Kia SUV has right moves
Borrego is late to the party
Kia has added a third SUV to its lineup for 2009, this one even more capable than its other two models for the kind of serious off-road driving that spawned the creation of sport utilities in the first place.
Long before SUVs were heartily embraced by soccer moms as the favored replacements for minivans and station wagons, those of us who like to go where no mere car has gone before had been buying sport utilities as our weekend getaway vehicles.
My first, which I purchased "gently used" in 1973 while I was editor of a weekly newspaper in the Cumberland Mountains of upper east Tennessee, was a 1965 Jeep Wagoneer, which came with a Buick V-6 engine and a great four-wheel-drive system.
The Cumberlands, part of the Appalachian chain that runs from Maine to north Alabama, offer some great off-road-driving opportunities, and for that, a Jeep-type vehicle was just the ticket.
Today, there are plenty of SUVs on the market, but their numbers are dwindling as consumers increasingly turn to the so-called CUVs, or crossover utility vehicles, which offer marginal off-road capabilities at best, but are as good as or better than station wagons or minivans at hauling the kids and their soccer gear around town.
With gasoline prices spiking and car buyers pulling back even more on SUV purchases, I have to applaud South Korea's Kia for going ahead this fall with the launch of its all-new Borrego. This is a midsize SUV that isn't a crossover, but a traditional truck-based, body-on-frame vehicle rugged enough to tackle tough off-road trails such as those I once explored in the Cumberlands.
The Borrego's name is quite fitting for a vehicle that is so off-road capable. It's taken from the name of one of my all-time favorite places for four-wheeling - the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near Palm Springs, Calif.
Kia began development of the Borrego about four years ago when gasoline was about half the price it is now and no one was worrying much about fuel economy.
But some other automakers probably would have pulled the plug on the Borrego this year if it had been their vehicle. Kia, though, doesn't have much to lose and plenty to gain with the launch of the Borrego.
That's because even with its traditional SUV chassis, the Borrego's EPA fuel economy ratings are as good as those of popular crossovers - 16 miles per gallon city and 21 miles per gallon highway with the base 3.3-liter V-6 engine and four-wheel drive.
Another bold move is the introduction of an optional 4.6-liter V-8, borrowed from the new Hyundai Genesis luxury sedan. This is the first V-8 in either a Kia or a Hyundai, and some would argue that it's a little late coming, especially now that consumers seem to be abandoning V-8s in record numbers in favor of more efficient four- and six-cylinder engines.
The Borrego accomplishes two goals for Kia, a subsidiary of Hyundai. It gives the company its most powerful and best-equipped vehicle yet, and it shows consumers that the brand once known mostly for value and economy can field a credible entry in a near-premium vehicle segment.
The vehicle seats up to seven, and it has a roomy and comfortable interior that looks more like a luxury sedan's than an off-road-capable SUV's.
Yet when equipped with the optional four-wheel drive, the Borrego is just as home on the range as it is on the freeway.
Of course, it comes with a two-speed transfer case with low range gearing, a necessity on steep mountain trails and in deep sand.
Base prices range from $26,245 for the entry two-wheel-drive LX model with V-6 engine, to $30,995 for the uplevel, two-wheel-drive, V-8 powered EX version.
The V-8 LX model with four-wheel drive is the same price as the EX V-8; the V-6 version of the EX with two-wheel drive is $27,995.
Four-wheel drive can be added to the LX V-6 for $2,050 and to the EX V-6 or V-8 for an additional $2,000.
The V-6 is rated at 276 horsepower and is connected to a five-speed automatic transmission.
With the V-8, there is 337 horsepower and 323 foot-pounds of torque.
Standard is a six-speed automatic. EPA ratings are 15/22 with two-wheel drive and 15/20 with four-wheel drive.
The Borrego, which is sold as the Mohave in markets outside North America, was designed with occupant safety in mind. It has earned the highest five-star crash safety ratings from the US government for all seating positions.
"Borrego is Kia's newest vehicle, and it is a prime example of our commitment and dedication to providing the best and most up-to-date standard safety features in vehicles for consumers," Byung-Mo Ahn, group president and chief executive of Kia Motors America, said in announcing pricing for the vehicle, which went on sale in August.
Among its standard safety features are advanced front air bags, front seat-mounted side air bags, side-curtain air bags for all three rows of seats, a driver's knee air bag (V-8 models only), four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control and traction control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, electronic brake-force distribution, and electronic brake assist.
For those with boats, horse trailers, or small travel trailers, towing capacity is 5,000 pounds for the V-6 models and 7,500 pounds for the V-8.
Standard amenities include air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 six-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary input jack, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, and Sirius satellite radio.
Kia says the Borrego has more interior space than