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Hyundai stepped up its game with the Genesis sedan, and now co-company Kia comes out with an SUV that easily rivals the Ford Explorer. 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.
The USB port works with iPods and USB drives, but not iPhones.
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.
The four-wheel-drive control shows that the Borrego means business.
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.
A voice command buttons gives you an alternative to using the touch screen.
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.
With a full range of modern audio sources, the stereo in the Borrego is up to date, except for the aforementioned lack of iPhone support. Not only does it play MP3 files on iPods, USB drives, and CDs, but also has satellite radio. We find the interface for navigating categories on satellite radio and MP3 folders intuitive.
We are impressed by the graphic treatment for the audio control screens.
The Infinity audio system is well above average, using 10 speakers, including a subwoofer, to produce well-defined sound. Bass is strong, without being overwhelming, while the highs are nice and distinct.
Tech options for the Borrego that we didn't have on our test model were a rear-view camera, the display of which sits in the rear-view mirror, and Bluetooth cell phone support.
Under the hood
Our 2009 Kia Borrego was powered by a 3.8-liter V-6. A 4.6-liter V-8 is also available. We initially assumed the smaller engine would be a better choice for fuel economy, but as Kia has its power trains configured, fuel economy is virtually identical. Our four-wheel-drive V-6 gets an EPA rated 16 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, while the V-8 version gets 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.
That extra one mpg gained from the V-6 loses you 61 horsepower and 56 pound-feet of torque (the V-6 produces 276 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque). The sacrifice hardly seems worth it, unless you take into account the $3,000 price difference between the V-6 and V8 versions.
The V-6 doesn't make much sense compared with the V-8, as the fuel economy numbers aren't very different.
The main reason why the V-6 doesn't offer greatly improved fuel economy is the automatic transmission, a five-speed on the V-6 and a six-speed on the V-8. Kia might have eked out a better highway number if it had also put the six-speed with the V-6.
As it is, during our testing, which involved plenty of highway driving, we came just under 16 mpg--a little low for our tastes.
The Borrego's all-wheel-drive system suggests that its purpose goes beyond daily commuter use, as you can put it in a low setting for the real tough stuff, or a high setting for snow and other generally slippery conditions. It also has descent control, which will modulate speed down hills with difficult surfaces.
Our 2009 Kia Borrego EX, fitted with the V-6 and four-wheel-drive, came in with a base price of $29,995. Kia offers variations and different prices for the V-6 and the V-8, and four-wheel-drive or two-wheel-drive options. Ours cost an extra $1,800 for the Premium package (which included the Infinity stereo), $1,500 for the navigation system, and $1,500 for the Luxury package, bringing in leather seats and power adjustable steering wheel. Chrome wheels added $750. With the $750 destination charge, our total came out to $36,295. Bluetooth phone support would have been an extra $350.
In rating the Borrego, we give it a slightly above average score for cabin tech; it has all the bases covered, then steps it up a bit with the stereo. For performance tech, it earns points for its off-road gear, but drops a bit because of the poor fuel economy, coming down to an average rating. And we give it an extra point because of the good electronics interface for an otherwise average design.