"Some of you may be wondering if we're five years too late."
Those were the words out of the mouth of a Kia representative at the introduction of the 2009 Borrego. Sure, it wasn't all that long ago that nearly every carmaker was scrambling to add SUVs to its lineup, but today it's a different story. As sales of gargantuan SUVs drop off and some automakers respond by cutting back on their production of larger vehicles, Kia is hoping there's still enough life left in the midsize SUV segment to make the 2009 Borrego a success.
The theory is that despite the drastic rise in fuel costs, there are still plenty of upper-middle-class suburbanites who want a body-on-frame SUV to shuttle the family, haul supplies from the Home Depot and pull the speedboat to the lake. And instead of buying the biggest thing they can find, consumers will settle for a midsize SUV that can do it all without guzzling quite so much gas. While we're not sure we buy into this hypothesis, we must admit the 2009 Kia Borrego has its merits, despite our uncertainty of how it will be received in this jittery market.
The foray into body-on-frame territory is also Kia's most earnest attempt to date at shedding its bare-bones image, as the Borrego boasts materials and features normally reserved for more expensive brands. Options like voice-activated navigation, leather seats and an upgraded Infinity audio system may come as a surprise to those familiar with past Kia models. But the 2009 Kia Borrego isn't just about appearances -- a powerful 4.6-liter V8 and a class-leading tow rating make it a refreshing, competent alternative to long-standing midsize SUVs such as the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner. We got our hands on a Borrego V8 to see if it still made sense for 2009, or if 2003 called wanting its truck-based SUV back.
Our test model's 4.6-liter V8 produces 337 horsepower -- more than any of its eight-cylinder rivals. And although peak power comes at a higher rpm than the others, its 323 pound-feet of torque tops out at 3,500 rpm (compared with 300 lb-ft at 3,950 rpm on a similarly equipped Explorer). The Borrego's power plant is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and braking is executed by front ventilated discs and rear solid discs.
But stomp on the accelerator and you're left for a second or two wondering when the power's going to kick in. When merging on the freeway, the pedal is practically down to the floor when you feel the V8 pull away. The delay is caused by a combination of rather tall gearing, slow shifts and -- perhaps most relevantly --; an electronic throttle that's calibrated to kick in when the pedal is depressed farther down than what many of us are used to. This strategy helps the 2009 Kia Borrego achieve better fuel economy by forcing the driver to accelerate more gradually (jackrabbit starts notoriously drop gas mileage). But it is annoying, and it can give the average person the impression that the powertrain just can't cut it. Leave it in cruise control, however, and even motoring uphill with a heavy load is a breeze.
In our testing, straight-line performance seemed to confirm on the track what we felt on the road. The Borrego clocked a 0-60-mph time of 7.8 seconds -- the V8 Nissan Pathfinder did the same run for us in 7 seconds flat. In the slalom, our nearly 4,900-pound test car went through at 60.2 mph, which bests the Pathfinder's speed of 57.6 mph. Despite some understeer, the grip from the Kia's four-wheel-drive drivetrain was respectable, and the car didn't feel tippy despite its height. Braking was average; we stopped from 60 mph in 133 feet, which, although not ideal, is on par for the segment -- and 1 foot short of the Pathfinder. We did notice some brake fade on the Borrego when repeating the test.
Perhaps one of the Borrego's most convincing attributes is its towing capability. Our four-wheel-drive V8 model is rated at a class-leading 7,500 pounds. And unlike some manufacturers who test their models stripped down in order to get more appealing numbers with less weight, we're told the Borrego's towing capacity already takes into account at least a driver and passenger (although maybe not a full passenger compartment).
Fuel economy for the Borrego is compelling -- it's EPA-rated at a combined 19 miles per gallon, and during our testing period we observed an average of 18.7 mpg.
Seating in the Borrego is comfortable and offers a relatively wide range of adjustability. A high seating position, combined with an intelligent overall design, ensures very good visibility. (A huge blind spot caused by the C-pillar on the Ford Explorer, for example, has made us scream in anger all too often.) The second and third rows offer respectable space and comfort, and average-size adults can fit in all seats. But as is typical of most folding third rows in the segment, the Borrego's rearmost passenger space is a little tight.
To absorb extra shock and make for a quieter ride, the 2009 Kia Borrego is built with eight rubber mounts placed between the body and the frame. And although there isn't much road or wind noise when driving, there is a definite disconnected feeling. The ride feels especially rough and sloppy when going over bumps and potholes -- the entire vehicle shimmies like a 1960s go-go dancer. According to Kia, however, our test Borrego's suspension contained some or all of the parts used on Korean-spec vehicles, which produced the softer, unsettled ride. We're told that the suspension on the vehicles that hit U.S. dealerships will be tuned differently.
The Borrego offers all the necessities for an active family, such as a 60/40-folding second row (which also reclines), and a 50/50-split third row, which is relatively easy to stow and put back into place. However, the Borrego's lack of a power liftgate is a glaring omission, especially considering Kia's "more luxury for the money" claim. The rear cargo area with all seats in use, while not as big as the Explorer's (or that of most midsize crossovers, for that matter), is a somewhat adequate 12.4 cubic feet.
The array of technology and gadgets inside the 2009 Kia Borrego is impressive, especially considering the spartan models of Kias past. The optional touchscreen navigation is logical and easy to use, although the voice recognition system sometimes had trouble understanding us. The 10-speaker Infinity audio system produces enjoyable sound, and the inclusion of a USB port (which also allows for manual updates of the nav system), auxiliary audio jack, satellite radio and in-dash, six-CD changer gives driver and passengers many entertainment options and keeps the Borrego competitive in the segment.
Design/Fit and Finish
If it weren't for the Kia badge on the front grille, it might be possible to mistake the Borrego for a more expensive brand. Styling cues look more borrowed from a Lexus than a Ford, and our chrome-plated 18-inch wheels look sharp without screaming "bling!"
Materials inside the 2009 Kia Borrego are more luxurious than one might expect. The understated cabin is simple and refined and a well-placed, logical dash layout keeps features relatively easy. The leather seats, while not on par with a fine Italian handbag, contribute to a more upscale feel. The cabin is unavoidably filled with plastic, but the combination of colors and textures do a good job of keeping any one element from sticking out like a sore thumb. Beware of the headliner, however -- it feels a tad like a felt-covered egg carton if pressed too hard.
Who should consider this vehicle
A family who needs the cargo space and towing capacity of an SUV in the mid-to-high-$30,000 price range.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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