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Kia’s EV9 vs the Lexus RX 450H+


I hope I did not hurt her feelings. I blurted it out too fast for my internal editor to give it a second look.

I had just parked the 2024 Kia EV9. Its blocky, flat silver matte exterior—” Soviet” is my colleague Dave Boldt’s apt description—caught her attention. As with every parking lot conversation I have had since 1998 about the 100 or so cars I annually evaluate, the other person assumed I was a new owner. My internal editor sees correcting the impression as a timewaster.

“What do you think of it?” 

“It’s one of the best vehicles I’ve ever touched,” I replied. “It has amazing power, great handling, is whisper quiet, and is a technological tour-de-force.”

“Harrumph,” she shot back. “I will never drive an electric.”

Sensing I had stumbled into one of those red-state-blue-state moments that poison American discourse these days, I resisted the temptation to point out that her statement made as much sense as saying, “I’ve never tasted a hot-fudge sundae, and I never will.”

I also resisted my journalist’s obsession with facts. Though headlines scream about the downfall of the electric vehicle, the truth is that only Tesla is seeing its share of an expanding market shrink, mainly because legacy automakers are offering better and more cost-competitive products. 

In 2023, American sales of all-electric vehicles, BEVs in the jargon, increased by 46% to 1.1 million cars, or about 8% of the market. However, sales of hybrid and plug-in vehicles, HEVs, and PHEVs, shot up 76% and now command twice as many sales as BEVs. Combined, electrified vehicles constituted over one-fourth of all new vehicle sales in the U.S. in 2023.

Instead, I softly smiled and blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“Yes, you will. These are so much better cars.”

The look in her eye told me she remained unmoved. My internal editor must have gone out for a coffee break because I took the bait.

“This one will cost about $100 a month for fuel. Maintenance for the first year involves changing the windshield wipers and rotating the tires. How much do you spend keeping that on the road? I asked, nodding toward her Hemi®-powered behemoth, which had a pickup bed as spotless as the day she drove it off the lot.

The pained wince and roll of her eyes told me I had struck home but that she was willing to overlook her $125-a-week oil habit in the interest of political purity.

I tried to extract myself gracefully.

“But you are right. Now is not the time to buy one,” I added, echoing Toyota’s oft-criticized position. “Prices are too high, the charging network is underdeveloped, and significant advances in battery technology are just over the horizon. In 3-5 years, we will have electric vehicles that cost less than $35,000, have 750 miles of range, and last a million miles.”

I was positive she flat-out did not believe me, but I was equally sure I had told her the truth.

Hey, I made the splendid drive to Atlanta State Park—the crown jewel of northeast Texas—to absorb the forest’s serene beauty, not to debate.

Amazing new or refined old?

One of the best parts of this job is the opportunity to witness firsthand the evolutionary changes sweeping across the automotive industry. In recent weeks, my driveway has housed two of the best-driving midsize SUVs ever conceived, engineered, and executed.

The 2024 Lexus RX 450 H+ PHEV and the 2024 Kia EV9 Land represent two compelling options for buyers seeking luxury, performance, and environmental consciousness. Both set new expectations for the niche but arrive by different routes.

The EV9 advances an emerging technology into a capable and flexible vehicle that provides room, comfort, and safety. Using clean-sheet designs for driveline, frame, and suspension components, it is astonishingly fast on pavement yet powerfully competent off the beaten path.

The RX 450H+, on the other hand, is more like the climax of a symphony whose overture Toyota/Lexus first introduced a quarter-century ago in the Prius. Toyota’s fourth-generation hybrid tech is like that magical convergence of themes, melodies, and harmonies that brings an evocative score to life. 

Look up anybody’s list of the ten most reliable used vehicles; at least five will be Toyota or Lexus hybrids. Electric motors do not wear out — think ceiling fans — and sharply reduce the demands placed on gas engines.

Breaking the oil habit

Despite weighing 4,800 lbs., the 450H+ can reach a top speed of 124 mph while drawing power from a 2.5-L inline-four gas engine plus two magnet-driven electric motors fore and aft. The combination of gasoline and electric power gives the Lexus an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 36 mpg.

There is more. The plus sign indicates the 450H+ is a plug-in hybrid or PHEV. Connected to a 110-volt outlet at night, the Lexus stores up enough energy to go 37 miles using zero gasoline. That matches what the U.S. Department of Transportation says the average American drives daily.

Naturally, Individual ratios of miles driven by electrical to gas power will vary widely. The EPA’s algorithm says the 450H+ will average 83 mpg. Coincidentally, the agency also says the sharply lower price of electricity allows the EV9 to cost as much to get down the road as a vehicle getting 83 mpg.

Blonde Bride and I bought a Ford Escape PHEV six months ago. During that time, we spent $32 on gas and $12 on electricity (My blue-eyed beauty keeps meticulous records). That calculates to $8.67 monthly for fuel and an average of 122 mpg. Yes, it costs more than a regular Escape, but comes from an American factory, so we received a $4,000 federal income tax credit. With fuel savings, we will break even on the additional cost in less than a year.

Note: HEVs are not eligible for a tax credit; only EVs and PHEVs are eligible. Internal editor abhors acronyms, but ignorance will cost many thousands of dollars over the life of a new vehicle.

