On behalf of the 2009 Kia Borrego, I wish I could roll back the calendar a few years. I'm not going to be the first or last to say "Right SUV, wrong time." The new Borrego is a big midsized SUV with a big engine at a time when the US seems to be downsizing its fleet. The 2009 Kia Borrego arrives in showrooms with base prices ranging from $26,245 to $32,995, a 5 year/60,000 mile basic warranty, a 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty and EPA estimates of 15 -- 17 mpg city/20 -- 22 mpg highway (depending on engine and drive choices). Let's drive.
Kia's lineup of SUVs includes the mini-vannish Rondo (I claim it as an SUV), the Sportage and the Sorento. In an act of counter-programming, Kia now rushes in to fill a perceived gap with Borrego. Most other manufacturers are fleeing the big SUV market, or at the very least delaying the introduction of new product. Kia execs paint a rosy picture of their strategy. Before Borrego, Kia had a 0% share of the midsized SUV market; any sales that Borrego gains will represent a victory. I'm sure that sales projections have been lowered as Borrego cruised through the product development process, but Kia remains outwardly optimistic. Good for them. I'm not able to summon a positive outlook about the prospects for big SUVs, not when gas prices approach $5 a gallon in my area.
Make no mistake about it, Borrego is a big SUV, regardless of its EPA classification as midsize. It is bigger than its target competition, and its design does nothing to minimize the impression of size. Dispensing with the flourishes, Borrego presents a sleek, if generic look to the world. Crisp lines all around, no complicated bends or character lines to draw attention. A few tasteful bulges in the hood and around the fender wells give the impression of modest muscularity. Restrained chrome accents lend a classy air. Overall, a nice design, typical of Korean production vehicles, that neither shocks with originality nor bores with blandness. Borrego will not set hearts racing, nor stomachs churning, with its exterior.
In the Driver's Seat
Borrego's interior represents a significant step forward for Kia. If you're going to be taken seriously as a near-luxury carmaker, as Kia hopes will happen with Borrego, you have to get the details right. Material choices, fit and finish and most of all comfort have to be just right. Borrego pretty much nails it.
My favorite feature on Borrego is the center stack, particularly the climate controls. Without being fussy or tacky, they bring to mind an aeronautic dash. I really like the way the toggle switches operate. They'd be easy to control in the winter with gloves on, and the whole layout is simple and very cool. The instrument panel is a little mundane, but completely functional.
Borrego's seats are comfortable and supportive, though I missed lumbar adjustments during longer drives. I drove mostly in loaded EX versions of the vehicle at the press launch, with nice leather seating surfaces and power controls. I didn't get a chance to inspect the base "LX" model. My test vehicles had power steering wheels as well, adjustable for reach and angle, which made it easy to find a comfortable driving position.
The second row seating is quite roomy and well-appointed, and slides forward easily to give access to the third row. A full-sized adult won't thank you for a long ride in the third row, but your pint-sized kids won't complain, especially if you opt for a Rear Seat Entertainment package ($1,500). Luggage space is great, with 12.4 cubic feet available behind the third row expanding to 108 cubic feet of flexible space behind the front seats.
On the Road
A midsized SUV earns its bones on the road these days. Borrego makes no pretense about its off-road chops, despite robust body-on-frame construction, 8.5" of ground clearance and available four-wheel drive. The four-wheel independent suspension is too soft for the dirt, but provides a pleasant ride in most day-to-day driving conditions. Harsh pavement telegraphs a little too much information to the driver and passengers, but a nice smooth straight road delivers a quiet, comfortable, controlled ride.
Borrego is available with two engine choices: a 3.8 liter V6 (276 hp/267 lb-ft of torque) and a 4.6 liter V8 (337 hp/323 lb-ft of torque). The V6 uses a five-speed automatic transmission; the V8 is hooked up to the same six-speed automatic that you'll find in the BMW X5. I spent most of my time driving the V8, because that's what Kia seemed most excited about. The V8 is the same engine that you'll find under the hood of the new Hyundai Genesis; tuned differently, of course. You did know that Kia is part of Hyundai, didn't you?
The V8-powered Borrego is rated to deliver marginally better highway fuel economy than the V6-equipped version. I guess the combination of the transmission and a more optimal power-to-weight ratio makes that anomaly appear on the spec sheet. Both engines are tuned to run on regular (87 octane) unleaded, a real money-saving feature.
Driving Borrego, I tried to imagine what it would be like to own one. The ride was competent, controlled and classy. Not bad for a company's first shot at a midsized SUV.
Take note -- unless corporate cousin Hyundai decides to put out their own midsized SUV on the same platform, Borrego may be the last all-new one we see that rolls under gasoline power alone. As such, it's an important vehicle, not only for Kia, but for SUV fans in general. Kia studied the competition well, and took some of the best for Borrego while avoiding some of the pitfalls. By concentrating on on-road performance and near-luxury rather than off-road ruggedness, Kia lands on a trail that just may serve Borrego well. In typical Kia/Hyundai fashion. they've also landed on a very solid value equation, offering a solid array of features at a slightly better price than the rest. Before you buy the next new thing, though, you should really take a look at the competition.
My personal favorite of the bunch is still the Toyota 4Runner -- my personal ride is a 1994 4Runner, Moose. Honda's newly redesigned Pilot hits a lot of high notes as well. Ford's Explorer represents a well-honed evolution of the SUV, and Jeep's Grand Cherokee brings substantial heritage and mojo to the picture. All but the Honda are available with V8 engines; the Jeep can even be ordered up with a HEMI -- fun!
Maybe Kia execs are right about Borrego's prospects. Maybe owners of full-sized SUVs will come looking for new midsized SUVs when they are ready to replace their vehicles. And maybe they'll land in Borrego. We'll see...