2009 Kia Borrego

We were also surprised to find how well the Borrego was suited to long, high-speed cruising. During a weekend filled with highway travel, the cabin remained well insulated from the outside world. We scarcely noticed any wind noise, and even sounds from loud sources (e.g. motorcycles, semi trucks, the Borrego's own horn) were considerably muted to those inside.

Speaking of passengers, all Borregos - regardless of trim level - are fully capable of seating eight across three rows. We loaded our tester with several full-size adults, and even those in the third row found a reasonable amount of headroom and legroom, provided the second row was slid forward a smidge.

Drivers will find their cockpit to be cleanly laid out, with large, legible instrumentation straight ahead and controls that easily come to hand. We questioned the position of some switchgear (the temperature control's position is a bit unusual), but we were impressed with their solid feel. Overall fit and finish was good, although we caught a few rough edges on the top of the center stack.

Perhaps equally clean is the Borrego's exterior, although it may not be extremely memorable. While evocative of Kia's 2005 Mesa concept, many of the design cues seem lifted from other manufacturers. Few bystanders turned their heads for a second look; those that did found the Borrego resembled a "butch" Subaru Tribeca from the front. We certainly see that, as do we note some resemblance to a host of Nissan SUVs - perhaps most notably the Armada - from the rear.

Still, Kia keeps exterior appearances tasteful, with chrome accents on select surfaces and restrained use of argent-colored cladding. The sunset metallic paint on our tester was virtually flawless; coupled with tight gaps between body panels, the look was that of a more expensive vehicle - certainly not that of a $30,000 vehicle.

Such bang-for-the-buck may well be how the Borrego wins over most customers. LX models include cruise control; power windows, locks and mirrors; roof rails; a hitch receiver; an MP3-capable stereo with USB and auxiliary inputs; stability and traction control; front side and full curtain airbags - among many other features - as standard equipment. And at $26,245 (excluding destination), we'd say that's very well equipped.

Even our test vehicle, which didn't seem to lack anything we could imagine, should ring in somewhere around $32, 995. Even if it had arrived with every option package Kia plans to offer, we likely wouldn't see the price go beyond $40,000. That's not something we can say about either the Dodge Durango or Ford Explorer, both serious competitors in the Borrego's playing field.

Rag on the launch timing all you want, but given the Borrego's mixture of comfort, capability and value, we expect it to find buyers when it goes on sale this summer - no matter how dirty a word "SUV" is these days.

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