• Jul 21st 2008 at 12:31PM
  • 48
Click above for high-res gallery of the 2009 Kia Borrego

Could there be an any worse time to debut a brand new body-on-frame SUV like Kia has done with the new 2009 Borrego? Gas prices have most every new car shopper running from SUVs into small cars with four-cylinder engines. In fact, many SUV early adopters are now driving much smaller sedans like those models that make up Kia's bread-and-butter line. Enough new Korean vehicles were sold in America so far this year that the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group managed to outpace mighty Honda in total sales as it roared into the number five worldwide automaker spot. Therefore, our immediate thought is that Kia must be crazy to go ahead and introduce the new Borrego in the American market... but Kia would have you believe otherwise.

As Kia's sales team sees it, since the Korean automaker currently offers no contenders in the true midsize SUV category, any slice of the dwindling market is a win. Is the Borrego good enough to win over any remaining SUV buyers? Read on.

All photos copyright Jeremy Korzeniewski / Weblogs Inc.

The new Borrego breaks no new ground in terms of styling. The blocky 'ute features corners just smoothed-over enough to eschew the current box-it-came-in trend, though the upswept side sightline, also currently en vogue, is present and accounted for. A large chrome grille dominates the front view, while dual rhombus-shaped headlights flank that massive mug. Pronounced wheel arches bring the current Acura line to mind -- perhaps not the wisest choice of automakers to copy. Standard light gray body cladding and bumpers are also featured all around the vehicle as is common on vehicles of the genre. It seems that Kia managed to locate and include all of the common sport utility vehicle trappings. While the look is a bit played out, the Kia manages to remain anonymous enough that it's not likely to turn off many prospective buyers based on looks alone.

Inside, the look is fairly upscale. In fact, Kia sees its new vehicle as a bargain-priced option when compared with the current entry-level luxury utility vehicles, going so far as to include the Lexus RX330 on some promotional slides shown to us during our early-morning press briefing. While it would be hard-pressed to live up to that early billing, the fit and finish of the interior was considerably better than expected and reminded us again how far Hyundai and Kia have come in initial quality. Panel gaps were tight and the graining on the soft-touch plastic was agreeable enough.

There were a few sour points, though, including the actual instrument cluster and the shiny plastic covering in which it was festooned. An oversized speedometer looms large front and center in the binnacle, flanked by a tach on the left along with temperature and fuel gages on the right side. Individual gauges those other bits of info would be more fitting in an upscale interior. Still, everything was easy to see in both daylight and at night. A totally different cluster will be standard on Limited models, which are expected to appear later in the year.

At the price point the Borrego is able to hit -- starting around $26 grand and hitting $40,000 after all the boxes are checked -- and especially since Kia intends to position it as a luxury offering, there are some expected features that are either not standard or not available. For instance, keyless starting is nowhere to be found, and Bluetooth is only available as a non-factory installed accessory. Controls for the rear air conditioning and heat are optional, though the ducting out back is well designed and part of the standard equipment. Heated seats are also optional both front and rear along with a power sunroof. A high-end Infinity sound system is optional, as is voice-activated Navigation.

We found the Borrego very easy to enter and exit, and the second row of seats fold neatly away for entry into the standard 50/50 split third row. Of course, leg, hip and shoulder room is a bit lacking back there, but it was certainly on par with what is available elsewhere. Our test vehicles were equipped with a leather interior that seemed more durable than plush and very ready to stand up to the day-to-day grind. Ten cup-holders are also available for the morning trip to Starbucks. One feature that we really appreciated was the console-mounted axillary audio jack and USB slot. Mounted just to the right of the shifter and covered by a nice and sturdy plastic door, cables can be kept free of the important buttons and levers filling up the center of the dash.

Driving the Borrego again proved that Kia has studied the segment carefully. While current trends dictate a car-like ride and handling compromise, Kia left those adjectives to its corporate sibling, the Hyundai Veracruz. As is befitting a large full-frame SUV, the Borrego rides firm and feels substantial. For those looking to haul lots of people along with their stuff, the Borrego feels ready for the job. Towing also proved a strong point, as the Borrego comes equipped with a hitch as standard equipment. Powered by either a 3.8L DOHC V6 with 276 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque or Kia's first-ever V8 engine that displaces 4.6L and offers 337 horsepower and 323 lb-ft of torque, the Borrego can tug between 5,000 and 7,500 pounds. A five-speed auto is hooked to the six while the V8 comes with a ZF-supplied six-speed automatic.

