We’ve long passed the point of asking how much horsepower is too much horsepower. It used to be a question of engine capability. When turbochargers went mainstream, it became a question of drivability; then, once the industry figured those out, it became a question of grip. As tires started to catch up, it became a question of responsibility and, then, sheer decency. Now, the only question is this: how much do you want?
The car you see pictured here is a compact Kia SUV with 576 horsepower — 576. Nissan’s all-conquering R35 GT-R? That makes 565 horsepower and comes complete with a price tag of well over $100,000.
And yet, you’re looking at a practical, comfortable, and, at just a tick over $60,000, relatively affordable car that not only looks phenomenal but also runs completely on batteries. Yes, all of this is possible thanks to the beauty of electrification and the genius engineers at Kia, who have bestowed upon us the EV6 GT. It’s a wonderful car, but there’s a catch: this thing is so effortlessly quick that it almost takes the fun out of it.
This GT flavor of Kia’s double-take machine, the EV6, has seen some considerable upgrades over the $48,700 base rear-wheel drive model. Where that car makes do with a (still strong) 225 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, this GT model makes 576 horsepower and 545 pound-feet of torque. That comes from two motors — one in the front and one at the back — putting power down to all four wheels.
The front motor generates 160 kilowatts, and the rear does 270. To ensure that power gets to the ground, an electronically actuated limited slip differential splits power between the rear wheels, each wearing a generous 21-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 tire. (Usually, anyway. Mine came on snow tires. More on that in a moment.)
While power is up in a big, big way, the battery pack size has not grown to match. And that’s the first rub of the GT: range. While the base rear-wheel drive EV6 can do up to 310 miles on a charge, according to the EPA’s range test, the GT’s range aspirations are a bit more modest: just 206 miles, per the EPA.
In my testing, I averaged 2.5 miles per kWh, which works out, theoretically, to a maximum range of 193.5 miles from the 77.4kWh battery — just short of the EPA’s estimates. But I need to state a few very important caveats. First, there are the aforementioned Pirelli Scorpion snow tires. Even modern EV-optimized snows will carry a measurable range penalty, so keep that in mind.
Second, I did my testing in the middle of January, with temperatures hovering at or just above freezing on most days. The EV6 GT does have a heat pump to maximize efficiency in chilly conditions like these, but low temps are never an EV’s friend.
The third caveat is the most significant: I drove the hell out of this thing. Other than some time spent droning on the highway, I spent much of my time in GT mode with maximum power and responsiveness, demanding every bit of power I could get out of those two motors.
GT mode is accessed by a little green button to the lower right of the wheel. The color makes the button hard to miss, but you’ll know when you’ve touched it because the car immediately lurches forward.
The color makes the button hard to miss, but you’ll know when you’ve touched it because the car immediately lurches forward
This could be seen as playful, but it could also be seen as a failure of the car to temper the changing of the throttle map. A throttle map is literally how much power the car delivers for a given amount of pedal application. An aggressive throttle map, like on GT mode, means quick acceleration with just a light brush of the gas pedal. A relaxed throttle map, like on Eco, requires a bigger movement.
Most cars ease the transition when changing from one mode to the next, but not the EV6 GT. If you’re tooling around in Eco mode and pop into GT, the car immediately snaps to this next twitchier mapping, also snapping the heads of your passengers back into their headrests. If you’re not careful, it’ll send your car flying into the bumper of the car ahead, too. In time, you’ll learn to lift off the gas before hitting that GT button, but you really shouldn’t have to.
This twitch does at least give everyone in the car fair warning of the violence that is to come. Put simply, the EV6 GT does not pull any punches. It is relentlessly rapid around town. See that gap in traffic? You’re there. Light about to turn red? Hit the accelerator, and you’ll shift its spectrum entirely.
The accelerative brutality only eases when you get up to highway speeds. Here, the torque of the Kia’s electric motors tapers, and that’s for the best. You don’t really want a car that jumpy at that speed. It’s better to toggle down to a more sedate drive mode, save a few watts, and soften the adaptive suspension while you’re at it.
