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The Kia executives have just finished making their marketing presentation to us, including a screening of the 2009 Kia Borrego TV commercial that chides the nameless competition for the over-the-top metaphors used in typical SUV commercials. The lights have barely come back up as some wag asks the inevitable question: "What about the name?"
"Well," explains a Kia staffer, clearly ready for this one, "Borrego is evocative of the rugged desert landscape of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, one of our favorite nearby outdoor gems."
Now it's four days and 1,500 cross-country miles later, a trek from the top of Washington state to the bottom of California, and we've brought our thoroughly bug-encrusted 2008 Kia Borrego test car to our local $2 car wash. But what's this? Some guy toweling off his truck calls his buddy over and points at the "Borrego" badge. Snickering ensues. "What? WHAT?" we ask.
"It means 'sheep,'" he says.
"So?" goes our well-reasoned snappy comeback. "The Desert Bighorn sheep, which happens to live in the Anza-Borrego desert, is a majestic creature. And it's endangered."
"OK," he concedes. "But sheep are also known for blindly following the one in front of them."
Talk about a metaphor. And it just happens to match up to what we've been thinking about the unfortunate timing of the release of the 2009 Kia Borrego. Here's an all-new V8-powered SUV with a part-time 4x4 system and a full truck frame, just like all those SUVs that were popular yesterday.
Kia's First V8
At any other point in the last several years, Kia's first-ever V8, a derivative of that found under the hood of Hyundai's Genesis luxury sedan, would have raised eyebrows with its appearance in the 2009 Kia Borrego. Dual overhead cams and variable valve timing help the Kia V8 squeeze a stout 337 horsepower and 323 pound-feet of torque from just 4.6 liters — the same displacement from which the Ford Explorer manages but 292 horses and 300 lb-ft of torque. And the V8 Borrego 4x4's 7,500-pound tow rating trumps its competitors by a clear margin. Trouble is, this performance recipe isn't very popular right now.
Surprisingly, the impressive power and towing capability in evidence here does not prevent the 2009 Kia Borrego from being more frugal with fuel than its full-frame SUV competition. These seemingly conflicting personality traits are resolved thanks to the fitment of a six-speed automatic transmission. More gears means that an optional rear-axle ratio for towing — and the unpleasant fuel economy trade-off it would create — is unnecessary here. In fact, the Borrego's 3.36:1 final-drive ratio is the tallest in the class and our Borrego lopes along at 1,800 rpm in high gear at 70 mph.
Taken together, this hardware results in an EPA rating for a 4x4 V8 Borrego of 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. Believe it, as we averaged 18.7 mpg during 2,200 miles of mixed driving. And our four best tanks, earned over a 1,200-mile multistate journey, averaged an impressive 21.1 mpg. Around-town driving and commuting dragged performance to 15.6 mpg, which is not as good as a modern crossover to be sure, but still quite good for a seven-passenger 4x4 SUV that can pull a hefty trailer.
At the same time, other software-based fuel-saving strategies make this powerful V8 feel more lethargic than its horsepower rating suggests. A conservative electronic throttle calibration forces you to stroke the gas pedal a long way before the engine delivers the goods. In addition, the transmission shift calibration seems bent on preventing fuel-gulping downshifts unless you're really persistent with the throttle. At least a sequential shift gate for the console-mounted lever is there to override the electrons.
Acceleration at the track isn't hampered by such part-throttle fuel economy shenanigans, as this scenario demands nothing more than shoving the throttle to the floor and holding it there. Driven thus, our Kia Borrego scoots to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds (7.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and finishes the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 89.4 mph. That's about a second faster than an Explorer, and only about a half-second slower to 60 mph than a Nissan Pathfinder with its 5.6-liter V8.
Over the course of our long cross-country drive, the 2009 Kia Borrego tracked straight and true, unruffled by crosswinds and bad pavement. You won't find lightning reflexes here, but the well-weighted hydraulic power steering responds predictably in corners and gives you a good sense of what the tires are doing.
The Borrego slithers through our slalom course at 60.2 mph and holds onto the skid pad up to 0.76g — surprisingly good results for a traditional SUV. Partial credit belongs to the fully independent rear suspension, but the Borrego also benefits from a wide stance, some 63.6 inches in front and 64 inches in back (wider than the Explorer, Pathfinder and the Toyota 4Runner by about 2 inches). And the Borrego is low to the ground for an SUV, as low as a Toyota 4Runner and 1.5 inches lower than an Explorer.
Of course, a low overall height isn't going to win any prizes in off-road rock-crawling circles. And it's true that middling ground clearance, so-so approach and departure angles, and fixed running boards (part of the $1,800 Premium package) identify this Borrego as a medium-duty off-roader, low-range transfer case notwithstanding.
We did sample Borrego's standard electronic hill descent control on a very steep and loose downgrade at our dad's place in Oregon — the kind of slope where an SUV with its automatic transmission in low range and 1st gear might still gather too much speed and require a potentially destabilizing dab of brakes. With the transmission in Drive, the 4x4 system set to 4-High and our foot fully off the brake, the Kia's HDC system walked the Borrego expertly down the hill with no drama whatsoever.
