Kia Borrego EX 4X4 Review

Time waits for no one. It also waits for no vehicle.

The Kia Borrego could have knocked the Ford Explorer a few rungs further down the sales charts (a process begun by the Firestone tire blowout/rollover scandal early in the decade)if it had come to market when the new Explorer did in 2006.

But this is model year 2009...and even before gas prices and the rest of the economy decided to see if we were paying attention, car-based crossovers had already started eating truck-based SUVs lunches.

That's probably good for the evolution of the automobile, the environment and several other things, but it's a shame for Kia, because (especially with the current uncertainty) a lot fewer people will even look at, much less test drive, the Borrego.

Those that do will be impressed and quite possibly amazed. Korean cars have been improving at a rapid rate, but always felt, on some level, like they were one generation back of state-of-the-art. Sometimes it was the plastics used, sometimes the shade of green of the instrument lighting...something was always not quite right...leaving the lower price and killer (10 years/100,000 mile) warranty to close the deal.

Not the Borrego. This time, Kia hit the target dead center. This is an SUV every bit as good as and quite possibly better than its direct competition. And the price ($29,995 base for the EX 4X4) and warranty become icing rather than inducement.

For the base price, you get a 3.8 liter, 24 valve DOHC V6 coupled to a 5-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive, Anti-lock brakes, dual-zone climate control, power windows, locks and heated outside mirrors, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with 3 months of Sirius Satellite Radio for free, USB and auxiliary jacks for iPod, and a chunk more that would be great options...but they're standard.

The tester added 18-inch chrome wheels (replacing the stock 17s for $750), a premium package ($1,800 for a sunroof, an upgraded Infinity 10-speaker audio system), rear climate control and running boards, a navigation system ($1,500), and a luxury package ($1,500 buying leather seat trim, heated front seats, a power tilt and telescoping steering column and memory seats, mirrors and steering column). With handling costs, the total was $36,295. Any place else, that's an easy $40,000 worth of SUV.

Given the size and luxury, the EPA's estimated 16 city/21 highway isn't bad, either.

But the target has moved. There's still a market for this kind of vehicle (assuming there's actually a market for vehicles at all today)...but not what it was. Three years ago, the Borrego could have been a home-run. Now, through no fault of its own, Kia's got a solid double...and needs to swing this strongly with their next product. Their slogan "The Power To Surprise" has now led to expectations to be met.