The EV6 is still firm on rough roads even in comfort mode, jostling a bit over separation joints and the like, but most of the time, it’s a fine cruiser that’s comfortable and quiet. In fact, I’d say the EV6 GT does a better job at cruising than corner attacking. Even in GT mode, with the suspension on its most firm, the handling is sedate. I think this mostly comes down to steering that feels sluggish off the center thanks to the variable ratio and, problematically, never offers much in the way of feel. While the throttle pedal loves to shout, the steering wheel is always muted.
Weird and wonderful
Any EV6 is worth a second look back in the parking lot — and the GT even more so. Though Kia’s chosen color palette leaves a bit to be desired (red, blue, white, black, or silver), the GT looks fresh and clean in red, despite the clashing chartreuse calipers. The EV6 looks like nothing else on the road. Its styling is wild and weird and wonderful, a medley of organic forms bisected by creases and LED lighting to form what looks like a cyberpunk canvas.
The inside is a lot less radical but no less appealing. Funky patterns etched across the soft-touch dashboard and matched elsewhere on the interior pair nicely with the faux brushed steel ahead of the rotary shifter and the overall mishmash of shapes and planes. Plastics and materials are generally good, from the suede door card inserts to the leather on the bespoke GT seats. Only an expanse of glossy, fingerprinty piano black lets the overall effect down.
Black is very much the theme here. Chartreuse stitching and piping on the front seats help a bit, and RGB customizable accent lighting zhuzh things up at night, but much of the details inside this car just sort of fade into a monotone background.
Regardless, the interior is eminently practical, with comfortable seating for five grown adults, plenty of headroom front or rear, and acres of legroom on the flat floor for rear passengers. Those seats, of course, fold down, giving room for 50.2 cubic feet of stuff, but don’t go looking for extra storage up front. Yes, there is a little cargo cubby up under the hood, but it’s barely big enough to store a charging cable and maybe a personal pie — but only if you prefer thin crust.
Kia’s UVO infotainment experience runs across two 12.3-inch displays joined at the hip, with a generous bezel between them. This system is so ubiquitous now, found in some flavor across basically every modern Kia, Hyundai, and Genesis, that it’s hard to get excited about finding it here. It feeds your media through a powerful, if a bit boomy, Meridian sound system. Though basic, UVO is snappy and responsive with support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, though sadly, not wirelessly.
Also sad? UVO has not seen any real customization for the EV6 GT. Proper performance editions from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and others come replete with fancy lap timers and integrated G meters, dials and knobs for fiddling with differential settings, and all sorts of goodies that make those performance cars feel special enough to earn their exorbitant premiums.
There’s nothing of the sort here, not even in the cool augmented reality heads-up display, which will project an arrow over your next turn on the road — if you don’t mind using the mediocre built-in navigation experience. Kia didn’t even add any new Dynamic Sound modes. These fake engine noises are occasionally fun, especially Dynamic, which does an almost compelling job of aping a combustion engine with a little digital flare. It even has a somewhat lumpy idle that does help to get your juices flowing a bit, but it probably won’t be long before you disable it again.
Weirdly, the pitch of these sounds seems tied not to the power output of the motors but, instead, to how far you’re pushing down the accelerator, which means that, for a given speed, the EV6 GT is actually louder in Eco mode than in GT. That ain’t right.
The gauge cluster dynamically reconfigures itself to match the drive mode. Push the GT button on the wheel, and the gauge cluster pops into a sportier, cleaner mode of swooping gradients. It wouldn’t look out of place in Tron, if Tron had more fluorescent greens and fewer cool blues.
A somewhat sedate rocket ship
It really is a shame that the EV6 GT doesn’t have a little more pizzazz and a lot more feel to match its wild performance. It is an absolute rocket ship, a car where speed is provided at an almost 1-to-1 ratio with the angle of your right foot. That ease of acceleration is thrilling, but the lack of engagement from the steering and the somewhat relaxed handling just make the whole thing feel a little less special than I wanted.
But special or not, the EV6 GT is a phenomenal car and a proper achievement. Remember, this is Kia’s first performance-oriented EV ever — and for less than a $13,000 premium over a base EV6. If you don’t mind losing the range, then this is one splurge that’s hard to resist. After all, it’s not every day you can have all the horsepower you could ever want and never have to feel the least bit guilty about it.
Photography by Tim Stevens for The Verge