The Kia Borrego is a new midsize SUV that seats seven and compares favorably to the Toyota 4Runner, Nissan Pathfinder, and Honda Pilot.
The Borrego comes with either a 3.8-liter V6 engine using a five-speed automatic transmission, or a 4.6-liter V8 using a six-speed automatic. Both engines are built by Kia, and are all aluminum with double overhead cams. The V8 makes 337 horsepower, more than the Hemi in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The V8 model is rated to tow up to 7500 pounds.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 15/22 City/Highway miles per gallon with 2WD and 15/20 mpg with 4WD. The V6 is only a bit better with 17/21 mpg. That fuel mileage is good for an engine with that much power in a vehicle having the Borrego's weight and boxy aerodynamics, but it isn't frugal.
The Borrego offers three rows of seating, with overall interior volume greater than the competition. Legroom in the third row is very good, although it comes out of cargo space behind the third seat. With the 50/50 third seat lowered flat, there's a ton of cargo space. The 60/40 second row also drops flat, and it slides forward for easier ingress and egress to the third row.
Exclusive features include a standard tow hitch that's hidden behind the rear bumper, and LED turn signals on the sideview mirrors.
The Borrego is comfortable off road, with all-terrain capability that separates it from crossover SUVs such as the Toyota Highlander and Mazda CX-7. It comes standard with skid plates, and its optional electronic 4WD system is the latest generation made by BorgWarner and features high and low range.
Kia doesn't take styling risks, so the Borrego looks pretty much like any other boxy SUV; even its hood contours are rectangular. It may be bold, but it's still vanilla. The V8 comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, the V6 with 17s.
The interior is especially clean and well laid out, the seats are soothing, and the instrumentation and controls are intelligent.
The ride is solid, consistent and comfortable, on a double-wishbone front suspension, multi-link rear. The smooth six-speed transmission in the V8 is the same that's in the BMW X5 luxury SUV.
There's not much to fault with the Borrego, except that it gets the fuel economy of a midsize SUV.
Hard as Kia might have tried to make the Borrego look distinctive, it pretty much looks like any other boxy mid-size SUV. If you see the name Kia over the chrome grille, you might say, “Wow, that's a Kia.” Otherwise there's nothing exceptional to notice, although the LED turn signals on the sideview mirrors are kind of cool.
The fender flares are edgy, the upright headlights trapezoidal and symmetrical, and there are two big rectangular contoured humps in the hood that, from the driver's seat, make the Borrego feel even bigger. There's gray or black plastic cladding surrounding the vehicle, tarnishing the pretty bronze color on our test EX, apparently there to protect the sheetmetal from bumps and scratches when driving the Borrego off-road. Skid plates under the body and tow hooks are standard.
There's ample glass on the sides, with three distinct pillars making a third rearward window that allows good visibility through the rear corners. The rear window is also ample, no nonsense, along with the taillights that spread over the liftgate and wrap around the fenders. The rear liftgate is one piece, so the window doesn't open separately. The standard tow hitch receiver is cleverly hidden, a first. The Borrego will tow 7500 pounds with the V8, or 5000 pounds with the V6.
The Kia Borrego seats seven, with overall interior volume greater than the competition, including Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Grand Cherokee and the new Honda Pilot.
The fold-flat second and third row seats produce a vast cargo space that's especially easy to access through the large-mouthed liftgate. The 60/40 second row reclines, and has good legroom because it slides rearward, then slides forward for easy ingress and egress to the standard two-seat 50/50 folding third row. There's also hidden storage compartment under the cargo floor in back.
There's 32.9 inches of legroom in the third row, which compares very favorably to the competition. For example the Nissan Pathfinder is closest to the same size as the Borrego, and only has 28.1 inches for the way-back passengers; Toyota 4Runner, a bit smaller (truck-based like the Borrego and Pathfinder) offers a toe-cramping 24.1 inches. The new Ford Flex crossover and Saturn Outlook, each about 10 inches longer than the Borrego, offer less than half an inch more.
The softness of the leather is just right, and the bolstering is excellent; for sure, the Borrego's seats are more soothing and compatible to our body than those in the Mercedes SUV we recently tested. Our test EX came in a lovely gray perforated leather. The console between the two front seats offers twin fixed cupholders in front of an armrest that's set back just far enough that it's really only an elbow rest.
