Kia Builds a Better Explorer
Kia hasn't put a single V8 badge on the 2009 Kia Borrego EX. The days when you could brag to great effect about the Hemi, iForce or Vortec V8 in your family SUV are over. Unless you somehow score a crossover with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, no one wants to hear about it.
And that's probably why the V8 Borrego makes none of the usual throat-clearing racket when you start it up.
Keeping quiet may not be enough, though, because the 2009 Kia Borrego isn't even a crossover. It's a traditional body-on-frame SUV that you can have with a V6 or a V8, not to mention a real, dual-range four-wheel-drive system if you want it. The Borrego also has a third-row seat.
When the 2009 Kia Borrego goes on sale at the end of July 2008, we'll see how many of you still want a vehicle that can haul a family of five, plus luggage, plus an 18-foot bowrider boat.
It's Like an Explorer
Although the 2009 Kia Borrego has about the same footprint as the unibody Hyundai Veracruz, also a seven-passenger utility vehicle, these two utility vehicles have nothing in common.
The Borrego is a true truck with a separate body riding atop a full frame. It represents several years of development on Kia's part, as we first saw this SUV as the Mesa way back at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show. Kia will sell the Borrego in all major world markets, except Europe.
The Borrego is built on a significantly stretched and slightly widened version of the rear-wheel-drive Kia Sorento platform. Its wheelbase is 114.0 inches versus the Sorento's 106.7 in, and at 192 inches from nose to tail, it's a foot longer. This new Kia is almost exactly the size of the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder, its closest rivals.
Like those two modern SUVs, the 2009 Kia Borrego uses independent rear suspension, and its compact design compared to a solid axle allows a fold-flat third-row seat to be tidily packaged into the body. The Borrego's second-row seats also fold flat, and while the resulting load surface isn't perfectly level, it couldn't be any easier to drop and retrieve the seats. So in this respect, it's no less convenient than a car-based unibody crossover.
Where you will feel a difference between this body-on-frame SUV and a carlike crossover is in the passenger space.
Though the 2009 Kia Borrego's front chairs offer plenty in the way of support and stretch room for the long-limbed, the second-row seats offer merely adequate headroom and legroom. The Borrego's third row is about as comfortable as the Explorer's rearmost seat. Adults can get back here if they have to, but compared to seven- and eight-passenger crossover SUVs like the Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9 and Saturn Outlook (whose car-based architecture allows for a lower floor), the way-back seat is a little claustrophobic.
Maximum cargo capacity is also likely to fall short of these crossovers, though the Borrego offers an estimated 49.3 cubic feet of space behind its second row. This is well behind the 68.9 cubic feet aft of the Outlook's middle seat, but on par with the 48.4 cubic feet in the CX-9 and 47.7 in the Pilot.
Additionally, this cargo estimate is certainly in line with the seven-passenger Explorer (43.9 cubic feet) and Pathfinder (49.2 cubic feet), and when Kia releases final specifications, we expect the Borrego to match its rivals' 80-cubic-foot max capacity figures. The Kia also has a useful assortment of bins and containers in its cabin, including a large rubberized slot in strategic proximity of its iPod-friendly USB and auxiliary jacks.
Utility From the Old School
Beyond these small victories, the 2009 Kia Borrego's traditional construction gives it a couple advantages in utility. However, you'll have to be a bit of a traditionalist to appreciate them.
The optional 4.6-liter V8, for example, simply couldn't have been packaged in a front-drive-based crossover with a transverse engine orientation. Borrowed from the Hyundai Genesis and retuned for this more torque-intensive application, this V8 is rated at 337 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 323 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm.
These are good numbers from an engine this size, as the Explorer only gets 292 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque from its 4.6-liter V8. The 5.6-liter V8 in the Pathfinder blows everyone away with 388 lb-ft of torque, but offers just 310 hp.
Like the V8 Explorer, the Kia has a six-speed automatic transmission when you opt for the V8, while the Pathfinder sticks with a five-speed. From an outright utility standpoint, neither the Explorer nor the Pathfinder can tow as much as the Borrego. The V8 Kia Borrego's towing capacity is 7,500 pounds, compared to 7,300 pounds for the Explorer and 7,000 pounds for the Pathfinder. In fact, the Kia's tow rating beats every midsize SUV in this price range. In comparison, crossovers can't crack 5,000 pounds and rarely exceed 3,500 pounds.
