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2023 Kia EV6 GT First Drive Review: 576-HP Electric Thrill Ride

The EV6 GT's great power comes at the cost of some practicality, but for performance like this, that's price I'm willing to pay.

2023 Kia EV6 GT
With gobs of linear electric torque, the EV6 GT is the fastest accelerating Kia yet.
Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Take one of my favorite affordable electric cars and add a massive dose of additional power; with a formula like that, it's no surprise that I've come away from my first drive of the 2023 Kia EV6 GT with stars in my eyes. The GT isn't just the quickest EV6 variant, it's the quickest production car the brand's ever built, hauling ass from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a blistering 3.4 seconds, leaving many sports coupes and roadsters staring at its hot little hatch as it rockets away. However, satisfying that need for speed comes at a price -- both a direct increase to the bottom line and indirect reductions in efficiency and range -- that affects the EV6's stellar value.

Power up

No one with a pulse would call the standard EV6 AWD's 320 horsepower and 446 pound-feet of torque slow, but the EV6 GT is on a completely different level. That's because the GT's electric motor configuration is also completely different. Kia's engineers took the more powerful 160-kilowatt rear electric motor from the standard EV6 and moved it to the front axle. They then sourced an even more powerful 270-kW motor to fill in at the rear via a limited slip differential. Together, the dual motor system delivers a combined 576 horsepower and 546 pound-feet, a gain of 256 ponies and 99 torques over the previous best.

The rubber meets the road via a set of Z-rated 255/40R21 Goodyear Eagle F1 performance tires wrapped around unique 21-inch wheels. More power and more grip earn the EV6 GT that 3.4-second 0 to 60 mph claim. It's 1.3 seconds quicker than Kia's own twin-turbo V6-powered Stinger GT2 -- quicker, Kia likes to point out, than a Ferrari California T, Porsche 911 Targa 4 or Mercedes-AMG GT. However, the EV6 GT's 161-mph top speed means that the 167-mph Stinger is still the fastest car in Kia's lineup.

I am able to test the EV6's acceleration at the drag strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, all four tires squealing momentarily on the prepared launch surface as I floor the accelerator for the launch. The whine of the electric motors take over, accompanied only by the rush of wind before crossing the line at the end of the quarter-mile in just 11.64 seconds at 118.4 miles per hour. To repeatedly deliver full-send acceleration, the battery must be above 70% and battery temperature must be optimized by activating a Maximum Power Output Mode toggle in the EV6's menus. Drop below that state of charge and the EV6 may offer less power, but not so much that I noticed in the sportiest drive modes on the road.

I do notice that Kia's Active Sound Design noise generator has had the volume turned up on its combustion-motor-sound-alike Dynamic setting. It's more aggressive and, when stopped, you can even "rev the engine" with the accelerator pedal for a bit of gimmicky fun that can only be heard in the cabin. Meanwhile, the Stylish and Cyber sound themes are unchanged and just as quiet as in CNET Cars' new long-term EV6 Wind. The EV6 GT is best experienced with the Active Sound Design turned off for mostly unadulterated silent running punctuated by a bit of increased electric drivetrain whine during full-throttle acceleration.

Slight tweaks to the front and rear bumpers give the EV6 GT a more aggressive appearance.

Kia

Handling upgrades

There's more to the EV6 GT than just power. The electric hot hatch also features an upgraded suspension with new electronically controlled active dampers and a ride that is noticeably more firm and responsive in all of its drive modes. Ride height, interestingly, is unchanged. The GT's chassis has been stiffened at strategic points to give the suspension a better platform under which to work, and the steering has been retuned to a tighter 2.30 turns from lock-to-lock, faster than the 2.67 turns for the rest of the lineup.

I've already mentioned the enlarged wheels and sticky rubber. Peer behind the spokes and you'll spot the EV6's boldest exterior features, the neon-green big brake upgrade. Up front, four-piston calipers grab 15-inch rotors while single-pots with 14.2-inch discs live at the rear. More than just a good look, the enlarged stoppers shave 6.6-feet off of the EV6 GT's stopping distance, braking from 62 mph in 141 feet. 