The driver's compartment is as clean and well laid out as any we can think of. The four-spoke steering wheel has three big buttons on between the spokes on each side, arranged vertically: cruise control on the right, sound system on the left. Easy. The correct buttons on the driver's door armrest and on the console around the shift lever are just as easy. It's a nice shift lever, with a manual mode that's easy to access: slide the lever to the right, then forward and back for upshift and downshift. Again, easy.
The gauges are great: clean white on black, with the speedometer in center and smaller tachometer on the left. Big rectangular vents on the dash, some of the 16 vents total in the cabin, and a center panel for the climate control and navigation system, which we also found easy to operate. We found the defroster slow to clear the windshield, however. We also detected slight wind noise at highway speeds.
The Kia Borrego is a truck-based SUV, that is to say body-on-frame construction. As such, the ride isn't as soft as with the crossover vehicles (car-based SUVs), such as the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, or Mazda CX-7. But with insulated rubber mountings between the body and frame, the ride is not in any way harsh or uncomfortable; it's mostly just more rugged, and capable of handling the rough stuff. The ride is solid, consistent and comfortable. Over some patchy roads in the Cascade Mountains of beautiful and remote central Washington, the Borrego bounced a bit, but still not much.
Like the Kia Sedona minivan before it, the Borrego was carefully designed by Korean engineers examining all the vehicles in the class, and then incorporating the best ideas and latest technology. Sixty-four percent of the chassis rails (with eight crossmembers) are made up of high-strength steel, meaning the chassis is rigid and thus the vehicle corners with stability. The suspension is double wishbone front and multi-link rear, while the four-wheel disc brakes have rotors that are 12.9-inch diameter in front (ventilated) and 12.8 inches in rear (solid).
We liked how the brakes felt when stopping the 4600-pound Borrego from high speeds.
We liked the smooth six-speed ZF transmission in the V8 even more. This German transmission, first built for BMWs, is fast becoming the industry standard, and is being used by a growing number of manufacturers largely because it improves fuel mileage by 5 percent over a five-speed automatic.
We weren't able to get the Borrego off road during our one-day test, but there's no reason to believe it couldn't handle the challenge better than a crossover. The advanced 4WD system called Torque on Demand includes high and low ranges.
The Borrego has two standard features that have a safety value on road and off: hill descent control and hill ascent control. With an automatic transmission, hill ascent control isn't needed very much, but hill descent control can come in handy. Going down a steep icy hill, for example, the ABS activates and throttle is controlled, so the vehicle maintains a steady, safe and slow speed.
The turning, with rack-and-pinion power steering, is light, with a 36.5-foot turning circle, as tight as many smaller SUVs. And the six-speed ZF transmission, with a manual mode, is state of the art, the same as used in the BMW.
The 4.6-liter V8 engine makes a large 337 horsepower with 323 pound-feet of torque at a fairly low 3500 rpm, which makes it strong for acceleration as well as towing. It's an aluminum engine and double overhead cam, the first of this kind for Kia.
We hooked a travel trailer to our Borrego and blasted around some roads for a bit, and it wasn't surprising that it was an easy test, as the V8 is rated to tow 7500 pounds.
With 4WD the EPA fuel mileage is 15/20 mpg, and with 2WD it's 15/22 mpg. This is the killer for the Borrego, and for Kia. Suddenly, a 337-horsepower V8 SUV that gets 17 or 18 miles per gallon sounds like a dinosaur, never mind that it's an all-new design.
The V6 engine isn't the answer, either, because its mileage is 17/21 mpg in 2WD and 16/21 mpg in 4WD. It may be a modern DOHC aluminum 3.8-liter, but if it only gets 1 mpg more than the V8, while making 60 less horsepower and 55 less pound-feet of torque, there's not much reason to choose it.
The new Kia Borrego does everything right, as a midsize luxury SUV. When weighed entirely and solely against its competition, the Borrego wins. It has excellent cabin and cargo space as a seven-seater, a solid and comfortable ride, terrific acceleration and towing power, and a smooth six-speed transmission in the V8. But midsize SUVs need to get better fuel mileage nowadays, so the trend will be toward smaller turbocharged engines. An all-new SUV using a 337-hp V8 appears to be moving against the incoming tide.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Cle Elum, Washington.