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Review: Kia Borrego

It might seem a mystery why Kia Motors, a unit of Hyundai, would think that it needed a seven-passenger, truck-based SUV in its U.S. lineup in a year that saw $4-plus-a-gallon gas followed by the worst financial crisis since the Depression, both of which sent sales of truck-based sport utility vehicles plummeting.

But sometimes new vehicles that seemed like a good idea when conceived have the bad luck to be borne into a world vastly changed.

On sale since July, the Borrego is Kia's largest U.S. model to date and its first to be available with a V-8 engine. It is similar in size to traditional SUVs like the Ford Explorer and seems worth considering if you need a big beefy SUV, perhaps for towing - up to 7,500 pounds in the Borrego's case.

Its handling - even its steering - isn't bad for this heavy class of vehicles. The ride is occasionally truck-rude but usually comfortable. The cabin is quiet, and the top-of-the-line tester's was nicely appointed. There are three rows of seating - the last row accommodates just two passengers but has enough legroom and headroom for average-sized adults to ride in reasonable comfort. Second-row legroom beats that of the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder.

Borregos begin at $26,995 with freight for a version with a 276-hp. V-6 engine and automatic transmission but without four-wheel drive. The 4x4 versions start at $29,045 with the V-6.

The V-8 model I sampled has fuel economy estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 15 miles per gallon in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway, but it delivered an average no higher than 16.3 during my time with it.

The six-speed automatic transmission in V-8 models is smooth. Six-cylinder models come with a five-speed automatic. The four-wheel drive system has three operating modes: fully automatic, high-speed and low-range. Ground clearance of 8.5 inches combined with automatic hill holding and downhill braking make this a candidate for serious off-roading.

Kia got a below-average rating for customer satisfaction and long-term dependability in J.D. Power and Associates' latest surveys, but Kia's Spectra, Rondo and Optima are deemed above average in reliability by Consumer Reports. Kia's warranty is five years or 60,000 miles on the whole vehicle and 10 years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain.

The Borrego gets a top, five-star, rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for its protection of occupants in frontal and side crashes. It gets four out of five stars for rollover resistance - good for an SUV.

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