This week’s Meh Car Monday is a little bit different than most because the car we’re talking about didn’t have to be meh, but powerful and insidious decisions—especially styling decisions—doomed this beast to a short, sad life of meh-sery. This is the cautionary tale of the Kia Borrego.
The Borrego’s story is tragic because nothing about how it started suggests its ignominious and boring end. That’s because what became the Borrego started life as this bold and striking 2005 concept vehicle:
That’s the Kia KCD-II concept SUV, so named because it was the second concept to come out of Kia’s California design studio. For a concept car, it’s not really that outlandish, but it looks tough and futuristic, with a lot of great details. There’s an integrated LED light bar above the windshield, there’s those interesting door handles, a drop-down step at the rear that reveals the tow hitch, and that daring C-pillar design, which I really like.
The thing looks very cool, and if Kia had released a production car with these styling cues, it could have been a more practical alternative to other design-heavy rugged vehicles like Toyota’s FJ Cruiser. Instead, this was what the production car looked like:
Heavens to Mehgatroid, what the hell happened here?
Incredibly, this violent mehification came at the hands of a very talented designer, Peter Schreyer, whom Kia had poached from Audi. Schreyer’s work for Kia has given the company’s design language a definite up-market kick, but in the case of the Borrego, it’s amazing just how character he managed to suck out of the KCD-II concept.
I should be fair—Schreyer could have just been head of the design team, or oversaw the process where the concept was cut up into chunks and fed into the massive industrial de-flavorizer or whatever.
The point is, though, an interesting and engaging and evocative design was so brutally beaten with the Mace of Meh that it now resembled one of those composite fake cars used in insurance ads.
Gone were the cool door handles, center spotlight, clever shutlines, hood bulges, and that amazing C-pillar, replaced by the exact same kind of boring-ass shit you’d see on any other SUV parked in the same Marshall’s parking lot.
Even more tragic is that underneath the bland skin, the Borrego was something of a legitimate brute: it was a real body-on-frame, truck-based SUV, with the same beefy 4.6-liter V8 Kia used in the Hyundai Genesis. It made 337 horsepower and could tow an impressive 7,500 pounds and was, really, a very capable off-roader.
Of course, nobody would ever guess that, because Kia managed to make it look like every other FWD car-based family-toting bland-ass SUV out there.
Marketing-wise, it’s not really clear if Kia knew how they wanted to market this thing—play up the impressive off-road capabilities, or pitch it as a general-use family SUV?
In the end, they took a strangely self-aware approach that mocks the usual SUV approaches to commercials, but it really told almost nothing about the Borrego itself:
I mean, sure, it’s an intelligent ad, I guess, but what’s it really advertising? Luxury SUV ads are pretentious and stupid? They’re not wrong, but you can’t buy that little bit of insight from a Kia dealer.
Thanks to Kia’s potent methods of interest and character dillution, the Borrego wasn’t a sales success when it was introduced in late 2008, with sales so crappy throughout 2009 that it was replaced the next year by Kia Sorrento in 2010. Other markets kept it going as the Kia Mohave, but in the U.S. the SUV was so bland-seeming to buyers that it really only lasted one model year.
That’s a shame, if you bothered to know a bit about the Borrego, which was really a damn good vehicle underneath all the blandness, like if you hid a great thin-crust New York pizza sandwiched between two frozen Chef Boyardee pizzas.
The meh-ness of the Borrego design proved so good at preventing anyone from bothering to learn anything about the SUV that those methods should probably be requisitioned by the military and made top secret so we can use the Borrego Method to drive highly destructive weapons right into highly secure areas without anyone noticing at all.
Hell, I bet you could put a nuclear bomb right in the middle of Red Square if you did the same thing Kia did to the KCD-II concept to drool it into the Borrego.
So, if you even remember the Kia Borrego, try and remember it for what it could have been, instead of what it was: the first SUV killed off by willful application of meh-ness.
Meh is a potent weapon. Do not underestimate it.