, a heated steering wheel, dual-zone air conditioning, LED lights all round, a 360-degree camera system, V2L charging, a power tailgate and a three-pin socket in the boot.

I haven’t even mentioned the long list of safety and driver assistance tech which helped to earn the EV9 a maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating, or the regenerative braking which is easily adjusted via paddles behind the steering wheel.

The overall build quality is hard to fault, while the interior materials (many of which are recycled) are just the job, though there’s still some way to go for Kia to be challenging the plush interiors of the big German premium brands.

Kia EV9 review

Once you’ve ‘stepped into’ the cabin, it instantly feels spacious and comfortable, with excellent visibility. You don’t feel perched, like some electric SUVs, and there’s plenty of seat adjustment.

I drove the Dual Motor EV9 in GT-Line S spec on a variety of roads around Aberdeen, Inverness and into the Scottish Highlands.

To say progress was relaxed and effortless would be an understatement. It feels big, especially in town and on narrower country roads, but for the most part it’s not an issue and it simply cruises silently along (wind and road noise are hardly noticeable). Ride quality is impressive and the steering is light-yet-accurate.

Gareth Herincx - Kia EV9

Despite its bulk, it manages to stay surprisingly flat in more challenging corners, but it would be an exaggeration to call it nimble. Helped by a low centre of gravity, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a 2.6 tonne car.

As you’d except from the AWD system, traction levels are superb. I didn’t get to try the EV9 off-road, but in addition to the steering wheel-activated Eco, Normal and Sport drive modes, there’s also a terrain mode button, giving the options of Mud, Snow and Sand.

There’s no shortage of power either, but if longer range is more important to you, it might be worth going for the Single Motor model.

Kia EV9 review

Freezing conditions probably didn’t help, but after a couple of days with the AWD EV9, average energy consumption was 2.5 miles/kWh, which is a tad disappointing. Nevertheless, that still equates to a tidy real-world range in the late 200s (more in an urban environment), and I’d hope the RWD version would be able to return around 300 miles.

Finally, a quick word about the seating. If you choose the seven-seater (it’s one of the few such EVs on the market), the third row is useable for adults (I managed perfectly well and I’m 5’11”) – partly because the second-row bench can slide back and forth.

Kia EV9 review

And the two individual ‘captain’s chair’ seats, which swivel and recline in the six-seater version, are a great gimmick, and certainly add to the car’s wow factor.

Verdict: The cool Kia EV9 is as impressive as it’s big. A statement car if ever there was one, this striking SUV is competitively-priced, spacious and safe; delivering an effortless drive and useable real-world range.

Kia UK

Kia EV9 review

Renault Austral E-Tech review

Renault Austral E-Tech

There’s no doubt that the Renault Austral E-Tech has serious kerb appeal, but what’s this classy full hybrid like to drive?

Over the years I’ve driven dozens of electric vehicles. And if you can charge from home and you’re open to a change of mindset, there’s every reason to switch.

However, running an EV is not without its issues, thanks to the patchy public charging infrastructure and high price of electricity at rapid chargers.

Which brings me to this week’s test car – the Renault Austral E-Tech. It’s a full hybrid, so there’s no need to plug it in to charge, and in theory it can travel up to 683 miles between fuel stops. No range anxiety there then!

Renault Austral E-Tech

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an EV evangelist, but for many motorists not ready to make the transition to 100% electric or without off-street parking, a full hybrid is the next best thing.

Sure, they are not as kind to the planet as EVs, but the Renault Austral E-Tech can run in EV mode for reasonable distances, emits as little as 105g/km CO2 and can achieve up to 60.1mpg.

And as full hybrids go (its rivals include the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, Nissan Qashqai e-Power, Honda ZR-V and Toyota RAV4), it’s definitely one of the best.

About the same size as another of its competitors (the Kia Sportage), Renault’s stylish replacement for the lacklustre Kadjar is a looker.

Renault Austral E-Tech

Priced from £34,695, the range begins with the Techno, which features 19-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights, flush roof bars and parking sensors with rear-view camera, plus a hands-free key card with keyless entry.