Both the V6 and V8 engines had plenty of power for around-town driving, though we preferred the six-speed tranny from the V8 in all circumstances. Fuel mileage stands at 17 city and 21 highway for the 2WD V6 model, which drops one mile per gallon in the city when 4WD is added. Somewhat surprisingly, the V8 is able to achieve 15 city and 22 highway in 2WD -- one better on the super slab than the six -- while highway mileage stoops to 20 mpg with 4WD. Surely, the bigger V8 engine is working less hard in situations where the driver calls up some extra forward thrust, especially as it's equipped with an extra gear, but the V6 expected to make up the bulk of sales will prove perfectly adequate in all but the most demanding of situations.

When the Borrego program was first started, Kia surely didn't expect the price of gas to skyrocket as high as it has and quite so quickly. Regardless, it's a credible contender to such SUV stalwarts as the Ford Explorer, Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Considering that none of these models has exactly been setting the world on fire when it comes to sales, nor have they have been substantially updated in years, Kia will likely be happy if it can just eke out enough sales to break even on the project. The Borrego is certainly good enough that midsize SUV shoppers should take a good look at it before making any buying decisions.

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Well, Kia is in the same position as Ford is w.r.t. Flex. Knowing what we know about the gas prices, Kia wouldn't have given the go-ahead for this SUV. Designing a car is expensive, not counting the marketing, sewrvice, spares etc.

      Probably this was going to be Kia's first salvo into the pickup truck market. I predict they would withdraw this in another 1-2 model years.

      And in any case, why would anyone go for this when they can get Veracruz? It is much more stylish, has more gadgets & frankly Hyundai has better image than Kia. (Look at the sales of Hyundai Azera & Kia Amanti, Azera sells about 25k units per year compared to 6k for Amanti)
        • 7 Years Ago
        the Azera and Amanti are hardly the same thing. The Amanti is much smaller and one of the ugliest cars to EVER be made. Azera is nice enough looking and MUCH better car. Teh Amanti is similar to the old XG from Hyundai.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The Flex at least has the advantage of an Ecoboost 4-cylinder on the horizon, which should help gas mileage.

        Three years ago, I'd have been very interested in this vehicle. Development was probably well underway at that point, and by the time gas prices skyrocketed, Kia was already committed. I'd say that's the only reason we're seeing it on the market-- Kia was in too deep to pull out.

        So it doesn't fit today's buyer like it would have a couple of years ago. However, I still see new 4-Runners and Explorers on the road, so there is apparently a (small) market for the Borrego out there. Kia will find buyers, but I doubt they will be enough to pay for R&D.

        As for styling, I'd peg it at "derivative plain". Nothing original about it, but it's certainly not ugly. Better than the Veracruz, though, which looks like it was modeled after a melted ice sculpture. Either way, it won't get my dollar.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The thing is - there are people who still need a body-on-frame to tow trailers, drive into the backcountry, etc. - stuff that crossovers can't do (no need for Kia to develop a 7 passenger crossover since Hyundai already covers that).

        W/ a higher towing capacity (than an Explorer), better gas mileage, etc. - the Borrego may very well eke out a portion of the shrinking SUV market in the States, but remember, the Borrego was developed w/ an eye towards the world market (India, China, Russia, South America, the Middle East) - where body-on-frame SUVs are still in demand.

      • 7 Years Ago
      Tehe, *bore*-rego ... How's that for a marketing connotation?
      • 7 Years Ago
      That interior has everything I hate about asian cars. A button to reset the clock (WHY!?), cheap-looking plastic, excessive ammounts of buttons and the old KIA-trademark, a slippery wheel made out of plastic.
        • 7 Years Ago
        You're absolutely right about that damn reset button. How dare Kia assume that car buyers use daylight savings time!

