- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

“Pure” SUVs, you probably know, are something of a dying breed. Last summer's soaring gas prices and growing public disinterest have thinned the options for those who still want a genuine SUV.

So the 2009 Borrego comes to Kia showrooms as an interesting contradiction. It definitely has plenty of the old-school SUV attributes: It's a little large, a little thirsty and probably a little overbuilt for what anybody really will do with it. But the Borrego certainly is a modern interpretation of what has become a tired idea.

Take the optional, big-hearted 4.6-liter V-8 of our top-of-the-line Borrego EX. It's far from the slightly grouchy, truck-based engine that's common for SUVs. Instead, this thing has luxury-car genes, based on the award-winning V-8 that powers sister brand Hyundai's Genesis premium sedan.

And in conjunction with this engine's impeccable refinement is grit that would do a lumberjack proud. The 4.6-liter churns out 337 horsepower. The V-8 also enables a burly 7,500-pound towing capacity.

The Borrego's V-8 is joined with an enterprising six-speed automatic transmission (V-6 Borregos get five gears) that has enough power-transmitting bandwidth to enable a respectable 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway fuel-economy rating, though that's still not going to get you a lapel pin from Greenpeace. Our only complaint is the transmission is programmed to seek the highest possible gear - to optimize fuel economy.

The Borrego also squires you around on one of the more up-to-date suspensions you'll find on a true SUV. There is a double-wishbone layout upfront and an independent multilink design at the rear, meaning the beast sort of willingly goes in the direction you point it. Pity, then, that the springs and shocks are cooperative only on a part-time basis: The general ride is smooth and absorbent, but large bumps or chuckholes send shivers through the body and steering that sometimes threaten your course.

That's about the only thing that will jolt you in the Borrego's mostly upscale cabin. At the Borrego EX's very competitive base cost - but particularly when upgraded with the reasonably priced ($1,500) luxury and premium packages that bring power leather seats and a rich-sounding Infinity stereo - the Borrego interior makes a pretty fine account of itself.

The wide center console is particularly handsome, reminding of a similar, clean design in Volkswagen's Toureg, with a fine-looking and feeling shift lever and one of the best integrations of USB port and audio auxiliary jacks I've seen.

The overall interior ambience is upscale but not opulent. You can see some homage to the Borrego's reasonable price in the average leather quality and average thought behind accessing the standard third-row seat, which can accommodate two people, but is designed for entrance only from the passenger side of the vehicle, a slight annoyance.

There's no getting around it: The audience for big, blocky SUVs is drifting to more “sensible” alternatives, so Kia's new Borrego didn't hit showrooms with the most advisable market timing.

But for those who want a rugged and highly capable utility vehicle in the vein in which they originally were designed - to effortlessly haul people and things while providing a high degree of comfort - the Borrego is thoroughly contemporary and a high value.

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