The Techno Esprit Alpine adds 20-inch wheels, black carbon fabric and Alcantara upholstery with blue stitching, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, electric power tailgate, electric driver and front passenger seats with massage function for driver, traffic/speed sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control with lane centring.

Top-of-the-range Iconic Esprit Alpine gets 4Control Advanced four-wheel steering, a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, 360-degree Around View camera, panoramic sunroof, and wireless phone charging.

Renault Austral E-Tech

So, as you can see, the Austral is well equipped. Additionally, all versions get a 12-inch infotainment touchscreen, a 12.3-inch digital driver’s display, 9.3-inch head-up display, plus a range of Google services built-in, including Google Maps, Google Assistant (voice control that works), and access to Google Play.

The Austral’s 196bhp hybrid system uses a gutsy new 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine, two electric motors and a small 2kWh battery.

Feeling swifter than the official 0-62mph acceleration time of 8.4 seconds, the Austral can travel in EV mode up to 70mph unless you plant your right foot, in which case the engine kicks in.

And joy of joys, there’s no CVT gearbox, which means the revs don’t go sky high when accelerating. Instead, the Austral E-Tech has a seven-speed automatic transmission (which uses Renault’s Formula 1-derived clutchless technology), driving the front wheels.

Renault Austral E-Tech

Our Techno Esprit Alpine test car also had four-wheel steering, giving the Austral E-Tech a 10.1m turning circle – that’s city car levels of manoeuvrability.

On the move, it allows the rear wheels to turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels at speeds of up to 30mph, helping to increase manoeuvrability. Plus, at speeds above 30mph, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels, for improved stability.

In fact, there’s a lot of clever stuff going on, including a suite of 30 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

The Renault Austral E-Tech always starts in EV mode, then zips along smoothly, delivering an impressive blend of electric and petrol power, enhanced by impressive cabin sound deadening. If you’re in hurry, there’s a hesitation while the system decides what it’s going to do, but broadly speaking, it’s a very slick.

Renault Austral E-Tech

The ride is firm, but such is the joy of that punchy electrically-boosted powertrain, all is forgiven.

It’s set up for sporty handling, and works well. The steering is on the light side and the four-wheel steering turns in rather too eagerly initially, but you get used to it and after a while your confidence grows.

There’s also decent grip from those big wheels, and when pushed on more challenging roads, body lean is kept in check and it’s more agile than you might expect for a crossover.

There are four levels of regenerative braking accessible via the steering paddles, and after a while, you learn to charge the battery on long downhill runs or when coasting and braking, ready to deploy when needed. And the good news is that 55mpg is relatively easy to achieve, and in town you can get closer to 60mpg or more.

Renault Austral E-Tech

The Renault Austral E-Tech is dark inside – everywhere from the seats to the headlining and door cards. That said, it has a premium feel and it seems solidly put together.

There’s plenty of space up front, even if the lowest driving position is a tad high for taller drivers. Sliding rear seats allow you to juggle space between rear passengers and boot capacity. At its most generous setting, boot space is a useful 555 litres, rising to 1,455 litres with the rear seats flipped down.

So, the Austral E-Tech isn’t perfect, but after a few days it really grows on you. And let’s face it, 600-odd miles out of a tank of petrol is very welcome.

Verdict: The Renault Austral E-Tech is one of the best full hybrid family SUVs on the market. Good-looking, classy, packed with tech, practical and economical, it should definitely be on any family car shortlist.

Renault UK

Toyota C-HR review

Toyota C-HR

We drive the latest version of Toyota’s popular C-HR family crossover – and it’s a big, bold step-up…

If a car could be judged purely on its styling, the second-generation Toyota C-HR would be best-in-class.

And when you consider that its biggest rivals include the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Skoda Karoq, Seat Ateca and Hyundai Tucson, that’s no mean feat.

Toyota C-HR

But before we weigh up the new C-HR’s pros and cons, let’s go back to 2017 when the first generation ‘Coupe-High Rider’ was launched in the UK.

With its radical looks, it was something of a departure for Toyota which was still selling the conservative Auris and Avensis at the time.

The funky C-HR was a chunky crossover with a low-slung roofline like a coupe. Distinctively styled with a big roof spoiler and sloping rear window, it was well-equipped, but it also wasn’t without its issues.