For buyers more concerned about fuel economy than tow capacity, the base model of the Kia Borrego comes with a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 276 hp at 6,000 rpm and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Although the Borrego V6 features a five-speed automatic instead of the six-speed, EPA mileage ratings aren't bad — 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway for rear-wheel-drive models and 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway with four-wheel drive. The EPA hasn't released ratings for the V8 Borrego yet.
Like other body-on-frame SUVs, the 2009 Kia Borrego has a fair amount of off-road ability. A four-wheel-drive Borrego has a locking center differential and low-range gearing, as well as hill-descent control and hill-start assist. This is enough to get the Kia up some fairly steep trails, though in stock form, its standard P245/70R17 all-season tires (P265/60R18s are optional) and modest ground clearance become limitations as soon as loose sand and deeper ruts enter the picture.
Drives Like a Very Nice Truck
Back in Southern California traffic, the 2009 Kia Borrego EX V8 does its best to act like a crossover SUV. Throttle response from the 4.6-liter V8 is linear, and the six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and unobtrusively. Although most of the torque is hidden in the midrange, this V8 is soft-spoken like a Toyota engine, so you're scarcely aware of the effort it's expending when you floor the gas pedal on a highway incline.
We expect the Borrego to beat the V8-equipped Explorer's 8.9-second 0-60-mph and 16.6-second quarter-mile times easily, but it will likely be a few tenths behind the extraordinarily quick V8 Pathfinder, which hits 60 mph in 7 seconds flat and goes through the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds at 90.5 mph.
The Borrego EX handles impressively on the highway, nothing like the off-roady, roly-poly Sorento. There's the kind of body roll you'd expect in a truck-based SUV, yet the Borrego is stable and predictable through turns. It reminds us a lot of the Ford Explorer.
The steering action has a pleasant fluidity to it, and while Kia's engineers have prioritized isolation over feedback, the effort weights up enough at higher speeds to provide a secure feel. The brake pedal action is on the soft side, but stopping distances are acceptable in normal traffic.
But You Won't Mistake It for a Crossover
Even with independent suspension at both ends, the 2009 Kia Borrego isn't able to duplicate the compliant ride quality of most crossover SUVs. Our EX tester's P265/60R18 Hankook RA07 all-season tires keep everything smooth and quiet on pristine asphalt, but on rain-grooved freeways and rough two-lane roads, the Borrego bounces around like a truck. This is why most of you are driving crossovers now.
Fuel economy, of course, is the other thing that might put you off from driving a four-wheel-drive, V8-equipped Kia Borrego.
In commuter traffic, our test vehicle returns 13 mpg. During a 100-mile highway drive at a 70-75-mph pace, the Borrego averages nearly 18 mpg.
A Good SUV Enters a Shrinking Market
The more time you spend in the 2009 Kia Borrego, the more you want to forget the gas mileage issue. The overall design and materials quality of this cabin sets a new standard for the Kia lineup. Grain patterns are painstakingly matched from dash to door panels to seats, and the red-and-white instrumentation looks slick.
Kia says a base 2009 Kia Borrego LX V6 will start around $26,000 and a loaded EX V8 4WD model with a navigation system and back-up camera will top out around $40,000. This is almost exactly the same pricing strategy that the Explorer and Pathfinder use, and the Borrego feels more upscale than either of these vehicles. Although the Nissan is a better off-roader, you're more likely to tow with an SUV in this class, and the Kia is the best of three.
However, patience for thirsty vehicles is wearing thin, even among those of you who actually know what to do with the Borrego's trailer hitch. During the unveiling of the 2009 Kia Borrego at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, Kia Motors America said that a 50-state diesel engine would be offered sometime during the model cycle.
As much as we like the refinement of the new V8, a torque-rich yet fuel-efficient diesel engine is exactly what the Borrego needs. Equipped with a gasoline V6 or a V8, the 2009 Kia Borrego is merely a better Ford Explorer. With a diesel, though, it could end up a survivor in the shrinking SUV class.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.