        /lame arse complaint
        • 7 Years Ago
        I agree it is a fairly lame complaint but there is NO reason I can think of to have a reset button on a clock.

        Daylight savings is a dumb reason unless it is 1 and you are falling back to 12 at exactly 1. Otherwise you are cycling through to get to the correct time.

        It the reset button auto sets the time based on the GPS now that would be something.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Funny, I thought the opposite. The interior reeks of Ford. Anyways, we both can agree it doesn't look good.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Inside, the look is fairly upscale."

      We must be looking at different interiors. That reeks of cheap to me.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I suspect anyone crazy enough to jump into a ~15-18 MPG, body-on-frame, midsize SUV is going to want either Jeep's brand image or Toyota's promise of reliability.

        Then again, I suppose this segment could get some action from people who want to tow things but are tired of keeping their Tahoe or Expedition filled.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Whoops, not supposed to be a reply.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "At the price point the Borrego is able to hit"

      Which is...?
        • 7 Years Ago
        40K!!!! That is Yukon territory.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Cool, thanks.
        • 7 Years Ago
        "Yukon Territory"... Um Yukons hit 40K while dusted lightly with options. The Borrego hits 40K almost fully loaded. Yukon territory, but starting at almost 10K less.

        Almost like what the Genesis is to the Lexus GS.

      • 7 Years Ago
      The MPG for both engines is inline with the crossovers (the V8 gets better MPG on the highway than the V6). This thing is better than almost all other body on frame SUV's. They just have to market it properly(better than the Explorer and Durango because tows more, gets better MPG and it's much more refined than either)
        • 7 Years Ago
        Jeep GC = 15/19 w V6 and 14/19 w V8
        Ford Exporer = 13/19 w V6 or the V8
        GMC Yukon 4wd = 14/19 V8 and 8400lbs tow rating
        Pathfinder 4wd = 12/18 V8 and 14/20 w V6
        Toyota 4runner 4x4 = 16/20 w v6 and 14/17 with V8

        The MPG is fine compared to other body on frame but not when compared to the crossovers.

        • 7 Years Ago

        Its really not fair to toss the Yukon in there. Its much larger and more expensive than the Kia. Its like comparing a mustang to a Vette.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What a dumb name!
      In Portuguese (and Spanish - the likely source) it means "lamb"; it also means skiping responsabilities/given word, abort landing (aviation) and refusal to jump an obstacle (horse riding). :P
        • 7 Years Ago
        I doubt that most of its target audience would really care what the name means in its native language.
        • 7 Years Ago
        and a Grapefruit festival every year in Cali.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What a flop.
      The ford explorer doesn't even sell anymore, who's going to buy into this?

      Waste of money, this entire project could have been spent on an alternative vehicle, EV, city car project, to win the MPG race, instead of the many incentives they will need to pass this POS off to consumers.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Gee, like the inital planning for the Borrego didn't happen 3-4 years ago, and the US is hardly the sole market for Kia.

        Is this a great time for a BOF SUV to come onto the market? No.

        But there are people who still need an off-roader or an SUV w/ towing capacity.

        If Kia could steal some sales worldwide in this category - then it wouldn't be the worst thing.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Good point!!

        And correct me if I'm wrong but BOF midsize SUVs (Trailblazer, Explorer, Pathfinder and 4Runner) haven't been runaway sales successes for a while. Why Hyundai/Kia thought it was a good idea to get into a fledgling market like this beats the hell out of me.

        And comparing this thing to the Lexus RX??? I think that is going to do a lot more harm than good.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Kia will sell more Rios in a month than Borregos in a year, though it should be interesting to see if that changes when the diesel shows up here.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Hey yeah, why has the Subaru Tribecca/Chrysler/now- Kia frontend design become T-H-E look for these kinds of vehicles? Can't anyone come-up with a NEW design? Or are all these manufacturers buying front clips from the same source?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Who knows mate and it is not like its a good look to copy.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "keyless starting is nowhere to be found" Who cares? This is the stupidest waste of money gimmick out there.
      • 7 Years Ago
      for a kia....id hit it...
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