Toyota C-HR

Fast forward to 2023 and the all-new Toyota C-HR is a looker. A more grown-up version of the outgoing model, it boasts a wider stance and the original’s curves have been replaced by sharper lines and solid surfacing.

Once again there’s a heavily raked tailgate, though this time it features a dual-element rear spoiler and a full-width LED light bar below with an illuminated ‘C-HR’.

At the front, it features the new ‘hammerhead’ face of Toyota SUVs, while the ‘hidden’ raised rear door handles are no more (they’ve been replaced by retractable ones, front and rear). Overall build quality, interior materials and technology have also been upgraded.

Toyota C-HR

Priced from £31,290, the new model launches initially with 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines paired with Toyota’s latest fifth-generation full hybrid technology that ups both power and efficiency.  A 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid will arrive in 2024.

The 1.8-litre delivers 138bhp and the 2.0-litre ups power to 194bhp. Official figures put fuel economy at 60.1mpg and 57.6mpg respectively, while CO2 emissions are from 105g/km and 110g/km.

Both engines are front-wheel drive (there’s no AWD option) and a 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid (with an EV range of up to 41 miles) will join the C-HR line-up in 2024.

Toyota C-HR

First impressions count, and the second-gen Toyota C-HR certainly oozes kerb appeal, especially if you choose a two-tone paint-job.

In terms of size, its dimensions are almost identical to the Suzuki S-Cross, which makes it a tad smaller than its main competitors (including the Nissan Qashqai), but bigger than the class below (eg Nissan Juke).

The driving position is on the high side for me, but you soon get used to it because it’s comfortable with a decent amount of support.

Toyota C-HR - Gareth Herincx

There are roomier cabins, not just because the C-HR isn’t as wide as some rivals, but the driver focused set-up with high centre console makes it snug, especially on the passenger side.

The good news is that the 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen (on all but entry trims) combined with the driver’s digital display looks the part and works well enough. And mercifully, the C-HR has some physical controls for essentials such as air-conditioning – unlike some new cars.

There’s reasonable space for passengers at the back, while the cabin as a whole has a classier feel, with more soft-touch surfaces.

Toyota C-HR

Toyota’s also ticked the sustainability box because the seat fabrics are made from recycled plastic bottles and there’s animal-free ‘leather’ on the steering wheel.

Load capacity varies between the two engines – 388 litres (1.8) and 364 litres for the 2.0. Again, not class-leading, but adequate. All models come with 60/40 split-folding rear seats.

Visibility is good ahead, but slightly more challenging behind thanks to those chunky rear pillars and small rear windows. Thankfully, all versions have a reversing camera.

Toyota C-HR

The C-HR has a fairly supple suspension and it handles lumps and bumps well. So, it’s one of the more comfortable SUVs on the market.

Light steering suits its natural urban habitat well, but the C-HR is also a pleasant cruiser. It would be an exaggeration to call it dynamic on twistier roads, but there are good levels of body control and decent grip.

We tested both engines (not the GR Sport grade), and both balance performance with economy, delivering 10.2sec and 8.1sec respectively for the 0-62mph sprint.

Toyota C-HR

The issue with both is that there’s a CVT automatic gearbox which causes the revs to rise and stay high until you’ve reached your desired speed. The din in the cabin soon settles down, but it puts you off driving anything but smoothly.

Interestingly, the more powerful 2.0-litre hybrid engine is a little more refined, so manages to iron out the worst of the CVT better.

Toyota C-HR

The C-HR slips between electric and engine modes seamlessly, and can be driven along for short distances using the electric motor alone, so all in all, the claimed economy figures are very achievable.

Finally, it’s always worth remembering that the C-HR comes with a three-year warranty that extends up to 10 years/100,000 miles so long as your car is serviced annually at an authorised Toyota workshop.

Verdict: The cool new Toyota C-HR is a real step-up from the first-generation model. Easy to drive, economical, well equipped and classy, it certainly stands out from the crowd.

Toyota UK

Lexus RX 500h review

Lexus RX 500h

We get behind the wheel of the sporty RX 500h – the first-ever turbocharged Lexus hybrid…

The three Cs (‘confidence, control and comfort’) are the cornerstones of the Lexus driving experience.

