As Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry once said: "I know what you're thinking." What is Kia, or anyone, doing introducing a midsize, truck-style framed, V-6- and V-8-powered sport/utility into a shell-shocked economy still getting used to $4- to $5-per-gallon fuel prices? Kia has to be asking itself the same thing.
The answer, for better or worse, is that nobody saw these conditions coming. And the Borrego's Let's-Build-It button was pressed several years ago. Even though life has changed dramatically since then, the business-case boat has sailed. So here comes the Borrego, a three-row sport/utility that casts about the same shadow as an Explorer.
The irony is this: Kia's new SUV is a darn fine one. While corporate cousin Hyundai went the unibodied crossover route with the Veracruz, Kia wanted something different, with real off-road capability, an optional V-8, and some towing capacity. The Borrego's platform architecture is new from scratch. A pickup truck variant was in the works, but that, as you can imagine, has been scrubbed at least for now.
Two powertrains are offered, and each can be had in two- or four-wheel-drive form. And it's real 4WD, too, with a transfer case packing 4-wheel Auto, 4-wheel High, and 4-wheel Low ranges. The standard 3.8-liter V-6 is rated at 276 horsepower, and Kia's first V-8, an optional 4.6-liter cranks out 337 horses. The V-8 is the same beneath the hood of Hyundai's new Genesis sedan, retuned for SUV duty. Kia expects the V-6 to make up 80 to 85 percent of Borrego sales, but the mpg gap between it and the V-8 is miniscule. For example, the 4WD V-6 is rated at 16/21, the 4WD V-8 just one city mpg lower at 15/21. At least both run on regular grade fuel. A turbodiesel version is on its way for 2010, a plus if diesel fuel prices equalize by then. The V-6 is paired with a five-speed automatic trans; the V-8 gets the same ZF six-speed auto you'll find in BMWs and Jaguars.
The Borrego's 156.8 cubic feet of passenger space is 11.1 cubic feet larger than the similarly packaged Nissan Pathfinder. Three-row seating is standard. The second row is split 60/40, the smaller part of the seat slides forward via a one-touch lever allowing quick access to the rear bench. It's in this area the Borrego shines, with full-size adults sitting in the way-back enjoying "no contact" head- and legroom. The backs of the second and third row seats are covered in hard plastic material, making an ideal load floor when those seats are folded flat for max cargo room. A hitch receiver is standard and neatly covered by a snap-out panel in the rear bumper cover.