It wouldn't seem like a propitious moment for any auto manufacturer to be launching a brand-new V-8 SUV, and truth to tell, it isn't. But unlike pessimists like us, the folks at Kia Motors see opportunities aplenty for their new Borrego seven-seater sport-ute. And in a way, we can see their point-with GM pulling the plug on the TrailBlazer/Envoy next year (sob, sniffle), and Ford more or less abandoning the Explorer until a 2011 relaunch, there's definitely room in this segment for a newcomer such as Kia to pick up some new customers, and company reps informed us that they plan to market and advertise this vehicle aggressively in the coming months. So, keep an eye on your TV screens or your dealer showroom-chances are you'll be catching a glimpse of the Borrego in the next few weeks.
Powering the Borrego is either the base 3.8L V-6 that's good for 276 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, or the optional 4.6L V-8 sourced from the Hyundai Genesis sedan that puts out 337 hp and 323 lb-ft of torque. (The motor cranks out 375 hp in the car, but Kia engineers detuned it for improved low-end torque.) If we were checking options, we'd take the V-8 since you get better power to weight, as well as the outstanding ZF six-speed automatic behind it (the V-6 gets a ZF five-speed which is decent, if somewhat unpredictable under load).
Saints be praised, the Borrego is not-repeat, not-some overgrown crossover but an honest-to-goodness four-wheel drive that comes with a Borg-Warner Torque-On-Demand two-speed transfer case with a 2.48:1 low-range. Suspension is independent double-wishbone with coil springs up front, and a multilink/coilover setup in the rear. Minimum ground clearance is 8.5 inches, and approach angle is a not-bad-for-this-class-anymore 27 degrees. Towing capacity for the V-8 is 7,500 pounds (yep, it's a body on frame, not a monocoque), and an integrated Class 3 hitch is standard issue. Estimated mileage is 16/21 with the V-6 and 15/20 with the V-8. No off-road-centric options are currently offered, though Kia reps informed us that some dealer-installed options, such as skidplates and rocker guards, should be available within the next few months.
In our brief time behind the wheel, we were impressed with the overall build quality and comfort level of the Borrego; our preproduction unit was very tight, with no noticeable rattles or squeaks, and road noise was minimal for a vehicle of this class. We recalled our first test drives of the first-gen Sportage 10 years ago-noisy, underpowered, and flat-out uncomfortable-and we were reminded of how far this company has progressed in addressing the demands of American consumers in only a decade. The interior of the top-line Borrego XL may not be quite as luxurious as, say, an Eddie Bauer Explorer, but it isn't very far off the mark, and it's still a solid debut effort from a manufacturer that continues to improve its product line with each new iteration. We'll have a Borrego in our field at our 2009 Four Wheeler of the Year test, appearing in our February '09 issue.
Excellent ZF six-speed; overall fit and finish; competitive pricing.
Slightly spongy suspension tuning; bad time to be launching a V-8 SUV.
A solid first-time effort that should bring some new customers into the Kia fold.
Vehicle/model: 2009 Kia Borrego
Base price: $30,995 (4x4)
Engine (tested): 4.6L DOHC 32-valve V-8
Max hp & torque (lb-ft): 337/323
Transmission(s): ZF six-speed automatic OD
Transfer case(s): Borg-Warner part-time two-speed
Low-range ratio: 2.48:1
Frame type: Boxed steel
Suspension, f/r: Upper, lower A-arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar/Solid axle, multilink, coilover shocks
Ring and pinion: 3.36:1
Max crawl ratio: 34.75:1
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Brakes, f/r: 12.9-inch vented disc/12.8-inch solid disc
Wheels (tested): 17x7 alloy
Tires (tested): P245/70R17 Hankook RA23
Wheelbase (in): 114.0
Length (in): 192.3
Height (in): 71.3
Base curb weight (lb): 4,621 (V-8)
Max approach/departure angles (deg): 27/23
Minimum ground clearance (in): 7.5
GVWR (lb): N/A
Max cargo volume (cu ft): 156.8 (rear seats folded)
Max towing capacity (lb): 7,500 (V-8)
EPA mileage figures, city/hwy (mpg): 15/20 (4x4 V-8)
Fuel capacity (gal): 20.6