CLE ELUM, Wash.--Is this an opportunity or a case of bad timing?
Kia is launching its midsized 2009 Borrego as the market for SUVs is collapsing.
"There is some migration from full-sized to midsized (SUVs), which we think plays well for the Kia brand," Tom Loveless, Kia Motors America's vice president of sales, said at a media event. "For us, it is an opportunity to enter a segment where we have never been, and it is also an opportunity to go after a consumer that we really haven't had access to."
Translation: The Borrego is Kia's most expensive vehicle, aimed at consumers who spend $27,000 to more than $40,000 for such SUVs as the Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, Ford Explorer, or Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Previously, the Amanti sedan, starting at $26,220 including shipping, was the most expensive model.
The basics: The Borrego is a seven-passenger, midsized SUV on a body-on-frame chassis that Kia expected to use for a pickup. The pickup program has been canceled.
Kia advertising touts the Borrego's value, noting its luxury amenities and its list of standard equipment that is optional on some other midsized SUVs. The list includes LED turn signals in the side mirrors and a backup feature that warns if a child or object is behind the vehicle.
The steering column electronically telescopes in and out and up and down. The V-8 version has a standard driver's knee airbag under the instrument panel.
An optional four-wheel drive comes with a hill-climbing feature that prevents the vehicle from rolling backward. The brake system helps control the vehicle when descending steep grades.
Kia also hopes to woo buyers with the Borrego's towing capability. The 276 horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 version can tow as much as 5,000 pounds, while the 337 horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 can tow 7,500 pounds.
Notable features: Sixteen air conditioning/heating vents; the seat back for the second row folds forward, and the entire seat moves forward to provide easier access to the third row; USB and auxiliary input jack.
What Kia says: In clinics, "midsized SUV intenders were saying, 'I would be very proud to be seen in this car,' " said Tim Chaney, Kia Motors America's marketing director. "There is no apologizing. It blew away their notion of what Kia was about in terms of features, amenities and quality."
Nuts and bolts: The Borrego is assembled in Korea. A Hyundai-Kia engineered five-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V-6; a ZF six-speed automatic comes with the V-8. BorgWarner developed the full-time, torque-on-demand system. U.S. sales began this month.
Compromises and shortcomings: Road surfaces can be an issue. Moderate imperfections in some roads at interstate speeds sometimes translated into vibrations through the steering column. Additionally, a few times on these surfaces, two hands sometimes were needed on the steering wheel to keep the vehicle heading in the direction the driver intended.
The skinny: The Borrego is a powerful, quiet, midsized SUV with a large interior and towing capacity for a large boat. But the Borrego is a work in progress with some tweaks needed to make the driver happy and confident about the vehicle.
(Source: Automotive News)