2009 Kia Borrego Review

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
2009 kia borrego review

Let’s get one thing out of the way right from the start: the Kia Borrego might list for a couple grand less than a 2008 Explorer, but the larger rebate on the Ford eliminates this advantage. The story is similar with other established SUVs. Since the Kia won’t cost significantly less than its highly evolved competitors— at least until Kia tosses some similarly serious cash on the hood—the late-to-the-party truck better have another major selling point. So…

“Kia: the Power to Surprise.” As far as the exterior’s concerned, the Korean automaker better hope that the best surprise is no surprise. OK, it’s not ugly. Or odd. That’s a fairly low bar, to be sure, but one that not every SUV manages to clear (need I mention any Hondas?). The flip side: the Borrego’s thoroughly conventional exterior styling is thoroughly forgettable, in a vanilla never goes into fashion kinda way. In fact, the Borrego’s sheetmetal is hardly more current– or desirable– than a circa-2002 domestic.

Leaving the Tribeca-esque grill aside, the Borrego’s interior is similarly “retro;” it could have been fashioned by a Japanese design studio five years ago, during the period before Honda and Toyota decided to get “creative.” Gauge-wise, hockey sticks for the tach and fuel level flank a circular speedo. Otherwise, it’s been there, done that; Ford’s got twenty of them on the lot. One high point: the armrests on the Borrego’s doors are comfortably padded.

Kia pitches the Borrego as a luxury SUV. But unlike Kia’s Sorento, no one will perceive a bargain basement Lexus vibe. Well, maybe one detail: the Borrego’s second row armrest is a dead ringer for the RX 350’s– except the upholstery doesn’t fit the complex shape precisely. Available toys (power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, heated second row) better support the model’s intended positioning than the interior ambiance.

The two-row Sorento is a [nearly] midsize conventional SUV. So Kia might have made the three-row Borrego a [nearly] full-size SUV– at a time when the U.S. market hungers for full-size SUVs like a film star’s child pines for anonymity. Kia dodged that bullet. Dimensionally, the Borrego is close to Ford’s Explorer. Technically average adults will find sufficient legroom in all three rows. But, as in the Ford, you’ll find the second row a bit low to the floor and the difficult-to-access third row pretty much on the floor.

Like Ford, Kia pairs an independent rear suspension (IRS) with body-on-frame construction. IRS alone does not a corner carver make; the Borrego isn’t going to force anyone to reconsider their perception of conventional SUV dynamics. The steering is lifeless, while the rear end isn’t, never quite settling down except on glass-smooth pavement. In one of the auto world’s greatest unsolved mysteries, live-axle dinosaurs from GM and Chrysler ride more smoothly and quietly than their IRS’d competitors, including this one.

Kia sells the Borrego with either a 3.8-liter V6 or a 4.6-liter V8. The eight’s good for 337 horsepower. You can’t buy more shove in this segment without ponying-up for an SS or Hemi badge. Only the V8 Borrego hasn’t yet arrived at Kia dealers.

No matter: the V6 is no slouch, kicking out a second-to-GM 278 horsepower. The six moves the Borrego more than adequately. If anything, the V6’s lack of a sixth transmission ratio is a more serious omission than the Borrego’s “missing” fourth pair of cylinders. The automatic’s five ratios are widely spaced; drivers face a choice between too little forward thrust and an unseemly amount of engine roar. For acceleration that places less strain on the eardrums— or for heavy towing— the three-grand-extra V8 is the better way to go.

While American SUV buyers avoid V8s like the proverbial plague these days, the Borrego holds a new-to-the-brand innoculation: best-in-class fuel economy. Whereas the EPA rates a four wheel-drive Ford Explorer at 13/19 (with either the V6 or the V8), and most other midsize SUVs guzzle even more, the Borrego’s V6 manages 16/21, while the V8 clocks-in at 15/20.

Problem is, a thoroughly, utterly conventional midsize SUV with best-in-class fuel economy in today’s market is like a beauty contest winner in a leper colony. Twenty-one on the highway only looks good compared to numbers in the high teens. GM’s large crossovers with roomier, more versatile interiors and superior handling manage 23. Meanwhile, those with a boat to tow tend to prefer the longer wheelbase of a full-size SUV.

It’s hard to know what Kia was thinking when it decided to carve out a slice of a shrinking not to say anorexic vehicle genre. Place holder? Small bet on the formerly high-profit American SUV market’s resurrection? Or just bad timing, given the average model’s four-year development cycle.

One thing’s for sure: even at $27k, the powerful Kia Borrego is heading nowhere fast. The problem isn’t that the Borrego isn’t a decent vehicle. Just that it’s a safe, conventional play in a dying segment.

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  • Gasman52 Gasman52 on Sep 22, 2009

    I purchased a new Borrego EX yesterday. My wife and I have been Kia owners for years. Her vehicle is a 06.5 Optima EX and my last two vehicles have been the 06 followed by the 08 Amanti. Only reason I moved over to the Borrego is the need to pull a small trailer which the Amanti was not well suited for. I do enjoy amenities and the Borrego does not disappoint. Reviews have stated the Borrego has plenty of power which is absolutely true. This puppy has a V-6 on steroids and still gets 20+ mph for the 200 miles I put on it yesterday and it's not even broke in yet. The longer wheelbase really plays into a smoother ride than one would expect even when compared to the Ford F150 King Ranch or the Hummer I test drove. It is my contention that Kia is the best kept secret in America and I'm ok with that because when it comes to maximum bang for your buck, based on my personal experience, nothing comes close to the Optima and especially the Amanti. The jury is still out on the Borrego but so far I am well pleased. Consider that Kia is offering a $4500 instant rebate then work that in concert with some creative negotiating and the Borrego does become an especially good buy right now.

  • Kiakissitsass Kiakissitsass on May 26, 2010

    Maybe late to the game, but the wifey and I just bought a Borrego have 10k on it so far. It rides better than the Minivan we used to have. Been averaging 17mpg in town and 19 on highway(wife) 22mpg(husband). Wife has a lead foot. It gets better gas mileage than our old Nissan minivan and more power. Just as much space, easier for the kids to get to the third row. And the crash test is 10 times better than the old mini van. Looked at the Pathfinder(15mpg in city premium fuel) and Jeep(god awful mpg and reliablity) gets better mpg than Explorer. Looked at GMC Acadia(dealers wanted way too much$30k stripped out base. Got the KIA for 5k less with leather, sunroof, sat radio tow package, 60k roadside assistance, mp3, heated seats.....I can keep going! I work in retail, everytime I see a Borrego or VeraCruz(they share the same v6) I talk to there owners and get nothing but good reviews. Many of them used to drive Suburbans, Explorers, Durangos, etc and are much happier with the KIA(better mpg, warranty, reliablity). I have been a die hard Toyota fan and my wife a die hard Nissan fan, I can tell you this, when my Honda Accord gives p the ghost, I will be driving that new Optima!!!!!

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