2009 Kia Borrego Review

A serious case of really bad timing

2009 Kia Borrego Review
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Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's take a closer examination of the Borrego itself. There are two optional engines that we'll take a closer look at a little later in this review: a 3.8-liter V6 that gets mated up with a five speed automatic transmission and a 4.6-liter V8 that sees itself paired up with a six speed auto.  That engine sits between full frame rails that run the length of the vehicle's under-body.

FAST FACTS

1. Full-frame means better towing capability.

2. First ever V8 in a Kia - a 4.6L.

3. Six-speed V8 almost as fuel efficient as five-speed V6.

These days, it is much more common to see a unibody chassis architecture, but many full-sized 'utes still go the way of the full-frame as it lends itself well to the towing and rugged duty that vehicles such as the Borrego are likely to encounter. For Kia, this is a brand-new design and isn't shared with any other vehicles. This fact gives further credence to the arguments against the vehicle's introduction, but it also means that it is a fully modern design that should be class competitive. And, thankfully, the solid-feeling ride and handling show that the underpinnings are indeed up to the task of hauling around the Borrego's prodigious weight of nearly 5,000 lbs. Still, that's quite a bit of weight to be hauling around in these days of high gas prices. Kia's parent company, Hyundai, decided against a body-on-frame SUV, opting instead for the Veracruz, which is very much a standard-fare modern crossover.

STYLING THAT IS FAR FROM CONTROVERCIAL

The exterior of the Borrego is attractive, with a basic profile that could easily be confused with a number of other SUVs, and the front view, with its dominant chrome grille, looks eerily similar to that of the Subaru Tribeca - itself a dead-ringer for the Chrysler Pacifica. In other words, Kia chose the path of least resistance and hopes not to offend anyone with the look of the Borrego. There's an upswept character line at the rear of the vehicle, which may have a detrimental effect on rear vision for some drivers, though we had no problems. Pronounced arches sit over each wheel, which are standard 17-inch alloys with 18's as optional equipment. Contrasting plastic cladding gives the Borrego the all-too-common look that many seem to think means ready for off-road excursions. I think it's a bit of a tired trend and would prefer to see something new. 

AGREEDABLE BUT NOT QUITE LUXURIOUS INTERIOR

Open the heavy door and you'll be greeted with an agreeable interior. Our tester was swathed in supple feeling leather and most of the interior plastics seemed to be of relatively high quality. I did note that the plastic binnacle holding the gauge cluster caught the sun and cast its reflection directly on the windshield in direct sunlight, which was both annoying and distracting. Other than that mild foible, we noted nicely done panel gaps and switchgear that felt like it would last the life of the vehicle.

Kia believes that its new utility vehicle can compete directly with luxury offerings from other manufacturers, including the RX-series from Lexus. We are not ready to go that far, but the interior is much nicer than many would expect from the Korean automaker. More logical competitors include the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Pathfinder. Against these natural foes, the Borrego more than holds its own. The front seats are very comfortable and big enough to fit a large driver. I also had no problem quickly finding a comfortable driving position. The second-row of seats is also plenty roomy and they fold forward to make entry into the standard third-row easy enough. Of course, normal sized adults won't want to spend too much time back there, but I found the "way back" more comfortable than most of its three-row competitors.

Kia says that there is almost 33-inches of leg room in that third-row, which is about equal to the back seat of many subcompacts.  Behind that rear-most bench, there is an ample 12.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which greatly expands when the third row is folded down. The second-row also folds flat, making for a truly cavernous place to store your belongings.

Kia has gone to great lengths to ensure that passengers of the Borrego are comfortable. There is an optional rear air-conditioning system that I found worked excellent for controlling the temperature. That's not too surprising considering that there's a whole separate compressor for the rear seats, along with six vents and second-row controls.

UPCOMING LIMITED EDITION

Kia also has plans for a Limited model that is set to launch soon. The Limited will feature an electro-luminescent gauge cluster that we have yet to see. There are ten cup holders inside, which equals more than one for each occupant. Two excellent features are the standard console-mounted auxiliary audio jack and the USB slot, which we tested with some .mp3 files loaded onto a USB key fob - it worked perfectly. Unfortunately, there is no option for Bluetooth or keyless starting, which is odd if Kia really expects the Borrego to compete against luxury offerings. A powerful Infinity sound system is optional and includes Sirius satellite radio and navigation.

Driving the Borrego proved a pleasurable experience. On the highway, the overriding feeling was one of substance, with a firm ride that felt more European than American. Acceleration was adequate with the 276 hp V6 engine that's linked only to a five-speed automatic. On long uphill climbs, we noted that two downshifts were sometimes necessary in order to pick up speed. In all honesty, the 4.6-liter V8 engine, which happens to be Kia's first ever, is the one we'd choose, as its standard six-speed automatic and 323 ft-lbs of torque mean that its fuel mileage is just about as good as the smaller 3.8L six. In fact, on rear-wheel drive models, the 337 hp V8 manages 22 mpg on the highway, which is one mile per gallon better than its smaller sibling. Expect to see high-teens in normal driving with either model. That V8 engine is of similar architecture to the V8 that's optional in the Hyundai Genesis. It's extremely smooth and is plenty powerful for any situation you're likely to see in the real world.  The V6 Borrego is capable of towing 5,000 lbs while its big brother can pull 7,500 lbs with the standard trailer hitch. There is a real 4WD system underneath, complete with a transfer case that allows for rear, four-wheel high, four-wheel auto and four-wheel low settings. That steady highway ride turns a bit troublesome when the road gets bumpy, making head-bobbing the name of the game on dirt roads.  It's definitely sprung a little stiff in order to meet those hauling and towing specifications, but probably no more so that other vehicles in its class.

THE VERDICT

In the end, I determined that the Borrego is a darn fine vehicle and is more than competitive with other full-frame four-wheel drive 'utes. In fact, it's quite possibly at the head of the class, considering its long list of standard features, including that third-row seat and trailer hitch. Kia definitely did their homework, but by the time the vehicle was actually ready, it's timing couldn't possibly have been any worse. The market for full-sized and full-bodied SUVs has dropped like a rock, with most manufacturers selling just about half of what they moved only a year prior. Still, Kia had absolutely zero presence in that market before the Borrego hit the showroom floor, so any sales that Kia's able to make are sales it would otherwise have lost. For large families or those who love outdoor activities and can afford to drive an SUV that is challenged to break 20 miles per gallon, the Borrego is an extremely solid entry and definitely deserves a spot on the short list of vehicles to test drive.
PLUS

V8 paired with six-speed auto
7500-lb towing capacity with V8
Roomy third-row

MINUS

Launched at a very poor time
V6 is underpowered
Stiffly sprung

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