Kia already has begun electrifying its line-up and, like most competitors, it plans to roll out an array of new models during the next few years – including a flagship SUV first teased at the Geneva Motor Show in 2019.
Now, what is known inside the South Korean company as the CV has been caught on the streets testing by Britain’s Auto Express, and the images suggest the new model is both quite close to the design of the concept and pretty well near ready for production.
The all-electric SUV is expected to serve as the new flagship for the Kia brand and, like the original Geneva concept, it is all but certain to carry the name Imagine – though a surprise could be in store considering Kia seems to be shifting to an alphanumeric nomenclature, as we see with the launch of the new K5 replacing the old Optima sedan.
There had been plenty of skeptics when the Kia Imagine concept first appeared nearly 18 months ago, but speaking at the Swiss show, Luc Donkerwolke, then Kia’s global design chief, said it was “not a free exercise (but) has a purpose … actually communicating with our customers” what would be coming to market. He also said that pretty much all the design elements on the Imagine concept were “feasible” for production, unlike many pie-in-the-sky show cars.
The one significant change to the Imagine concept that these spy shots suggest is the return to conventional rear doors. The Geneva concept featured rear suicide doors but the heavy camouflage on the coupe-style crossover visible here appears to put the rear handles where you’d expect on more conventional doors. But that could be an intentional trick. There is also a bit of blue tape stuck on the black camo where a handle for a rear-opening door might be.
Anyone still questioning plans for a production Imagine must take note of the plans outlined by Kia’s parent, the Hyundai Motor Group, which plans to spend 104 trillion Korean won, or around $87 billion, during the next five years on the development of both electric and autonomous vehicles, EVs expected to take the lion’s share of that investment. There will be an assortment of different products coming, from conventional hybrids to all-electric models like the Kia Imagine, as well as hydrogen-electric products following up on the current Hyundai Nexo model.
All three brands, including the Genesis luxury marque, as well as mainstream Kia and Hyundai, will electrify, and the group is targeting sales of around 1 million EVs by 2025.
Kia already has entered the electric arena with its green-focused Niro model which is offered in several different configurations, including an all-electric version. There’s also a second-generation version of the Soul EV.
But the Kia Imagine takes a big leap forward. Rather than squeezing batteries and motors into a platform originally designed for an internal combustion engine, the flagship SUV was designed, ground up, to be all-electric and will use the newly developed, skateboard-style E-GMP architecture that will underpin a variety of different Kia battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs. Among those will be a large Hyundai crossover that may be designated the 45 EV.
The approach offers numerous advantages. By mounting the motors and battery pack below the load floor there’ll be no intrusion on Imagine’s passenger compartment and, as these images suggest, the SUV features a relatively short hood since there’s no internal combustion engine to house up front, allowing for even more passenger and cargo space.
Since batteries are the heaviest element in an EV, mounting them low also drops the SUV’s center of gravity, enhancing handling. And, in developing the Imagine drivetrain, Kia reportedly relied on parent Hyundai’s new relationship with Rimac, the Croatian carmaker known for its electric supercars. That would suggest the Imagine will deliver tremendous power and 0 to 60 times that could come in at 3 seconds or less.
By comparison, the current Kia Niro needs nearly 8 seconds to hit 60 and delivers an EPA rating of 238 miles per charge.
As for power, the company has indicated the BEV will have range of “around 300 miles” using the latest generation of lithium-ion batteries. Meanwhile, the electrical architecture will be one of the first to handle the new 800-volt, 350-kilowatt quick chargers just beginning to pop up around the world. (Porsche’s Taycan is the only model currently on the road able to make full use of them.) If early comments prove accurate, Kia hopes to see charging times of less than 20 minutes.
Range is clearly a critical factor for potential EV buyers and, even in cold weather climes, the target for the Kia Imagine would make the BEV feasible for daily use. The charging time is still nearly three times more than it takes to fill an empty gas tank but is significantly better than anything currently available and, since most Americans are expected to continue charging up primarily at home, Kia could effectively eliminate two of the key barriers to entry for an EV.
Cost, meanwhile, would likely be less of an issue for those interested in a vehicle like the Kia Imagine, since it is targeting a less price-sensitive premium segment.
We hope to have more information on the Kia Imagine – including more precise timing on its launch – in the coming months.