It costs a half-million bucks but drives like a regular SUV

ccrumbo@thestate.com April 1, 2009 

Have you ever wanted to drive a $500,000 car?

Well, members of the news media got that chance Tuesday, wheeling a little six-figure number around downtown Columbia as part of the National Hydrogen Association conference and expo activities. (And you can get a chance, too, at today’s public day.)

But the vehicle wasn’t a sleek, 200-mph Lamborghini.

It was a Kia Borrego, a mid-sized SUV. Other than its shiny alloy wheels, there wasn’t anything sporty about the vehicle.

But the metallic gray Borrego was powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. It provided enough juice to the SUV’s electric motor to produce 113 kilowatts or 154 horsepower and a top speed of 100 mph.

Unfortunately, we never got a chance to push the Borrego. The test drive was limited to three blocks, and it was hard to gauge whether the power delivered by a fuel cell was much different than even an electric hybrid’s power.

The SUV accelerated smoothly, and the motor didn’t labor despite having to pull its rather hefty 4,960 pounds around the corners. (A standard Borrego weighs about 4,300 pounds.)

The Borrego, though, won’t be a favorite on the drag strip. It takes 12.8 seconds to go from zero to 60 mph, twice as long as a model equipped with a V-8 engine, according to press reports.

On the plus side, the Borrego’s fuel-cell motor has a range of 426 miles on a fill-up, which puts it in the neighborhood of gasoline-powered SUVs.

Inside the cab, the ride was eerily quiet. All you could hear was the tire noise.

There isn’t any vroom, vroom to the Kia Borrego, which debuted at the 2008 Los Angeles auto show. In fact, it doesn’t even have an exhaust tailpipe.

Its fuel-cell technology, which doesn’t spew pollutants into the air like conventional internal combustion engines, could be the wave of future.

Currently, Kia has 32 fuel-cell Borregos in the United States, said Gun-Woo Nam, a research engineer for South Korean-based Hyundai-Kia Motors.

It probably will be about five years before the fuel-cell car is mass-produced for the U.S. market, Nam said. The list price should drop to about $60,000.

Reach Crumbo at (803) 771-8503.

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