Hyundai stepped up its game with the Genesis sedan, and now co-company Kia comes out with an SUV that easily rivals the. The 2009 Kia Borrego matches many of the attributes of the Explorer, such as third-row seating, choice of V-6 or V-8 engines, and two- or four-wheel drive. But the Borrego undercuts the Explorer in price and includes many nice interior features that you just wouldn't expect, such as a power-adjustable steering wheel.
On the road
A running board helps in ascending to the driver's seat of the 2009 Kia Borrego. Leather covers the seats in this upscale EX trim model, but hard plastics still abound on doors and dash. A couple of drawers in the stack offer rubber mats for safe personal electronics storage.
A plastic flap marked Aux on the console conceals a USB port that also works for iPods, along with a standard audio auxiliary jack. Unfortunately, the iPod integration doesn't work with the iPhone. In fact, the iPhone turns out to be pretty useless in the Borrego, as our test model doesn't have the optional Bluetooth phone support, either. No matter, we plug in a USB flash drive and get rolling.
The bulk of the Borrego doesn't help in city maneuvering, but the 3.8-liter V-6 gives it good take-off power. This SUV moves quickly enough to leap into traffic gaps and get through intersections. But it suffers the usual SUV problem of poor rear visibility, with no rear-view camera to alleviate the problem while parking--though that's an option. It does have sonar to warn you about the steel pole about to bifurcate the rear bumper.
Moving up to speed on the freeway, the softness of the suspension becomes apparent, as the Borrego bounces down the road. With only one occupant, we aren't taxing the vehicle's load capacity, which would change the ride characteristics, but SUVs like this too often do serve as transport for one.
While driving at speed, the V-6 shows the limits of its power. Passing requires a strong foot on the gas pedal, rather than the more casual blip you can get away with in a V-8. And it doesn't feel like the smaller engine is paying off in fuel economy, as the trip computer grudgingly moves up to 15.7 mpg, falling short of the Borrego's 21 mpg highway rating.
Driving onto dirt, we explore the car's low four-wheel-drive setting. It drives all right, but sand would be a better test. Putting it into the high four-wheel-drive setting for some more asphalt driving, it handles the corners well enough, given its size. But forced four-wheel-drive won't be as economical as the automatic setting we used previously, where the Borrego mainly relies on its rear wheels, with power going to the front wheels as needed.
In the cabin
As part of Kia's new assault on the automotive market, the company is offering up-to-date cabin tech in its vehicles, with the 2009 Kia Borrego running point for navigation systems. While it's good to see a color LCD in the dashboard of the Borrego, this navigation system relies on DVD storage for its maps, with the resulting slow response time for route calculation and map browsing. Likewise, advanced features, such as traffic, are missing, but the system does do text to speech, a very useful feature wherein the navigation system says aloud the name of the next street onto which you need to turn.
The LCD in the Borrego is a touch screen, with controls for navigation and audio. The steering wheel also hides a voice command button under the left side of the hub. We are impressed by the graphics on the address entry and audio control screens, which show an attempt at design, as opposed to the functional but boring screens from other automakers.