By on September 24, 2008

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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34 Comments on “2009 Kia Borrego Review...”

  • avatar

    This thing is using the 2 engines that also come with the Genesis, the 3.8 V6 and 4.6 V8. The segment might be dying, but I guess that Hyundai (KIA) threw this thing at the U.S. market to eat up what ever sales U.S. domestic SUVs had. Just my 2 cents…

  • avatar

    Well, they were planning to offer a related pickup–made in the U.S., no less–as well. That program has been canceled. This one was probably just too far along. And they might have overseas markets for it.

    Dying market or not, TrueDelta would like to provide reliability information on the Borrego. So if you know someone who buys one–perhaps influenced by the frequent ads here at TTAC–please send them here:

  • avatar

    @Michael Karesh
    For foreign markets they better have a decent and fuel efficient (I might add) Turbo Diesel engine to go with the Borrego, because no one in Europe is going to buy this thing as it is.

  • avatar

    “GM’s large crossovers with roomier, more versatile interiors and superior handling manage 23.”

    GM’s Crossovers are rated up to 24mpg.


    “The eight’s good for 337 horsepower. You can’t buy more shove in this segment without ponying-up for an SS or SRT8 badge.”

    The Grand Cherokee/Commander has 357hp.

    The Durango has 376hp.

  • avatar

    Once customers find the lights out and the doors locked at all the former domestic dealerships it will be easier for Kia to shift a few of these.

    Some people still have butts and/or boats too big for anything smaller.

  • avatar

    Actually not that bad looking for a mid-class SUV. I do like the no-nonsense interior styling and the classic amber on black displays. The Explorer is still my pick in this class…unless you go with a unibody than I like the CX-9.

  • avatar

    Congratulations for even reviewing a Kia. I’d never even look at one unless it passed me on the road.

  • avatar

    Definitely not a bad SUV, and you won’t get a better warranty from the domestics which this seems aimed at. Kia is definitely late to the party with this one however.

    Doug, you may want to look at some of the newer models – Kia is probably going to be in business a whole lot longer than Ford, GM, and Chrysler at this point in time.

  • avatar


    On the MPG, I was comparing 4WD/AWD powertrains.

    You’ve got me on the HP figures, though. I forgot that Chrysler revised the HEMI for these SUVs for 2009.

  • avatar

    If anything, the V8’s lack of a sixth transmission ratio is a more serious omission than the Borrego’s “missing” fourth pair of cylinders.

    Michael — did you mean “the V6’s lack of a sixth…”?

    I’m assuming this truck was just too far along to cancel; even with a turbodiesel engine, it seems too big for a lot of non-U.S. markets, particularly with a decidedly non-premium badge.

  • avatar

    SUV or Truck they are all the same to me.

    I am not against KIA but now a days who wants to buy GASlers.

  • avatar

    *sniff* What’s that I smell? Oh, it’s the scent of discounts in the air. Seriously, Kia is going to be hurling incentives at potential customers.

  • avatar

    I doubt that you’ll see allot of rebates on this. Kia hasn’t done any significant discounts on anything, not even on the Sorento in a long while.

  • avatar

    The thing is that I expect the Borrego (along with the 4Runner and Pathfinder) to still be here in 5 years. OTOH, the Chevrolet TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy/Saab 9-7X are all projected to be discontinued. And the current Explorer is supposed to be replaced by a new Explorer using unibody construction and based on the Taurus chassis.

    While the market for a conventional SUVs may be small, the Borrego won’t have as much competition in the next few years and should be in a better position to succeed sales-wise.

  • avatar

    three stars for this thing?

  • avatar


    “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.”

    I don’t have 2009 pricing in front of me, but for the 2008 Grand Cherokee Limited, the Hemi is only $645. Not much “ponying-up” is necessary to afford that…

  • avatar

    cretinx –

    three stars for this thing?

    I agree. Less than 20 comments all day from the best & brightest, too. Says something about the marketability of the Boringo? I mean Borrego?

  • avatar

    You can stick a fork in it.

  • avatar

    Ugly name, ugly SUV, ugly interior, expensive for a Kia. I bet this car is going to win the “depreciates the fastest” award on TTAC or something. Blah.

    I bet Kia pulls all the Borrego ads from this site.

  • avatar

    Couple things:

    * The Borrego is for all intents and purposes the next-gen Hyundai Terracan (think Korean Land Cruiser) and wasn’t really intended for the US specifically, unlike most of its competition. Selling it here and now is mostly a “we already have it in the bin” exercise.

    * It does have a spiffy new 3.0 V6 turbodiesel on tap in most of the rest of the world, and Kia has made some noises about bringing that powerplant here in a year or three.

    * I’m guessing here, but I think the Terracan was shifted to Kia snce a BOF RWD on/off-roader is a better fit with the Sorento than Hyundai’s trio of car-based soft-roaders. I suspect sales will stroll under the radar for a while, then one day we’ll look around and wonder where all the mutton came from.

  • avatar

    This class of SUV’s is so boring and “avoided” now, that anyone caught in one, won’t even be noticed.

    Nowadays, the Ford Edge and similarly shaped crossovers rule the roads. The manufacturers know that the new fashion trend among wasteful Americans who can buy these vehicles lies in high quality crossovers and the days of big lumbering Navigators and Escalades are over.

  • avatar

    Conventional midsize SUVs don’t get much better, and they do get worse, so three stars.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Maybe if they offer the turbodiesel in the US market it may have a chance. Otherwise this is the poster car for “so what?”

  • avatar

    I guess what is odd is that the Sorento was a pretty good vehicle — the right size, nicely styled, etc. It slotted in nicely above the CR-V and below the Highlander.

    But Kia let it die on the vine while they put their engineering resources behind a me-too product in a class of vehicles that is falling apart.

  • avatar

    We own a Sorento, and I can tell you that the Borrego’s fuel efficiency is about on a par with the Sorento. Also, the Sorento has been constantly updated since it first came out, about six years ago. As far as I’m concerned, the Sorento is due a complete overhaul. It rides on a life axle in the rear, and while the entire vehicle is robust and strong, most of it’s technology comes from the 90’s.

  • avatar

    Having just rented a 2 wheel drive Sorento this week for 3 days, I see no compelling reason why one should buy it. Although the drivetrain was smooth enough, the ride and handling were terrible. The interior reminded of a 90’s Honda or Nissan.
    I take exception spome of the comments in the article comparing the Borrego with the Explorer. If you are buying a 7passenger SUV, the IRS is the very thing that makes the Explorer third seat more habitable than most of the competition. Whether or not the ride is better would be secondary to actually being able to use the third seat. A Tahoe may be considered to have a better ride but it has a worthless rear seat for space and accessibility.
    Actually it is pretty amazing how this whole segment has tanked recently. Bad timing for the Borrego.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    Even if the marketplace for this type of vehicle were thriving, I see no reason to get this over a three year old Explorer. It’s certainly not a looker. And Kia quality is still arguably pretty terrible. In my opinion, this review gave the Borrego at least one star too many. I’m thinking this will head directly to rental fleets.

  • avatar

    To call this a “dying segment” implies that high oil prices are here to stay. If you believe that, I’ve got some disco albums and dot-com stocks to sell you. They’re right here somewhere, in the basement of my $750,000 bungalow, which I got with zero down and no credit rating thanks to the good people at Fannie Mae.

    People never learn. If history teaches us anything about financial bubbles, it’s that oil will soon be trading at 40 bucks a barrel and Kia’s timing will be seen as not so bad after all.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    bumpy, you beat me to it. That is why it’s here, and will be around for a while.

  • avatar

    I just checked the price, a V8 model is 40K in Canerduh. Lets see, G35 sedan or Kia SUV? Tough choice, that.

  • avatar

    I just checked the price, a V8 model is 40K in Canerduh. Lets see, G35 sedan or Kia SUV? Tough choice, that.

    Does the G35 sedan carry as much cargo or tow as good? Tough choice not.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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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