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Zeekr 009 first drive review: Lovely cabin, excellent refinement and unorthodox styling

Zeekr 009 first drive review: Lovely cabin, excellent refinement and unorthodox styling
PHOTO: sgCarMart

Haven't you heard? Luxury MPVs are the next big thing.

And while the likes of the British and the Germans have been duking it out over perfecting the SUV form, it's the Asian carmakers that have long turned their attention to dolling up the minivan.

Think luxury MPV, and Toyota and Lexus are sure to be the first to come to mind. Still, ponder a bit longer, and it would be fair to say that one wouldn't baulk at seeing names from Nissan or Hyundai in a tycoon's fleet too.

It was only a matter of the time, then, before the Chinese would arrive with a proper (fully electric) answer of their own. While you might already know that this pair of twins are present on our shores, another fresh contender is set to shake up the minivan field yet again.

Its name? The Zeekr 009. It's got one giant (or two) squarely in its crosshairs: The Toyota Alphard/Vellfire.

What's a 009 again?

The latest flagship of the range, the 009 is a monstrous, larger-than-life, and entirely electric MPV measuring stretching out at more than 5.2m in length and 2m in width. (It does, however, measure up — or down — appropriately on one key front: It's just over 1.8m tall.)

But the sheer physical presence of the car is not where things stop; futuristic flamboyance is part of the plan too. 

Its massive grille is marked by what appear to be long vertical vanes, but peer closer and you'll realise these are actually LED strips that put on fascinating light shows when unlocking and locking the car.

Speaking of the grille, speccing it in chrome ups the car's overall bling factor by quite a fair bit. Even when this is left in black, however, the 009 has a quietly brooding energy that makes it hard to look away.

While we won't fault you if the Rolls-Royce Cullinan comes to mind, Zeekr does put its own design spin on things — true to what you expect from the brand — with the 009's robotic DRLs.

Throughout the rest of its large frame, the 009 makes no attempt to hide its boxiness, but gets some delightful consistency with the combed pattern on its C-pillars, as well as in its LED taillights. Zeekr tells us that the car's design was led by the goal of ensuring it looked different from any MPV on the road today. We'd say mission accomplished.

What's an MPV doing out on the track…?

The sticky regulations for foreigners driving in China take scenic road trips out of the picture, so as with the Zeekr X, Ningbo International Speed Park is the only place we get a shot behind the wheel of the 009.

It's as unorthodox and counterintuitive as testing grounds come for nearly-three tonne MPVs, but it's important to clear the air first: The 009 isn't slow.

In fact, Zeekr makes the bold claim that this is currently the fastest accelerating MPV in the world — to the tune of a manic 4.5s sprint from zero to 100km/h. That figure comes courtesy of its dual-motor all-wheel drive setup, which gives the 009 a peak output of 400kW (536bhp) and 846Nm of torque. That's baby supercar power in an MPV weighing nearly three tonnes.

Behind the wheel, the experience is slightly confounding in that the expected sensation of speed doesn't translate fully. It's not that the 009 doesn't take off like a first-class spaceship when you floor the pedal — but it doesn't so much shred up the sprint to 100km/h, as it does dust it off nonchalantly.

In many ways, this is a land-yacht that feels far too refined and too comfortable to want to convey its sheer power to occupants.

And although the car was in Sport mode throughout, there's nothing really sporty about the way it moves about. Its steering is light and slow, and its brakes (in this environment, we emphasise) admittedly rather mushy in feel too. 

Still, there is something inexplicably entertaining about pushing the car's limits of grip — its tyres groaning and heaving in the distance — around a circuit. 

Again, bear in mind that most towkays will not be getting their chaffeurs to gun their limousines at the speeds we were doing. Spirited driving, after all, is the antithesis to the 009's philosophy of existence, and our first takeaways about its driving character are fully in line — even perfect — for what you want in an MPV.

What's life like on the inside?

Getting in to the rear of the 009 presents exactly the sort of experience you want in a luxury MPV too. 

If the X felt like a somewhat-convincing teaser of Zeekr's 'premium' vision, the 009 puts on the most excessive and stunning display of its commitment to it.