There’s no mention of ‘sport’, yet the latest version of the big RX SUV we’ve been testing seems to embrace performance and driver engagement as much as the three Cs.

Lexus RX 500h

What’s more, efficiency takes a back seat too, along with another Lexus fixture – the much-maligned CVT transmission.

So. the RX 500h (marketed as a ‘performance hybrid’) is a genuine curiosity and marks something of a departure for Toyota’s upmarket sister brand.

Just to recap, the original RX 450h was the world’s first luxury hybrid SUV when it was launched in 2005.

Lexus RX 500h

The RX is now in its fifth generation and buyers can choose from a 350h hybrid or 450h plug-in hybrid, plus the new range-topping 500h.

All offer four-wheel drive, but the 500h is the first-ever Lexus turbocharged hybrid.

The 500h mates a 2.4-litre petrol engine with two electric motors (front and rear) and a conventional six-speed automatic gearbox.

Lexus RX 500h

For the record, the engine develops 366bhp and 550Nm torque, translating into a brisk 0-62mph acceleration time of 6.2 seconds.

There’s also a new ‘Direct4’ torque-vectoring electric rear axle and four-wheel steering.

Priced from a hefty £77,195 and available in F Sport or Takumi trim, the 500h looks much the same as its siblings (the 350h and 450h ) which is no bad thing, and it’s a tad smaller than a BMW X5.

Lexus RX 500h

The RX’s design has subtly evolved from the previous generation. It’s retained much the same shape and athletic presence, but the styling is sharper and more refined, while its new pointy nose (complete with trademark Lexus spindle grille) is the biggest change.

Inside, the RX is luxurious, comfortable and beautifully built. The cabin is light and spacious, and there’s ample leg and headroom in the back.

You can then add 461 litres of luggage capacity (seats up) or 621-litre (seats up, loaded to the roof), expanding to 1,678 litres with the rear seats folded.

Lexus RX 500h

On the tech front, the latest RX has ditched the previous model’s fiddly touchpad infotainment control and there’s now a more conventional 14-inch central touchscreen, alongside a digital driver’s display. The system is on the quirky side and takes some getting used to, but it’s an improvement on RXs of old.

However, it’s on the road that the Lexus RX 500h (we tested it in F-Sport trim) comes into its own.

Firstly, the old-school auto gearbox has transformed the RX 500h. Gone are the days of easing the accelerator in order to avoid the temporary din of high engine revs (a CVT gearbox foible). Instead, the six-speed shifts smoothly with just the right hint of aggression.

Lexus RX 500h

It’s a big 4×4 and weighs 2.1 tonnes, so it’s never going to be the kind of car that can barrel up to fast corners and get away with it, but thanks to some clever tech, it’s more capable and fun than you might think.

Body lean is better controlled than lesser RXs, and there’s plenty of grunt, especially in the mid-range.

The steering is responsive and there’s a powerful engine note, while the hybrid system works imperceptibly in the background.

Lexus RX 500h

The ride is in on the firm side, but on A-roads and motorways, it’s the composed and confident cruiser you’d expect from a Lexus.

Of course, no car is perfect, and the Lexus RX 500h is no exception. Lexus claims it can return 34.0-35.3 mpg, yet we managed closer to 25mpg. With a bit of restraint 30-ish mpg is possible, but considering Lexus’s pioneering hybrid history, we expected more.

Verdict: The Lexus RX 500h is something of a revelation. The addition of a conventional automatic gearbox, a turbocharged petrol hybrid powertrain and other clever tech delivers performance and attitude to an already accomplished big SUV.

Lexus UK

Jeep Avenger review

Jeep Avenger

We get behind the wheel of the Avenger compact SUV – Jeep’s first battery-powered vehicle

Sharing an EV platform with its Stellantis group cousins – the Peugeot e-2008, Vauxhall Mokka Electric and DS 3 E-Tense – the all-new Jeep Avenger has caused quite a stir.

Not only is it the first Jeep to be created outside of America (designed in Italy, built in Poland), but it also marks the return of the Avenger name, which was once familiar to British buyers.

