SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. -- The steep slope on a rough trace cut across Washington's Cascade Range presents a challenge for four-wheeling through tall timber in a four-wheel-drive (4WD) edition of Borrego, the husky new sport utility vehicle from Kia of South Korea.
Classified as a mid-size SUV with cabin seats for seven riders, Borrego features a body-on-frame structure to denote the slant to 4WD trail-blazing and it packs Kia's first V8 engine, a 4.6-liter plant that runs on regular unleaded (87 octane) gasoline.
It's a serious off-road warrior, when properly equipped, and comes with top-of-class powertrain strength plus a wagonload of sophisticated electronic controls to make any off-road trek easy but also safe, even fun.
So we're well armed with mechanical hardware to tackle the Snoqualmie trail, although loose dirt and chat often causes even nubby tires like Borrego's optional P265/60R18 rollers to slip and skid on a steep descent, which in turn may propel the vehicle faster than prudent to maintain steady control for safe passage down the grade.
No way that runaway momentum will occur with Kia's new wagon, however, because it stocks special electronic brake controls linked to the 4WD system as well as the ABS (anti-lock brake system), TCS (traction control system) and ESC (electronic stability control) devices.
The specific equipment, labeled DAC (downhill brake control), is designed to keep Borrego's tires firmly planted on a steep grade as wheel speed sensors feed data on both wheel speed and the direction of wheel rotation to an electronic control module connected to the smart brakes and electronic throttle.
As if by magic, the weighty wagon creeps down the hill at a virtual snail's pace while that DAC equipment holds it on the steep grade. Driver's feet deliberately stay away from brake and accelerator pedals because Borrego is designed to do all of the hill-hugging work on its own so you merely steer it down a treacherous grade.
Another mechanism called HAC (hill start assist control) functions as the opposite of DAC by preventing the wagon from rolling backward when scaling a steep slope.
The DAC and HAC devices represent only two of numerous new mechanisms helping to control the Borrego.
Kia started from scratch when inventing this wagon.
It's long and broad with a big cabin and comfortable accommodations, plus it has strong powertrains and all of those high-tech electronic controls.
And it's a truck-tough vehicle designed for serious work on dirt or pavement.
Yet in the typical fashion of Kia, Borrego comes to market with budget-minded price points.
Borrego rolls out in two levels of trim (LX and EX) with two powertrain choices (V6 or V8) and two traction options (standard rear-wheel two-wheel-drive or the optional full-time Torque-On-Demand 4WD kit).
Out of the box the 2009 Borrego LX V6 2WD entry edition carries a bottom-line MSRP of $26,245.
This price-leader edition of Borrego stocks the full complement of safety gear including curtain-style air bags for three rows of seats plus a back-up warning system, and it comes with the impressive Kia warranty program which extends well beyond protection for most other vehicles -- the powertrain is insured for ten years or 100,000 miles, for instance, and there's a five-year or 60,000-mile shield against defects plus a five-year or 60,000-mile roadside assistance plan.
Add the Torque-On-Demand 4WD hardware for $2,050 more.
Or upgrade to the Borrego LX V8 4WD for $30,995.
Top grade is the Borrego EX V8 4WD listing at $32,995.
The sheetmetal styling for Borrego seems strong and aggressive with a wide stance and bold face featuring a four-bar chrome grille and chiseled hood. A fat-lip fascia is fitted with foglamps and faux skid plates, and projector-lens headlamp clusters mount on upper front corners.
There's a sharp rake to the windshield and a power dome on the hood, bulging wheelwells on flanks with subtle fender flares but smooth sides on the doors.
The alloy wheels are big, with the standard size bumped to 17 inches and the option at 18 inches.
Borrego rides on a platform with hydro-formed rails stretching from tip to tail to forge a firm foundation.
The wheelbase measures 114 inches long with a wheel track width of 64.2 inches in front and 63.6 inches in back.
The suspension is a double wishbone in front and rear multi-link matched with coil-over springs. The front suspension combines shocks and stabilizer bar, while the rear mixes dampers and stabilizer bar.
The steering system is a rack and pinion mechanism, not common among truck-based SUVs. It brings quick and predictable response from the steering wheel.
Brakes consist of big discs on all wheels, with linkage to the ABS, TCS and ESP controls, plus DAC and HAC.
The Borrego V6 stocks a twin-cam aluminum-block plant displacing 3.8 liters and producing 276 hp at 6000 rpm with 267 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm.
Coupled to this engine is an electronically controlled automatic transmission with five forward gears.
The Borrego V8 is also a dual-cam aluminum-block engine which displaces 4.6 liters and climbs to 337 hp at 6000 rpm with 323 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm.
It links exclusively to an electronically controlled automatic transmission with six forward gears.
Borrego's passenger compartment is spacious and comfortable with three tiers of seats in the standard configuration and room for seven passengers.
The aft cargo bay adds up to 12.4 cubic feet with all seats upright or as much as 97.6 cubic feet with the second-row and third-row seats folded flat.
Borrego LX the price-leader trim loads up on gear -- air conditioning, power controls for windows and door locks and mirrors, cruise control, a keyless entry device and an audio system with six speakers and AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB.
Borrego EX stocks more goods -- a twin-zone automatic climate system, power controls for front seats (eight-way for driver, four-way for passenger), steering wheel audio controls, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Options include a voice-activated navigation system ($1,500) and backseat video entertainment kit ($1,500).