The EPA estimates the EV9 will cost $900 a year to fuel and the 450H+ $1,250. A similarly sized Kia Telluride or Ford Explorer costs around $2,750 annually. A Tahoe or Expedition will cost around $3,400, or $283 a month. 

Fast, sure-footed

Electric motors are all about torque, that lovely force we feel when we jam down the throttle. These vehicles will leave soccer moms and pickup trucks in the dust. The Lexus hits 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, a full second quicker than the average midsize SUV. The EV9, which weighs 5,885 lbs., does it in 4.5 seconds. That is in the same league as an Acura NSX, Toyota GR Supra, Mercedes-Benz S600, Porsche Boxster…

Power without control is no fun at all, and both the Lexus and Kia are astonishingly crisp while zipping through winding hilly roads. Computers guide torque output to each wheel at the right corner at the right moment. Combine that with flawless vehicle stability systems, and both exhibit handling limits far more significant than most people are willing to try.

The EV9 is particularly astonishing. Pushed through tight turns, it is a rocket sled on rails.

Considering that everything is drive-by-wire, and that driver feedback is a function of software, not mechanical connectors, the vehicle is dialed in well. The steering feels weighted, reminding the driver that this is a hefty machine.

That mass allows it to traverse a deplorably maintained county road while insulating passengers from uneven, falling, and potholed tarmac. 

Crawling underneath this machine reveals how that happens. The most significant piece of mass, the battery pack, is centered amid a stamped body structure and fastened with through-bolts. It is aligned with the driveline, giving the car balance, structural continuity, and well-integrated collision protection.

Aluminum control arms in the rear and A-arms in the front are pricey for the niche but provide a premium ride and control feel.

Switch on the torque monitor, which shows power being applied to each wheel, and one begins to understand why this tiger perpetually screams across the landscape with all four feet on the ground. 

The 450 H+ is no slouch through the twisties, either. Thanks to its refined suspension system and advanced chassis dynamics, it delivers a smooth and comfortable ride and strikes a lovely balance between comfort and handling. It, too, is a joy to drive.

External styling

Outside, there is no confusion between the two. The Lexus RX 450+ exudes elegance and sophistication with its sharp lines, bold spindle grille, and sleek LED headlights. 

In contrast, the 2024 Kia EV9 Land embraces a futuristic design language with a sleek profile, sculpted lines, and distinctive LED lighting elements. With door handles that recess when not in use and a coefficient of drag similar to a Lear Jet, the EV9’s design suggests modernity and innovation.

Reviewers my age tend not to find the EV9 appealing, but this car aims for Gen Z, not Baby Boomers.

Focus on comfort

Cabin comfort is a crucial factor when considering a high-end vehicle, so it is critical for models such as these that start in the mid-50s and can stretch past $75,000. 

Both are loaded with amenities and are exceedingly comfortable, but they take different paths. The RX 450+ offers a refined and luxurious interior featuring high-quality materials, spacious seating for up to five passengers, and excellent noise insulation for a serene riding experience. 

The Kia EV9 has more of an upscale factory vibe, relying on recycled plastics rather than wood trim to create ambiance. It focuses on simplicity and modern aesthetics. With a flat floor, it provides best-in-class headroom and legroom and a charging port at every seat.

Infotainment and Safety Technology

Neither machine attempts autonomous driving, but both offer state-of-the-art accident-avoidance technology, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and automatic emergency braking. The Lexus RX 450+ has a user-friendly infotainment system featuring a large touchscreen display, smartphone integration, and a premium sound system.

The Kia EV9 showcases a cutting-edge infotainment system with connectivity options and advanced safety features. Every seat has a USB port.

Which to buy?

Range matters.

You can get a base EV9 with an extended-range battery for about $60,000, or about $4,000 more than a top-of-the-line Telluride. That will give you an estimated 309 miles, but we can tell you from experience to expect far less than that if driving at Texas interstate speeds.

The 450H+, on the other hand, with a 14.5-gallon fuel tank plus 37 miles of all-electric driving, can go an estimated 550 miles. More importantly, there is a filling station on every corner.

Both of our testers came with a 110-volt charging device. I topped up the Lexus every night, and, despite a couple of road trips to cover sporting events, it had ¾-tank when the nice man came to retrieve it.

The EV9 struggled at night to recoup the miles put on it every day. This is significant because we live in a town without level 3 chargers. Although Kia has agreed to accept the North American charging standard for Tesla chargers, the adapters will not be available until late this year. 

When the other nice man came to pick up the Kia, I had left it on the charger for 48 hours, and it said it had 70 miles of range. That left him to decide whether to drive 20 miles to Hope or 60 miles to Mount Pleasant before heading toward Dallas.

A 220-volt level 2 charger would fully charge the car every night. An electrician can install a circuit inexpensively. Still, the best course would be installing the hardware that switches the EV9 to a home generator that can power specific circuits in case of a power failure.

With this area’s lack of public charging, the EV9 is a fantastic around-town car but nothing more. If I had had to go on a road trip that week, it would have been in my old Toyota Highlander HEV, whose batteries are still going strong after 17 years.

At this point, then, the nod goes to the Lexus PHEV.

Here is the good news: Toyota/Lexus already has half a dozen PHEV vehicles on the street and plans to double that. The internal editor thinks that is the clever play for now.

In four decades of journalism, Bill Owney has picked up awards for his coverage of everything from murders to the NFL to state and local government. He added the automotive world to his portfolio in the mid '90s.

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