Jeep Avenger

Older readers might remember that it once ‘graced’ the Hillman Avenger family car (later Chrysler Avenger and Talbot Avenger), which was manufactured in the UK between 1970-81.

So, this all-new, all-electric baby Jeep is a talking point. It’s also an award-winner, because it’s already been crowned European Car of the Year 2023. So, no pressure there then…

Jeep Avenger

Starting at £35,700, it’s pitched right in the midst of a competitive sector. As well as its aforementioned in-house rivals, others include the Hyundai Kona Electric, Kia Niro EV, MG ZS EV and Honda e:Ny1.

There’s no doubt that the chunky and cute Jeep Avenger is one of the best lookers of the bunch with its classic crossover shape.

Sporting short overhangs and extra ground clearance, there’s plenty of Jeep DNA with the signature seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel arches, protective cladding and ‘X’ tail-lights.

Jeep Avenger

Initially available as just a single-motor front-wheel drive (a dual-motor 4×4 version is also planned) with 154bhp and 260Nm of torque, its 54kWh battery is good for up to 249 miles of range (342 miles in city driving), while a 0-62mph sprint takes 9.6 seconds.

The Avenger’s 100kW maximum charging speed means a 10-80% top-up should take just under 30 minutes. Naturally, it will also charge fully overnight if you have a home wallbox.

Jeep Avenger

Inside, there’s ample headroom front and rear, but it’s cosy in the back for passengers with longer legs. The Avenger’s 355-litre boot expands to 1,053 litres with the back seats folded, while accessibility is good.

The cabin itself looks pretty tough, but there are too many black plastic and hard surfaces, while the leather seats in our test car weren’t very forgiving.

It’s fairly minimalist up front, though thankfully there are shortcut buttons under the 10.25-inch central touchscreen for necessities such as climate control. There’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, plus a built-in TomTom sat-nav.

Jeep Avenger

The driving position is on the high side, and it would be nice to have the option to sit lower, but you soon adjust.

On the road it feels a bit quicker than the official acceleration figure suggests, thanks to the instant torque. Wind and road noise is well suppressed, even on poorer surfaces, which is a feat in itself, because EVs run so quietly and the slightest sound is noticeable.

Overall, the ride is firm, but it’s nimble and handles well. Body lean is kept in check on more challenging roads, while the steering is nicely weighted. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of pedal travel before the brakes bite, denting your confidence to push on.

Jeep Avenger - Gareth Herincx

You can’t adjust the brake regeneration level via paddles behind the steering wheel either – instead you have to select ‘B’ mode on the gear selector or drive in Eco mode.

Without spending a week or so with the car, it’s hard to estimate the Avenger’s real-world range, but we’d say around 200 miles is possible and this should increase in an urban environment.

And as you’d expect from a cool compact crossover, the Avenger is probably in its element in built-up areas. Easy to drive with a fairly tight turning circle of 10.5 metres, visibility isn’t bad either. And where it’s not perfect, there’s a good selection of cameras and sensors.

Jeep Avenger

What’s more, generous cladding around the car should help to cushion most car park dings, while the headlights and rear light clusters are slightly recessed, so that there’s less chance of damage there too.

In all, there are six driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport, Sand, Mud and Snow. As ever, Normal is just fine, while Eco and Sport dull and boost throttle response respectively.

We tried some gentle off-roading and traction is improved slightly with Sand and Mud modes selected, which means it could be a next best after 4x4s in the snow.

Jeep Avenger

However, the forthcoming four-wheel drive model will be the one to go for if you have to tackle muddy fields and more extreme conditions on a regular basis.

With hill descent control, short overhangs and raised ride height, plus 20 degrees of approach angle and 32 degrees of departure angle, it certainly has off-road potential.

Finally, there are three well equipped trim levels (Longitude, Altitude and Summit) and there’s plenty of scope for personalisation thanks to various decals, body paints, contrasting ‘floating’ roof colours and accessories.

Verdict: We really rate the Jeep Avenger – an impressive debut EV from the iconic American brand. Compact, cool and competitively-priced, it has a useful range, good charging speed and is more rugged than most of its rivals.

Jeep UK

Jeep Avenger