By Peter N.
- B I G
- Powerful acceleration
- Nice luxury details (dual zone climate, seat & mirror memory, heated seats)
- Great stereo sound
- B I G
- Rough ride
- Fit and finish rivals Detroit, not Japan
- Annoying telescoping steering wheel
- Difficult access to third row
Kia, a subsidiary of the aggressively growing Hyundai, has been making in-roads on the North America market with their very affordable cars and SUVs. The bulk of their sales have come from the lower end of the market, where customers have selected Kia cars for the value they offer, balancing decent quality with a low price. With the Borrego, Kia is pushing their price tag up and delivering a much larger SUV. With the economy tanking and a renewed interest in improved gas mileage and green autos, Kia’s push will be interesting to watch. Will it make in-roads against the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot? Or the Ford Explorer and Buick Enclave? Or is it the wrong SUV size at the wrong time?
I drove a Spicy Red Borrego EX V6 that featured both the premium package and the luxury package, which combined with the navigation system, pushed the price up to a lofty $36,000. All those extra features did elevate the Kia experience a bit, but did not fully cover the impression that this SUV was designed more for a six-pack crowd than the chardonnay set. While the leather seats and dual climate zones were nice, the overall design, fit-and-finish, and driving experience felt as though Kia targeted a more economical buyer and then put some lipstick on it. The Borrego bounced over speed bumps, swayed through turns, and felt every bit of its 4,460 lbs. It does deliver surprising acceleration, powering the Borrego up to speed so fast that I wished I was towing a boat to slow me down. It certainly has the horses to make the most of the uphill passing lanes on the way to Tahoe. But other than its notable power, the Borrego overall seems somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
Even though I had a model with the luxury package, when I slipped behind the wheel, the Borrego struck me as an truck designed in Detroit. The materials used and design of the dashboard reminded more of a regular Ford than a snooty Acura or Lexus. While the workmanship left no complaints – no missing stitches, no gaps in the paneling, no ill-fitting parts – the component design and selection of material fell below my expectations for a luxury SUV. Had the Borrego been simply a mid-market SUV with a great sound system, its performance would have been more matched to my hopes. As a luxury SUV, it falls short. It is a solidly build SUV that gave every impression of being a good workhorse and is backed by one of the better warranties on the market.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The Borrego does big, both outside and inside. With plenty of room, the cavernous interior provides elbow room for everyone. What I found strange, and eventually annoying, in such an already spacious cabin was the automatic telescoping steering wheel. When departing the vehicle, the steering wheel moves towards the dashboard and your seat scoots a bit back. The process is reversed when you get in. Given that you are climbing into a generously portioned cockpit, what’s the point? Perhaps this is needed for petite drivers that need seat-assisted elevation, but after just a few days I needed to find the switch to turn it off. I understand why such systems are in small and cramped cabins, but the Borrego is anything but.
Soft, heated seats provide for comfortable, long distance driving, and the instrument panel is laid out without surprises. A rear-view camera should have been standard on a family-focused truck of this size, though and while this is an option from Kia, its absence on this review vehicle was noticeable.
Good integration of stereo controls into the steering wheel made controlling the crisp radio system easy and straightforward. The premium package speakers delivered crystal-clear acoustics, especially when paired to a strong satellite signal.
I frequently fault designers for insufficient cargo space, but the Borrego has enough space to double as your storage locker. With deep cargo bays and spacious door bins, the Borrego makes every possible nook and cranny a potential repository for Cheerios, wet wipes, a change of clothes and a few diapers – all at the same time. Entry into the third row is something of a challenge. I expected to be able to move the second row seat somewhat out of the way, but was not able to decipher the complex protocol needed. Either the controls are not intuitive or it is just poorly designed. As a result, my third row passengers clambered over a folded second row to reach their seats.
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