Given the length of time it takes to develop a vehicle, automakers can find circumstances have changed considerably from the drawing board to the showroom. That’s probably the case with the Kia Borrego, which isn’t helped by being released into the current economic crisis.

It’s not that there’s a lot wrong with it, but that it doesn’t really outshine the competitors in a rapidly-dwindling segment. It’s another competent SUV in a pool of competent mid- to full-size SUVs.

This body-on-frame, seven-passenger model offers Kia’s first V8 in North America, a 4.6-litre that’s a version of the Hyundai Genesis’ power plant. But my tester was the 3.8-litre V6, which starts at $36,995, making it $2,500 less than the V8.

My ride was the upper-line EX, at $40,995, which brings extra features and a specific 4WD system. The base LX is a part-time system, running primarily in rear-wheel, with the 4x4 system strictly for loose or slippery surfaces. The EX uses a full-time, all-wheel system that can be used on any road, and also locked into high or low if necessary for extra traction.

The platform is unique, not just a larger version of the Sorento, with independent rear suspension. In V6 configuration, it puts out 276 horsepower and 267 lb/ft of torque, and comes solely with a five-speed automatic transmission (the V8 uses a six-speed automatic).

The V6 will tow up to 5,000 lbs, the V8 up to 7,500. Published fuel figures for the V6 are 13.0 L/100 km in the city and 9.4 on the highway; in combined driving, I averaged 15.2 L/100 km (19 mpg).

The base LX contains the usual round-up of amenities: A/C, heated seats and mirrors, trailer hitch, satellite radio, cruise control, side and curtain airbags (but not the V8’s driver knee airbag), electronic stability control, hill assist and downhill brake control. Moving up to the EX adds 18-inch wheels, power-adjustable leather seats, automatic climate control, auto-dimming rear mirror, power-adjustable steering wheel, and side steps. Parents may bemoan the fact that no rear-seat DVD is available; navigation can’t be added, either.

The front seats are roomy, and the third-row seats have more legroom than expected, but with hard, flat cushions. The second and third rows fold flat, but not easily; you must first fold the second-row seats about halfway down before the back row will clear them.

The V6 works so well that I’d question moving up to the V8 unless you’re planning heavy-duty towing. Handling is fine, but the suspension is very truck-like. On smooth roads, Borrego just feels rugged, but the least bit of broken pavement sends every smack and wallop into the cabin.

Inside, there’s little to fault for the price: Quality materials, good panel fit, comfortable seating and good visibility. Kia has been improving its interiors over the last few new models, and it shows.

But all of that has been long established in this tough segment, and Borrego’s trucky characteristics may limit its popularity. It’s good, but it’s not great. It’s now up to buyers to determine if that’s good enough.

2009 Kia Borrego

Type: SUV
Price: from $36,995
Engine: 3.8L V6
HP: 276
Torque: 267 lb/ft

• Unique platform
• Roomy

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