2009 Kia Borrego Preview


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2009 Kia Borrego

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2009 Kia Borrego Preview

My first experience with the 2009 Kia Borrego came before the official start of its recent introduction to the press, on the drive from Seattle-Tacoma Airport to the event base in Cle Elum, WA, a hundred or so miles inland in a scenic valley in the Cascade Mountains. Several Borregos were parked outside of the airport, and journalists could, if they desired, drive one to the event base.

While waiting for the full complement of passengers to show up, I looked at one of the assembled Borregos. A conservative modern sport-utility in style, I figured it to be Kia's implementation of the Hyundai Veracruz crossover platform. Pure logic there - Kia is owned by Hyundai and, although the end results usually are far away from what is on the Hyundai side, Kia works with Hyundai basics.

When everyone arrived, it was time to get in and drive. A quick glance around the cabin while settling in... hmmm, air vents in the ceiling behind the rear seat, there must be a third row back there. Pleasant design, simple controls, no need to read the probably nonexistent owner's manual, and off we go.

I90 from Seattle over Snoqualmie Pass to Cle Elum is a scenic mountain multi-lane divided highway, with some steep grades and pavement varying from good to rough and bumpy. The V6 in the Borrego I was driving was up to the task, although the transmission did get busy on the steeper uphill sections. Manually holding fourth, or even third, gear made life a little more peaceful. I had left a new Nissan Murano, one of the benchmark crossovers, at the airport after spending a week with it, and the Borrego felt at least as good on the road - unsurprising, considering Kia's ability to tune a suspension for both comfort and handling ability.

When I got to the event base, I found a Kia representative and asked if the Borrego was indeed their version of the Veracruz. Answer: No. Not even.

The Borrego is a body-on-frame SUV.

Such vehicles are more than a little controversial today, given social changes and the high price of gasoline. Socioeconomic changes between the design of a vehicle and its debut can make life interesting. But Kia is not betting the store on the Borrego - it is merely one of many of the Korean manufacturer's offerings, which include quite a few economical sedans and small crossovers. While SUVs are not the trendy aspirational vehicles they were a few years ago, and sales are dropping, there is still an SUV market, and there are still people who need, as opposed to merely want, an SUV.

During the press briefing, Kia representatives called the Borrego a "halo vehicle", one that will attract new, upscale customers to Kia. The target customer is an affluent suburbanite with an active lifestyle and a need for a vehicle that can carry up to seven passengers and tow 5,000 pounds in V6 trim or 7,500 pounds with the V8. Towing is where a body-on-frame design beats a unibody, as by the time a unibody vehicle is reinforced enough to deal with the stresses of towing, it might as well be body-on-frame.

"V8" is also a new word mixed with "Kia". The 4.6-liter engine is that used in parent Hyundai's upcoming Genesis sedan, an aluminum alloy twincam design with 4.6 liters displacement and 337 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 323 lb-ft of torque (at a low 3500 rpm). It's matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, with rear or available "Torque On Demand" dual-range full-time four-wheel drive, developed by Borg-Warner.

The V6 is similar in construction, minus two cylinders, for 3.8 liters displacement. It makes 276 horsepower (at 6000 rpm), with 267 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm and is fitted to a five-speed automatic. Both transmissions have manual-mode shifting. Fuel economy is a concern, and with EPA estimates ranging from 17 mpg city/ 21 mpg highway for the 2WD V6 through 15/20 for 4WD V8 (and 15/22 for the 2WD V8, thank you six-speed overdrive) the Borrego is at the thriftier end of the mid-size SUV category.

The boxed frame is based on that of the smaller Sorrento, but stretched. It's hydro-formed, not pressed and welded, for strength, rigidity, and lighter weight. The rigid body structure is rubber-mounted, to reduce road noise, engine and road vibrations, and harshness. Don't look for old-school solid axles here - the suspension is fully-independent, with double wishbones in front and a multi-link setup at the rear. With 8.5 inches of clearance and standard skid plates, the Borrego should be fine on any semi-improved dirt or gravel road, and should deal with urban and suburban road hazards easily.

At introduction, which should be now, there will be two Borrego trim levels, LX and EX. Both can be had with either engine, and two- or four-wheel drive. Three-row seating is standard, even in the 2WD LX V6. Ditto power mirrors, interior courtesy lighting, a well-appointed interior with standard cloth or optional leather seating, a 60/40 split second row with each part adjustable for fore-and-aft travel and seatback angle, and the 50/50 folding third-row seat. An AM/FM/CD/Sirius satellite audio system is standard. Not only does it have a regular mini-jack for MP3 player compatibility, a USB flash drive with MP3 files can also be used. An optional Infinity system should please audiophiles.

Standard safety equipment includes a full complement of airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, and electronic stability control and traction control systems.

This Fall, expect the full-luxury V8 4WD-only Limited model, in any color you want as long as it's black and all the options available on lesser models plus more standard. Pricing? Expect a 2WD LX to start around $26,000 and a fully-equipped EX 4WD to be maybe another ten or twelve thousand.

While I drove a V6 from Sea-Tac, the vehicles on the ride and drive were all EX V8s. And, wonder of wonders, the closest thing to off-road driving on the ride and drive route was a quarter mile of good gravel road. Most of it was on good two-lane mountain roads and freeways. Just like 98.6 percent of most SUV owners' driving experience....

Yes, the V8 has more power than the V6, for better acceleration and less shifting. The six-speed automatic helps even more, with a lower first gear, for low-speed acceleration, hill-climbing, and towing, and a higher sixth, for improved highway mileage. The Kia Borrego, with either drivetrain, is at least as refined in its interior noise levels and road manners as any competitor - and Kia mentioned the Honda Pilot, Toyota 4Runner and Highlander, Ford Explorer, and Nissan Pathfinder - and beats most if not all in its towing ability. Kia is not at present thought of as a premium brand, but the company is hoping that the Borrego will help change that.

If you're wondering about the name, "Borrego" is named after Southern California's Anza-Borrego desert. Many thanks to Kia for not doing the intro there in mid-July, as 110 degrees F is not at all unusual. And, at one point, I did get into the third-row seat. Especially with the second row placed a little forward, it's not at all the purgatory that is most SUV third rows. Space utilization, not usually a trait associated with an SUV, is very good in the Borrego.

SPECIFICATIONS
2009 Kia Borrego

Base Price			$ 26,000 to $36,000
Price As Tested			$n/a
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 4 valve per cylinder
				 aluminum alloy V6 or V8
Engine Size			V6: 3.8 liters / 231 cu. in.
				V8: 4.6 liters / 282 cu. in.
Horsepower			V6: 276 @ 6000 rpm
				V8: 337 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			V6: 267 @ 4400 rpm
				V8: 323 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission			V6: 5-speed automatic
				V8: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		114.0 in. / 192.3 in.
Curb Weight			n/a lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		n/a
Fuel Capacity			20.6 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87-octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P245/70R17 std, P265/60R18 opt
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  independent multilink
Ground clearance		8.5 inches
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine, rear or
				dual-range four-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17/21 V6 2WD to 15/20 V8 4WD
0 to 60 mph				7-9  sec (est)

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