We weren't given details on the sorts of features that would be carried over into local units of the 009, but the one we got to ride in the back row of puts up a good show of its maxed-out potential.

Fit and finish were unfaultable based on our brief experience, with the cabin bringing out a good diversity and interplay of textures. The carpets that greet your feet when you step aboard are so soft that you'll forget about the effort that will have to go into keeping them clean.

More importantly, all the seats — especially the twin ventilated captain's chairs in the second row — are as cushy as they come, with the level of detail to the craft even coming down to the way the headrests are curved around your head.

Ambient lighting even cascades through patterned perforations on the soft door cards. And since all your senses need to be treated in a luxurious environment, here, the 009 even smells expensive.

Speaking of the door cards, the 009 comes with a couple of special party tricks.

What might appear to be a digital clock on the side reveals itself to be a touchscreen for adjusting climate control. It's more intuitive a setup than you expect, since the placement near your hand (when you've laid it on the armrest) makes operating it easy. 

Additionally, because those captain's chairs are so large (meaning that walking between them to third row is impossible), Zeekr's workaround was for them to ride on what are claimed to be the longest rails fitted onto a modern MPV yet. This allows for even larger passengers to get into the rear with no fuss.

Furthermore, it's not that the 009 forgets about those seated all the way up front, with its sculpted dashboard and airy cabin.

Like its smaller sibling, the X, the 009 doesn't default to the single panels that connect the digital gauge cluster and infotainment screen. Still, these are well-sized on their own, in the sort of manner expected of a modern car.

While we'd normally complain about gloss black trim, those on the doors and dashboard come with engraved patterns that feel expensive thanks to their intricacy. And above all, the seats up front feel supremely cushy and supportive too.

And as a passenger on the go? 

In a vehicle this large — and with a drivetrain this noiseless — any sense of looseness is easy to detect in an instant: Bits within the cabin that are not well put together, for instance, or a chassis that simply isn't rigid enough.

The 009 exhibits none of that lack of polish. As mentioned, we managed to hop into the second row for a joy ride around the track prior to driving it — and the car is as smooth and relaxing to ride in as its credentials suggest. Broken road surfaces or speed bumps leave the 009 unfazed, and consistently, this electric MPV feels solidly and tightly screwed together on the go.

Notably, the car is equipped with predictive air suspension that can survey the road surface ahead and consequently, make micro-adjustments in real-time, translating to a silky, properly luxe-limo-like experience as a passenger. It's a feature befitting of an expensive MPV designated as a brand flagship.

The verdict?

Interestingly, the idea of a premium or luxury MPV isn't too strictly defined today still.

The pool of models one can choose today is certainly growing, but competition is not as stiff as in other segments - such as the executive sedan, or indeed, the compact or mid-sized crossover.

You could even make the case that among the likes of the Alphard/Vellfire, the Lexus LM, the Maxus Mifa 9/MG M9 EV, and even Merc's EQV, few overlaps exist in the unique proposition of each model — whether it's drivetrain, level of luxury, or sheer brand cachet.

Admittedly, Lexus and Merc still belong to a different echelon (for now at least; a four-seater 009 Grand was recently launched in China), but the 009 appears well-poised to nestle nicely into the middle of the pack with its own unique set of qualities.

It's sensibly put together, comfortable and sumptuous to a fault, and has the right sort of quietly-domineering road presence that should tug at the heartstrings of would-be buyers.

The only thing more bulletproof than Toyota's track record of reliability and quality is perhaps its loyal customer base — so calling the 009 a surefire Alphard/Vellfire-slayer would be a bit of a stretch. Still, it's fair to say — and interesting to see — that this should cause some eyebrows to be raised back in Japan.

What we like

  • Again, love-it-or-hate-it looks
  • Sumptuous and beautiful cabin with its own unique touches
  • Superb ride quality
  • Effortless power from electric drivetrain
  • Ultimately feels different from the MPVs we've gotten so far

What we dislike

  • Again, love-it-or-hate-it looks
  • Hefty
  • Likely to attract hefty road tax bill too

ALSO READ: Volkswagen ID.4 82kWh review: Spacious, pleasant, and boasting excellent range

This article was first published in sgCarMart.

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