There has been a long tradition of car makers in Australia producing medium to heavily modified road vehicles designed for better track performance – whether it’s homologating thinly disguised races cars as production vehicles to qualify for particular classes of racing, or simply to create a performance halo around a brand.
Examples of this include the Mini Cooper S in the 1960s, as well as the 1970s Australian examples of the GTHO Falcon and A9X Torana.
Subsequent to that madness came the ‘hot hatch’ variant to extend the appeal of otherwise A to B transport cars. The 80s and 90s saw the likes of the Golf GTI, Williams Renault Clio and Ford Escort RS Cosworth, with more recent examples being the Subaru Impreza WRX and Honda Civic Type R.
With the advent of the electric vehicle though, it seemed that this sort of excess had disappeared and EVs in general were to become the vanilla transport options of the future.
(Excepting of course those with very deep pockets who could afford a Porsche Taycan, Audi e-tron GT quattro or the madness of the Tesla S Plaid – that latter remaining unavailable in Australia for some time yet).
However, with the appearance of the Kia EV6 GT it appears this is not to be the case: Rather, manufacturers were too busy concentrating on ‘building EV for the masses’ (if not to their price point) to think about smaller/speciality markets … until now.
TheDriven was recently invited to sample Kia’s first offering in the ‘hot hatch’ department by taking the new GT version of the EV6 electric car out for a few laps on a tight, hill-climb focussed race track near Moe in Victoria’s east.
I do need to make the point here that this article is only a “first impressions”: A more considered and nuanced report on its capabilities in day to day driving will come once a week or so of driving a loan car has been completed – which should happen in a couple of weeks’ time.
On paper – the EV6 GT is a big step-up from the standard EV6 AWD. With 80% more power than the standard AWD EV6, the GT version produces (front and rear combined) 430kW or power and 740 Nm of torque.
To bring this extra performance to a halt, Kia have added four-piston high performance front brake calipers plus bigger discs all round.
When it comes to handling, Kia it seems have gone to town to redesign the suspension with electronically controlled dampers, double ball-joint McPherson strut system, electronic limited slip rear differential, specialised variable gear ratio steering and additional body bracing.
Drive modes too have been altered to suit the performance orientation of the new GT version. In addition to tweaked ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ (as found in the standard EV6), a new ‘GT’ mode has been created with its own activation button, as well as a skid-pan use only ‘Drift’ mode.
Drift mode by the way requires multiple steps to activate … and we were specifically banned from trying it on the tight track selected for the day’s driving.
Unless you are something of a train-spotter when it comes to EVs, you may not even notice the differences between a standard EV6 and the EV6 GT.
From the front, you might notice the highlights under the headlamps are vertical rather than horizontal or (when passed rapidly) the extra vertical treatments to the lights and bumper at the rear and a small, stylised GT badge to the lower right of the hatch. From the side, little differentiates the GT except that it comes with 21 inch wheels rather than the 19 or 20 inch on other EV6 versions.
It is only looking into the interior that you realise it is no ordinary EV6, for the front seats are fashioned on the body hugging sports style that foregoes the electric luxury of infinite adjustments and variable lumbar support found in the standard AWD version.
For my drive – well, I have been a nervous race-track driver ever since writing off my own car at speed many years ago at a club-level sprint practice.
As a result, I did push it hard-ish enough to have the tyres squeal occasionally, but never enough to have the traction control or ABS complain.
To experience that, I went as passenger with one of the track specialist drivers that were provided at the event. Only then did I get to realise just how far the GT could be pushed, or how effective the multiple drive and suspension system upgrades would work to pull you into line if you did drive closer to its limits.
However, one thing that became apparent on that test track (and kudos to Kia for choosing a tight twisty environment to test it at) was that no matter how good a drive train and control system it contains – the EV6 GT is no stripped-down, featherweight race car.
At 2185 kg, it is the heaviest of the EV6 versions and you could feel the sheer weight of the car occasionally trying to side with the laws of physics rather than the driver’s intentions!
Interestingly though, when each of the motoring writers present got out after their stint on the track: they were inevitably sporting a very wide ‘EV Grin’.
Summing up: whilst the new Kia EV6 GT may be no out-and-out race car, it is would appear to be a strong contender for the title of 2023’s best ‘hot hatch’.
Bryce Gaton is an expert on electric vehicles and contributor for The Driven and Renew Economy. He has been working in the EV sector since 2008 and is currently working as EV electrical safety trainer/supervisor for the University of Melbourne. He also provides support for the EV Transition to business, government and the public through his EV Transition consultancy EVchoice.