When the 2009 Kia Borrego showed up in my driveway last week, an old Eddie Money song from the '80s began playing in my head:

"I was listening to the radio... I heard a song that reminded me of long ago... Back then I though that things were never gonna change. It used to be that I never had to feel the pain... I know that things will never be the same now... I want to go back and do it all over - but I can't go back, I know."

A song about times long gone you can still taste but can't quite touch - the taste itself receding bit by bit as the years go by.

Call it the swan song of the V-8 SUV.

Or the funeral dirge of machines like the 2009 Borrego.

WHAT IT IS

The Borrego is a mid-sized, seven passenger full-frame SUV available with both V-6 and V-8 engines in RWD and 4WD layouts. Prices range from $26,245 for the base LX V-6 with 2WD to $39,995 for a 4WD-equipped, V-8 Limited.

WHAT'S NEW

Everything - including the name. The Borrego is a new model for Kia and the company's first effort to carve off a slice of the once hugely popular (and hugely profitable) mid-large SUV market.

The problem Kia faces is that this market is in the midst of a sales implosion. SUVs - especially big ones like the Borrego with thirsty V-6 and V-8 engines - are piling up unwanted and unsold on dealership lots.

Even established players like Ford and GM can't give them away.

This does not bode well for the Borrego.

WHAT'S GOOD

Very strong engines, both the standard V-6 and the optional V-8. A "real" SUV with real 4WD and low-range gearing (not an AWD "crossover"). Appealing price.

WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD

Few people can afford to buy a real SUV with a big V-6 or V-8; gas prices are edging back up toward $3 per gallon. Kia is known mostly for building econo-compacts and will need to market the Borrego aggressively just so people know what a "Borrego" is.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The Borrego's standard 276 hp 3.8 liter V-6 and optional 4.6 liter, 337 hp V-8 are among the most powerful standard and optional engines available in a mid-large SUV.

Check some of the competition:

The Ford Explorer's optional 4.6 liter V-8 barely makes more power (292 hp) than the Kia's standard V-6. (The Ford's standard 210 hp 4.0 liter V-6 is a limp-wristed Liberace compared with the Kia's 276 hp six.) The Chevy Trailblazer's 4.2 liter six bellies up 285 hp - more respectable but still far off the pace of the Kia's V-8.

A Dodge Durango comes standard with a weakling 210 hp V-6; its next-up optional 4.7 liter V-8 is better at 303 hp. But again, it's easily outmuscled by the Kia's V-8. True, a 5.7 liter, 376 hp Hemi V-8 is available in the Durango - but only in SLT (and up) trims, which begin at $31,265 (that's before you add the cost of the Hemi option).

Kia also trumps the mainline Japanese SUVs on power. The Toyota 4Runner's standard 4.0 V-6 is rated at 236 hp; the optional 47 liter, 260 V-8 is only slightly more powerful. Both engines are weaker than the Kia's base V-6.

Nissan's Pathfinder is the stiffest competition for the Borrego in terms of underhood muscle - offering a standard 266 hp 4 liter V-6 and an optional 310 hp 5.6 liter V-8.

The problem - for every one of these vehicles - is the Fear Factor of driving home in something that gets about the same gas mileage as a '66 Chrysler Imperial knowing that by mid summer gas might be back up to $4 a gallon again.

And you might be unemployed.

But at least the Borrego can outrun your creditors. V-8 versions especially flat-out haul. We're talking 0-60 in the mid 7 second range - better than a 1979 Corvette - and a top speed sufficient to get you into Gitmo.

And how about those MPGs?

V-8 4WD-equipped versions are rated by the EPA at 15 city, 20 highway. V-6 RWD versions do slightly better at 17 mpg city and 21 mpg on the highway.

This isn't terrible economy - given what we're talking about. The Kia is actually among the more fuel-efficient SUVs in this class. For comparison, a Ford Explorer V-8 is rated at 14 mpg in the city - even though its 4.6 liter V-8 produces 45 fewer hp than the Kia's 4.6 liter V-8.

And both Borrego engines will run on regular unleaded.

The V-8 is teamed with a six-speed automatic; V-6 versions get a five-speed automatic.

Max towing capacity is 7,500 pounds - among the best in this class.

RIDE & HANDLING/DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

While the Borrego's late to the party, one area where that's not a disadvantage is in the ride and handling department. It took ten-plus years for other SUV makers to redesign their machines for the reality of the American road - and the America driver. Early SUVs were almost naively put together on the assumption that people who bought big honking four-wheelers actually needed big honking four-wheelers - and more to the point, knew how to use them properly.

