2009 Kia Borrego EX V8 4WD Review

By Kevin Miller


The title of this review might have you feeling a sense of déjà vu. The reason is that I had a Kia Borrego for review a few weeks ago, but after just two days with that V6 Borrego EX, a mechanical problem saw the vehicle taken away for service. Kia’s local fleet managers wanted me to be able to give the Borrego a fair shake, which led to me spending a week recently with the more-powerful Kia Borrego EX V8 4WD.

If you think of Kia as a manufacturer of small, inexpensive cars, your viewpoint is now officially outdated. The base MSRP is a reasonable $32995, which includes the 337 HP V8 mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive with electronic AUTO/HI/LOW range selection, ABS brakes, tow hitch, a full compliment of airbags (driver’s knees, front, front seat, and 3-row side curtain), stability control, parking assistance, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats with active head restraints, 50/50 split fold third-row seats, windshield de-icer, and a 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

However, the Borrego I drove had an as-equipped MSRP of $39,295. It was optioned up with chrome 18″ wheels for $750, Premium Package (sunroof, Infinity AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, rear AC with separate full controls, running boards) for $1800, Navigation System with voice control for $1500, Luxury Package (leather seat trim in first two rows, heated front seats, power tilt/telescoping steering column, two-position memory for driver’s seat, exterior mirrors, and steering column) for $1500, and $750 destination fee. The ambitious price tag is in the territory of storied nameplates from more-respected manufacturers, such as Ford Explorer Limited, Toyota 4Runner Limited, and Nissan Pathfinder LE.

Among those competitors, the Kia’s 337 HP V8 is tops, when compared to the 260 HP in the Toyota 4Runner, 292 HP in Ford Explorer, and 310 HP in the Pathfinder. The Borrego’s turning circle of 36.5 feet is respectably tidy as well as best-in-class, 0.3 feet less than the Explorer and a full three feet less than the Pathfinder’s 39.5 feet. The Borrego’s 7500 lb towing rating bests the vehicles mentioned above by between 200 and 500 pounds.

The Borrego’s fuel 15/20 MPG fuel economy rating is also best in class. In a week of driving, I averaged just 15.0 MPG according to the Borrego’s trip computer, in a mix of driving that was about 75% city, 25% highway. By means of comparison, the 276 HP V6 available in the Borrego is rated 16/21 MPG, not much of an improvement for a loss of 61 HP. Of course, in the 4Runner you only get 260 HP from the V8, and that one is rated 14/17 MPG in 4-wheel-drive form.

Kia touts the Borrego as “A New Kind of Luxury SUV.” Even with all of the above luxury features, however, the interior doesn’t feel terribly luxurious. Many (though not all) of the dash materials look inexpensive. The leather upholstery isn’t particularly supple, and the leather wrap on the steering wheel feels more like vinyl than real vinyl usually does (leather from a plastic cow, perhaps). The sunroof is among the smallest I’ve seen in any modern car, and looks quite small in the Borrego’s big headliner. The door interior panels are hard plastic (no textile or leather was present). A hard, hollow-sounding plastic material on the lower dash is impacted by the swinging, non-integrated key fob when the Borrego drives over uneven pavement, reminding you that you’re driving a body-on-frame SUV. Ordering the optional keyless start would eliminate this audible reminder of Kia’s low-rent dash materials.

Despite some questionable material choices for a “luxury” SUV, the Borrego’s dash is handsome, and the controls are straightforward and easy to use. Operating the navigation system was intuitive whether entering a destination or switching between broadcast and satellite radio stations. Unfortunately I was never able to get the iPod input to work. However, the system does have a voice activation feature which I used a few times for switching programs, and to that end it worked flawlessly.

Among the few available options not included on my Borrego EX V8 were power adjustable pedals. The lack of adjustment meant that the pedals were too close to my size 13 shoes at the end of my long legs. The seat didn’t go back far enough to let me sit with my legs straight forward, so I had to splay my legs, with caused my right knee and shin to rub against the center console on a 90 minute commute across town in heavy traffic. That such a large vehicle doesn’t have enough legroom for the driver is telling; the Korean engineers who designed the Borrego evidently didn’t account for people of my 6’4″ size.

The suspension of the Borrego V8 deals well with the 4650 lbs of vehicle weight of the vehicle, which is about 200 lbs heavier than its V6-powered sibling. The power steering is burdened with the V8’s extra weight; one of my biggest complaints bout the V6 Borrego was its very-light-effort steering. Unfortunately, the V8 Borrego has power steering which has a tough time keeping up with inputs. Performing a quick lane change from a stop (to pull around a stopped bus, for example) results in steering wheel which is very heavy for a moment or two, before the power assistance catches up with steering wheel input.

The six-speed automatic transmission is not particularly smooth, nor is it is quick to downshift. It feels a bit clumsy around town, especially when poking along between 25 and 30 MPH. On the freeway, stepping on the accelerator at speed eventually results in downshifts and a noticeable, muscular growl from the V8 underhood. The transmission selector does have a gate for manually up- or down-shifting the transmission, though using that feature does not result in any quicker shifting.

The optional running boards on the vehicle I tested made it easy for both my three-year-old daughter and my eight-months-pregnant wife to get into the Borrego. Inside of the SUV, second row seats are spacious and have plenty of room, and they have LATCH attachment points for child seats. The third-row seats are pretty firm and pretty low to the floor, but do have a reasonable amount of legroom. Unfortunately, only the passenger-side second-row seat slides forward for accessing the third row, which meant that my daughter’s car seat couldn’t go in that position, where I usually install it. The third row seats do not have LATCH points for attachment of child seats.

Luggage space isn’t huge with the third-row seat in place. When the third row is stowed, there is plenty of cargo space, but the hard plastic of the third-row seatbacks (and the second-row seatbacks if those are folded down too) has absolutely no friction against any cargo to hold it in place. A trip to Costco had large containers of laundry soap and dishwasher detergent sliding all over in the back of the Borrego even with gentle cornering and acceleration, and I was imagining a mixture of soap powder from broken boxes (trust me, it can happen). Fortunately all of the packaging was still intact when I arrived home.

After a week with the Borrego EX V8 4WD, I came away with the impression that it is a capable vehicle with plenty of features found on luxury SUVs, even if the veneer of luxury is a bit thin in some places. The fact that the SUV market is contracting even more quickly than the overall auto market doesn’t detract from the Borrego’s merits. The Borrego is the most powerful and most efficient SUV in its class, and it has the most comprehensive warranty in its class as well. Those facts alone should at least convince buyers in the market for an SUV to put the Borrego on their list. However, convincing shoppers in the US to spend almost $40,000 on a Kia of any shape or size will be a challenge, especially in today’s economy.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice job. I just can’t see who would buy this class of car right now. (Well, I guess I don’t know who would’ve bought one before.) But with the cost of petrol falling as it is, this might not be the albatross it was 1-2 months ago.

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