More importantly, the brakes boost consistency and fade resistance for the 5,732-pound EV6 GT (176 pounds heavier than a GT-Line model) during more aggressive street and track driving at higher potential speeds.

The EV6 shines on the road in its unique GT mode. Thumbing this neon green button sets the powertrain, suspension, steering and stability programs to their most aggressive, transforming the already responsive E-GMP chassis into a backroad plaything. Noticeably more road noise and bumps make their way into the cabin by way of the firmer suspension, narrower sidewalls and more supportive sport seats, but the GT never feels harsh or uncomfortable.

A hidden Drift mode allows smoky slides with a flick of the accelerator.

Kia

Later, I make my way to the handling course outside of LVMS where I'm able to push the limits of the sticky contact patches. Seat of the pants and fingertip feedback is good, and the regen-assisted braking feels natural. I'm even able to run a lap in the one-pedal braking mode and still keep a good pace. The EV6 doesn't exactly hide its weight, but GT mode's increased power output and more generous stability control limits allow the EV6 GT to rotate more freely as I muscle it around corners, wagging its tail a bit as I roll onto the linear throttle. It even allows a bit of a drift for drivers brave enough to keep their foot in it.

The EV6 GT is both easy to drive quickly and cleanly, but also dramatic and playful when you want it to be. I certainly wouldn't call it a track car with performance that feels tuned to the best on the street and on the highway, but should you find yourself behind the wheel on a closed course, it's a heckin' good time.

More power, less range 

The EV6 GT is powered by the same 111.2 kWh (77.4 usable) "Long Range" lithium-ion battery pack as the rest of the EV6 family -- the only battery in the US now that the "Standard Range" EV6 Light base model has been dropped from the lineup due to low demand. The charging hardware is also unchanged; CCS DC fast charging from 10% to 80% at a 350-kW station takes around 18 minutes, or around 73 minutes at a 50-kW station. Level 2 home and public charging via the 10.9-kW onboard AC charger takes around 7 hours for a full charge and the EV6 GT retains the automaker's vehicle-to-load power output feature with the included adapter.

Read: Kia EV6 GT Owners Get 1000 kWh of Free Electrify America Charging

However, more power-hungry motors, stickier tires and increased mass take a toll on the EV6 GT's efficiency and range. At an EPA-estimated 206 miles per charge, the GT falls short of the GT-Line's 252 miles and the Wind AWD's 282 miles.

The EV6 GT is still fairly efficient at 79 mpge, but you could be getting 96 to 109 mpge in the standard AWD configuration.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET Cars

In its Eco drive mode, which uses only the rear motor when cruising, I was able to average 3.2 miles per kilowatt-hour for the first third of the day, about on par with an easy day in our long-term EV6 Wind. However, switching between Normal, Sport and GT modes for the twisty segments, causes the efficiency to drop significantly -- partially due to the tuning, but also due to the more aggressive driving it encourages -- bringing my end-of-day efficiency to 2.8 miles per kWh, surprisingly a hair better than the EPA's estimated 2.4 miles per kWh target. Turning over the keys with 143.2 miles driven and 28% left in the battery, the trip computer estimated around 51 miles remaining. (However, these numbers don't include the heavy-drain on track and drag strip testing, which were done in separate vehicles.)

Power brokering

The EV6 GT model sits at the top of the EV6 hierarchy, starting at $62,695 including the $1,295 destination and arriving at dealerships now. Loaded up with all of the bells and whistles, the extra power and performance costs you about $4,000 more than a comparably equipped GT-Line model. That's not a tremendous premium for a lot more power, but considering also that the reduced efficiency and range means slightly higher operation and convenience costs. Plus, the GT will be produced in more limited numbers with only 2,000 to 2,500 coming to the US, making it harder to find and more susceptible to markups.

For most drivers the still very capable and plenty-powerful Wind GT-Line trim is still the sweet spot in the lineup. But for enthusiasts who don't mind sacrificing a bit of practicality for a whole lot more performance and speed, the 2023 Kia EV6 GT is a very sweet ride and is the spec to shop for.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.