But on the road, our Borrego's ride quality didn't live up to the promise of its fully independent multilink rear suspension. The front end feels secure and nicely planted, but the rear sometimes twitches over moderate lumps and bumps in the pavement with a wriggle and a graceless shudder. And things got worse with 300 pounds of test gear spread between the second row and the rear cargo area, not better. We're not sure if the early-production nature of our 4x4 test unit is to blame, or not.
Nevertheless, we particularly appreciate the Borrego's independent suspension because it makes room for a usable third-row seat that's fit for most adults. Don't worry about the cost, either; every 2009 Kia Borrego comes standard with three-row seating.
Farther forward, our Borrego's control layout is logical and straightforward, and the level of materials in our EX trim level is of a surprisingly high grade, with Kia showing a tasteful bit of restraint and going easy on the plastic chrome. Nighttime interior illumination in the cabin is similarly attractive and tasteful.
Leather-upholstered seats (heated in front) come as part of the $1,500 Luxury package, along with a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and two-position memory. Meanwhile, the second-row seat's 37.4 inches of legroom leads this class.
Navigation is a stand-alone $1,500 option, and we found the system's combination of touchscreen controls, hard buttons and knobs particularly easy to use. This control strategy also makes it easy to operate the functions of the ear-pleasing Infinity stereo (part of the Premium package) and the standard iPod and Sirius Satellite Radio interfaces (although the need to open a dialogue box to see artist and song title information is annoying).
The standard dual-zone automatic climate controls are simultaneously attractive and easy to use. A third climate zone for the rear seat, with full controls available to middle row passengers, is another part of the Premium package. But here you don't lose 500 pounds of towing capacity when you purchase this option, as you do in a Ford Explorer.
What It Will Cost You
The price of a V6 4x2 Borrego in the LX trim starts at $26,995. Four-wheel drive requires $2,000 more. Add a further $3,000 for the V8. All told, a V8 4x4 like ours, in high-grade EX trim, starts at $33,745. With the optional chrome wheels, Luxury package, Premium package, a navigation system and a $250 pair of cross rails for the roof rack, our Borrego's as-tested price came in at $39,545 — not quite fully loaded, but close.
This price bears no relation to that of the smaller Kia Sorento, but neither does the 2009 Kia Borrego itself. Its V8 engine, independent rear suspension, standard third-row seat, class-leading towing capacity, well-trimmed interior and a higher grade of options push the Borrego decidedly upmarket — so far upmarket, in fact, that it surpasses some of the established players in this market segment.
But a strange thing happened on the way to this market, because high gas prices have made vehicles like this unpopular for casual everyday use. If you want a sport-utility these days, you have to really be into sport and really need utility. So while there's a market for the 2009 Kia Borrego, it's just not a very big one. Timing is everything, and if you stay on the sidelines too long, you might enter the game with too little time on the clock to make an impact.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Road Test Editor Brian Moody says:
My dad used to say, "You don't want to show up a day late and a dollar short." I never got it until I was much older. The 2009 Kia Borrego may be the automotive illustration of that quaint saying. There's nothing really wrong with the Borrego; in fact, it's a great effort. In a world where "that's so 5 minutes ago" is a legitimate saying, bringing a truck-based V8 (or V6) -powered SUV to market seems like, well, like a day late and a dollar short.
I will say the cabin is quite nice and the iPod connection is a must-have feature that works well; Kia clearly gets it in this area. Standard third-row seating is nice, too. Acceleration is decent, the V8 is quiet and the ride is fairly comfortable.
Still, I can't shake this feeling that I'm all but invisible while driving the Borrego. It doesn't look, act or feel special. And that's not good in a segment crowded with many good vehicles. For those few people who really want a bargain and need a little towing or off-road ability, the Borrego could make sense — a V6-powered Borrego is well under $30,000. For everyone else, it's a tough sell. This big Kia seems late to a party that's almost over anyway.
Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh says:
In its ability to qualitatively assess sundry attributes of a vehicle, a rump that has smothered hundreds of seats can be at once a Roehrig shock rig, a Maha dynamometer and a Kistler accelerometer. Drive enough cars and the ol' backside becomes a finely honed instrument. We here at Edmunds.com have enviable keesters.
So imagine my surprise when the 2009 Kia Borrego, of all things, made my butt look like an ass.
For starters, the Kia's busy, lurchy ride had me convinced that its suspension was by a live axle and leaf springs. Wrong. The Kia's packing a fully independent suspension, presumably to improve ride quality. You'd never know it without peering beneath the floorpan.
Then I matted the throttle. Feels like it has about 275 horses. I was off by 60 horsepower. Blame the Kia's tall gearing and road-hugging weight for taking the stinger out of the V8's tail.
My booty redeemed itself while driving the Borrego on the freeway. I had been using the autobox's manual mode and then popped the lever over to "D" and came to a stop. When I accelerated, the Kia oozed off like it was in 3rd gear. Turns out, it was in fact stuck in 3rd, and I had to pull over and cycle the Kia's ignition to end the freak-out.
First-year missteps like this can be fixed fairly easily. The global economic circumstances associated with the Borrego's launch timing, however, are beyond Kia's control.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2009 Kia Borrego in WA is: