Kia Borrego – a big brute in brutish times

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Ten years ago we would have been singing the praises of the new Kia Borrego, a body-on-frame mid-sized sport utility vehicle. Not that we aren’t going to do a little singing today, but there’s no chance our song will make the Top 40 or that the following review will be relevant for many current SUV/crossover shoppers what with the sagging economy and the tumultuous gasoline price situation.

The Borrego is designed to go head-to-head with the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4-Runner and perhaps the Dodge Durango. And we know what’s happened to those models. Sales of the Chevy, the Ford, the Toyota and the Nissan have fallen off a cliff and the obituary is now being written for the Durango.

Comparisons can also be made to the car-based larger crossovers such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Mazda CX-9 and the Honda Pilot. The bigger crossovers, all powered by V-6 engines, are now the rage. The Kia has a thirsty V-8 option and a slightly less thirsty V-6. But the Kia’s gas mileage, even in six-cylinder guise (17 mpg city and 21 highway in rear-wheel drive), is no better and in several cases not as good as the crossovers.

So is it just bad timing that Kia has entered the shrinking truck- based full-size SUV segment with an all-new vehicle, or are the Kia folks arrogant enough to think that they can buck the trend toward more fuel- efficient car-based sport utilities?

Through the first four months of the calendar year only 1,673 trucks left Kia showrooms. In April only 498 Borrego sales were reported. Compare that to the April sales of Kia’s other body on frame utility vehicle, the mid-sized Sorrento which had over 2,400 units move off dealer lots.

All of this is not surprising because when the Borrego hit dealer lots last year gas was over $4 a gallon. And as gas prices dropped through the fall and early winter, the economy tanked. So the Borrego’s current average yearly sales of about 4,500 to 5,000 are to be expected. And perhaps Kia didn't expect much more.

Anemic sales not withstanding, the Borrego is generally well done. Kia has done some decent home work.

Design wise Borrego has a conservative SUV look, but features a wide somewhat hunkered- down stance, that serves it well. Nothing offensive here, but it certainly doesn’t stand out in the crowd.

The Borrego is capable of hauling up to seven people and brings off- road four-wheel drive capability and prodigious towing — up to 7,500 pounds — that the crossovers aren't capable of emulating. The Borrego also features a large 4.6-liter V-8 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, a quiet interior that affords a modicum of luxury appointments and a full range of amenities that customers demand these days.  The 3.8-liter V-6 is mated to a five-speed automatic. All this comes at what we consider fair pricing, although beware of available options that can quickly run a bargain price into “are you kidding?” territory. The Borrego also brings Kia’s 100,000-mile/10-year powertrain warranty to the ownership experience.

We found after spending a couple of weeks with both the V-8 and V-6 EX versions that the Borrego has a relatively soft well-damped ride over smooth road surfaces. That being said, the ride over a realistic variety of roads, the suspension proved less compliant and at times down right annoying. Borrego has a decent if somewhat over-boosted steering feel, excellent get-out-of-the-way performance especially from the 337-horsepower V-8 and an overall secure driving experience for a big truck.

One of its top handling traits is an amazingly tight 36.5-foot turning circle. This gives the Kia the ability to ease into a tight shopping mall parking lot on the first try.

Most Borrego buyers will make the purchase because they have several passengers to transport, and the Borrego is passenger friendly with generous second-row legroom, a 60/40 folding second row and a 50/50 folding third row.

Luggage capacity behind the third row seats is a rather meager 12.4 cubic feet. But the cargo area opens to a useable 43 cubic feet when the third row seatbacks are lowered and more than 90 cubic feet with both the second and third row seats down. The seatbacks come with a load-friendly hard-plastic floor surface.

The Borrego comes in three trim levels, LX, EX and Limited and with the aforementioned V-6 and V-8 engine choices.

A rear-wheel-drive V-6 LX is a relative bargain starting at $26,995 including destination charge. The V-6 engine is competitive making 276 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It also features a very competitive 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. If you need four-wheel drive add $2,050 to the base price.

Standard equipment in the LX and across the lineup includes 17-inch wheels, roof rails, a back-up warning system, full power accessories, cruise control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, six-speaker audio system with CD/MP3 player and USB port and auxiliary jack, integrated towing hitch. Standard safety includes antilock brakes, traction and stability control, full-length side-curtain airbags and downhill brake control and hill assist. The brake control and hill assist are terrific pieces of technology especially at these price points.

Move to the base V-8 edition, which comes in EX trim, and the price rises to $31,745. We admit the V-8 with its 0-to-60 7.1-second capability is enticing, but we think most people would be satisfied with the V-6.

We would opt for the rear-wheel drive configuration for slightly better fuel economy and a lower purchase price. But those people who need off-road capability or who live in severe winter climates surely can make a case for the four-wheel version. New England journalists liked its winter prowess — including its low-range gearing — naming it the winner of the 2009 Winter Vehicle Awards competition. One thing the writers cited was the standard hill control that we are found exceptional as noted above.

Keep the price under 30 grand and we think the Borrego is a good deal. But start piling on the options such as power seats, navigation, 18- inch chrome wheels, rear entertainment, leather upholstery, power tilt- telescoping steering wheel, upgraded 10-speaker audio system and running boards, and the price becomes less attractive. It’s easy to climb into $40,000 plus territory.

Our V-8-powered EX test truck with four-wheel drive and a handful of options including navigation, power and heated leather seating, and power tilt wheel came in at $39,295. The V-6 EX 4x4 we drove goes a long way in proving our point about extras. Bottom line the V-6 priced out at $36,295 and was loaded with navigation, the luxury and premium packages, rear-air conditioning and running boards – those by the way are one of the few options we really do recommend.

If you are still in the market for a rugged body-on-frame people hauler with good towing capacity then the new Kia is certainly worthy of consideration especially if you can keep the price down by avoiding the extras.


Base price: $26,995; as driven, $39,295 (V-8); $36,295 (V-6)
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8; 3.8-liter V-6
Horsepower: 337 @ 6,000 rpm; 276 @ 6000 rpm (V-6)
Torque: 323 foot-pounds @ 3,500 rpm; 267 @ 4,400 rpm (V-6)
Drive: four-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic; 5-speed auto (V-6)
Seating: 2/3/2
Wheelbase: 114 inches
Length: 192.1 inches
Curb weight: 4,405 pounds
Turning circle: 36.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 97.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 20.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 20 mpg highway, 15 city; 16/21 (V-6)
0-60: 7.1 seconds – V-8 (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Explorer, Toyota 4-Runner

The Good

• V-8 option not offered in competing brands
• Large towing capacity
• Quiet interior

The Bad

• Handling not up to crossover standards

The Ugly

• Gas mileage underwhelming in new era of frugality