The vast majority of American SUV drivers, however, were (and still are) more apt to run down the Interstate at 80-plus for hours than inch their way up boulder-strewn backwoods trails. But the design attributes that make an SUV great off-road (lots of ground clearance, short wheelbase, long-travel suspension, etc.) tend to make it not-so-great on-road, especially at high speeds and when cornering. Many rollovers and lawsuits later, most SUVs have been re-designed to accommodate these realities. They have longer wheelbases, lower centers of gravity, more on-road friendly suspensions and tires and (lately) electronic stability control systems - all working hard to prevent the turn-turtling that used to be an SUV character flaw when that SUV was driven as if it were a BMW sport sedan.

Getting back to the Borrego: Because it's new and because it was designed after all the just-related miseries, it is largely free of the built-in problems that beset so many first and even second generation SUVs. While its optional 4WD system will let you trod sodden fields on your way to tailgate parties without getting stuck - and yes, you still could go off-road if you wanted to - the Borrego, like virtually all modern SUVs is built to be at home on the road.

The paved road.

It doesn't feel tipsy - and even if you do push it into a corner at more-than-you-ought-to speeds, the onboard safety stuff will cut back on the throttle, jab the ABS and keep you right in line.

Body on frame construction nicely isolates the passenger cabin from the outside world. There is less wind/road noise intrusion - even at 80-something MPH - in this brick-shaped SUV than in a Pontiac Solstice. (That's both a compliment to Kia and a big-time dig at GM.)

Steering is light and precise in the sense that the Borrego is easy to control and goes where its pointed. Visibility is good (back-up camera available) and it is not awkward to maneuver it through heavy traffic.

STYLING & UTILITY

People who like SUVs that look like SUVs will like the Borrego's traditional SUV appearance. It is handsome and to the point without being excessively macho or functionally impaired by overly sloping glass and too-low rooflines that may look sharp on the car show circuit but really suck when you have to sit inside the thing.

Three row/seven passenger seating is standard in both V-6 and V-8 trims. The second row has excellent head and legroom even for those well over six feet tall. Like other mid-sized SUVs that offer third row seating, the third row is usable in a pinch but isn't really legitimate seating for adults. If you need room for seven adults, you'll need to upsize to a full-size SUV or crossover.

A weak point is cargo capacity behind the third row, which is a Miata-like 12.4 cubic feet. (A Nissan Pathfinder has 16.5 cubic feet.)

The optional 4WD system is a "real" (truck-type) 4WD system with two-speed transfer case and 4WD High and Low range gearing. The system normally operates in RWD, with 4WD High and Low ranges engaged by a control knob to the left of the steering column.

Underbody skid plates are standard on all trims - 4WD or not.

However, the Borrego does not offer muchin the way of hard-core off-road equipment like knobby tires and off-road suspension equipment.

Not that you'd probably want or need that stuff anyhow.

QUALITY & SAFETY

Even V-6/RWD Borregos come standard with Kia's Downhill Brake Control and Hill Assist Control systems. The first uses electronic controls to help keep the Borrego from building up excessive speed when descending a steep grade (off-road and on slick surfaces) without forcing the driver to ride the brakes - while the second system helps keep the vehicle stable when trying to climb steep inclines by moderating throttle tip-in.

Both of these features are often not even offered on base/2WD versions of other manufacturer's SUVs - and optional/extra cost on 4WD equipped versions.

The Borrego also offers a driver's side knee air bag on EX and LX V-8 trims - another higher-end feature that's more typically Lexus-like than Kia-like.

All models get front seat side-impact air bags, full-row head/curtain airbags, ABS with Brake Assist, electronic stability control and a back-up warning system that beeps at you if you're about to bump into something. Higher trim EX versions can be ordered with a back-up camera and LCD display system in the dash.

Projector-style headlights are also standard equipment on all trims.

Heated seats (including for the second row), multi-zone climate control, GPS and a 600 watt Infinity premium audio system with USB hook-up and MP3 player are among the many available luxury features.

So, the Borrego is by no means a K-Mart Blue Light Special. If anything, it tries to surpass the expected in this price range and as far as what it comes with and what it offers, can be compared with some pretty high-end players.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There's nothing wrong with the Borrego - indeed, there's much to recommend it. Two or three years ago, it probably would have been a big hit. Though not inexpensive, it costs less than most competitors while offering stronger standard and optional engines as well as an impressive roster of standard and optional equipment.

But its timing could not be worse.

Despite its many merits, I doubt many Borregos will find homes. And I expect Kia (like everyone else) to do a tire-screeching 180 - and refocus its efforts on smaller, more efficient passenger cars instead of trying to breath life into a market segment that's probably gone forever.

Not because they want to - but because they (and we) have no other choice.