Under the hood of our test 2009 Kia Borrego EX 4×4 was Kia’s first V-8, a 4.6-liter double overhead cammer with four valves per cylinder and all-aluminum construction. It produces 337 horsepower and 323 lb-ft of torque and it’s linked to a six-speed automatic transmission, another first for Kia. And it’s a mid-sized SUV—think Ford Explorer—another first for Kia. And we’ll venture that it’s also the best interior Kia has ever put in one of their vehicles.
But it comes into a market that’s dealt it a cruel one-two punch, first the spiking gas prices followed by an economy in a tailspin. At first, customers wouldn’t buy one because no one was buying SUVs, and then with the market nervous about losing jobs if they’re not already gone—not to mention credit that has shrunken even for those with good credit histories—customers are sticking their hands in their pockets and waiting for a more opportune time.
That said, we’ll venture into a look at the Kia Borrego EX 4×4 with the V-8 engine.
First, this isn’t a cheap vehicle in more ways than one. The base price for our test Borrego checked in at $32,995. Adding P265/65R18 tires and chrome wheels added $750, Premium and Luxury packages add $1,800 and $1,500 respectively, the navigation system another $1,500. Throw in delivery for another $750 for a grand sum total of $39,295.
Then there’s what was available wasn’t on our test truck, options including keyless start, a backup camera, heated rear seats and Bluetooth and before you can say kimchi rice the price is above $40k. Certainly that’s a first for Kia and one that will change one’s expectations and experience with Kia as a brand.
Even at that, our test Kia Borrego was painted “Silver.” Just “Silver.” Not Harbor Mist or Nevada Silver or some other marketer’s creation, but just plain Silver. It’s fitting, actually, because the exterior design, though pleasant enough and essentially original, would also make a good bank robbery escape vehicle. The grille is horizontal chrome bars, the headlights are headlights, the taillights, taillights. It has the traditional two-box SUV shape though with a kickup to the back side windows, though there are several other sport-utes out there with the same thing.
“Can you give us a description, ma’am?” “Well, it was a silver SUV…” Good luck tracking that down. It’s not as if there aren’t very many of those out there.
The interior is about as plain as the exterior, though the instrument panel has a large central speedometer with a hockey stick-shaped tachometer off to the left. Somewhat different but hardly exciting. On the other hand, the center stack had had to be the easiest thing to master since you put round blocks through the round holes and square blocks through the square holes.
The navigation system didn’t require a deep dive into the owner’s manual for the basic functions we needed. The automatic climate controls had simple red and blue arrow buttons that even we could figure out and the audio system had an on-off-volume knob and a tuning knob and added functions from there. The nav system didn’t have advanced satellite traffic that at its price one might expect, but it got us where we wanted to go without any weird detours and with a big, clear screen, and that’s worth something.
The Kia Borrego’s quality was evident in the soft touch surfaces, how everything fit together and the solid feel of the moving parts in the interior, such as the two bins at the bottom of the center stack and the two-layer storage in the center console armrest, complete with a passthrough for the power cord from the 12-volt socket in the bottom bin.
We have nothing but praise for the front seats. Let’s call them heavenly. The second row was rather hard, however, and the third row seats are so close to the floor that adults put back there should expect a bonus in their next paycheck, or at least a free brewski sometime.
The second row can be moved forward and back to work out a compromise on leg room between the second and third row, and the seatbacks of those rows fold for an almost flat load floor. We suspect the third row will remain folded much of the time because there isn’t much room between it and the liftgate, just about the width of the traditional paper shopping bag, making us nervous about something falling out whenever we opened the liftgate.
The Borrego’s ride was cushy over rough pavement and it made tar strips and other pavement annoyances disappear. Mashing the throttle from a standstill and turning, as one might (and we did) when jumping into traffic from the side of the road can be a spooky experience however, as the softness of the suspension translated into a lack of shock absorber control. The V-8 has a lot of oomph and is best experienced fully with the wheels pointed straight ahead.