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.


There are three trim levels from which to choose. The (well-equipped) base spec is dubbed LX, the upper-crust variant, EX. You can further upgrade the EX with the Luxury Package and Premium Package. The range is topped by an all-black V-8 only Limited model that makes every option standard, including Smart Key and pushbutton start that's not available on any other Borrego. A few options really stand out, the first being the Infinity audio/Sirius Satellite/navigation system, similar to those in various Chrysler vehicles. The Infinity tunes sound strong and clear, although the Sirius in this application hunted for a signal more than most we've experienced. The touch-screen nav is dumbbell easy to program and never led us astray, which isn't always the case with some others. Another is the outstanding (optional) rear air-conditioning system, which includes a second compressor, six additional vents for the rear seating areas, and its own control panel, allowing management of temp, fan, and upper/lower vent modes. If you're camping and need to cool, say, 60 cases of beer, this thing will do it.

The exterior design is clean and well proportioned-the X3-style D-pillar looks particularly nice-with no gawky touches, although the grille is somewhat Subaru Tribeca-esque. The Borrego is the product of Kia's U.S.-based design team. The interior is logically laid out, good from an ergonomics standpoint, and while the plastics and surfaces don't scream "ultra luxury" they do say "high quality." The curtain airbag reaches all the way to the third row, and tire-pressure-monitoring and backup-warning systems are standard on all models. So are ABS, stability control, Downhill Brake Control, and Hill Start control.

Three words best describe the Borrego's driving experience: comfortable, controlled, and quiet. We focused on the V-8 model, and while it doesn't feel as strong as its horsepower number indicates, it's got plenty of punch for all situations. The 0-to-60 run takes 7.1 seconds and is class competitive for V-8, three-row sport/utilities. The four-cam V-8 is silky at all rev ranges, and the six-speed auto offers a ratio for every need. Its shiftgate includes a manual mode for extra control. 60-to-0-mph braking distances of 128 feet are fine for a near-5000-pound rig.

Our fully loaded EX rode on 18-inch wheels, which means good steering and response while retaining a measure of chassis compliance. The Borrego is sprung firm, but that's necessary to handle its seven-passenger seating capacity and 7500-pound towing capacity (take that, you weenie, car-based crossovers). Only the nastiest bumps or road surfaces upset it. This thing is quiet, too: no road rumble, minimal wind noise, well-damped engine-bay sounds. The overall feel is one of substance and solidity. Visibility is excellent. All of the seating is comfortable, save perhaps the rear, which is a little flat and upright, although roomy as mentioned.

Kia's marketing types are quick to point out that "we're not in the three-row sport/utility segment now, so any we sell there will be a plus for the brand." It just won't be as many as they originally thought. Too bad. Because, irrespective of the climate into which it's being launched, the Borrego is a solid, well-done piece that does a lot, holds a ton, and is plenty satisfying to drive. Bad timing is its biggest misstep.



2009 Kia Borrego EX 4x4 V-8
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, 4WD
Engine type 90 V-8, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 282.4 cu in/4627 cc
Compression ratio 10.4:1:1
Power (SAE NET) 337 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE NET) 323 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Weight to power 14.5 lb/hp
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Axle/final 3.36:1/2.34:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 18.0:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.5
Brakes, f;r 12.9-in vented disc; 12.8-in disc, ABS
Wheels 7.5 x 18 in, cast aluminum
Tires 265/60R18 109T Hankook RA07
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 114.0 in
Track, f/r 63.6/64.0 in
Length x width x height 192.1 x 75.4 x 71.3 in
Ground clearance 8.5 in
Approach/depart angle 27.3/22.5 deg
Turning circle 36.5 ft
Curb weight 4878 lb
Weight dist., f/r 54/46%
Towing capacity 7500 lb
Seating capacity 7
Headroom, f/m/r 40.0/39.0/38.0 in
Legroom, f/m/r 41.7/37.4/32.9 in
Shoulder room, f/m/r 60.2/59.1/55.7 in
Cargo vol behind f/m/r 156.8/49.3/12.4
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.4 sec
0-40 3.7
0-50 5.5
0-60 7.1
0-70 9.3
0-80 12.2
0-90 15.2
0-100 18.4
Passing, 45-65 mph 3.4 sec
Quarter mile 15.5 sec @ 90.9 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 128 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.77 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.9 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
Top-gear revs @ 60 mph 1600 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $33,745
Price as tested $39,295
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
Basic warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 10 yrs/100,000 miles
Roadside assistance 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Fuel capacity 20.6 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 15/21 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.13 lb/mile
Recommended fuel Regular

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