LA JOLLA, Calif. -- On Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla, San Diego's ritzy seaside suburb, we observe that many of the motorized machines backing up at a slow-to-switch traffic signal consist of some variation of a big and boxy sport utility vehicle (SUV).
An exception to all of that squared-off sheetmetal comes from the elegant curves and hunkered posture of a new crossover utility vehicle (CUV) which carries the marque of Hyundai, largest car company in South Korea.
Stretching long and decorated with a raked face flashing tri-tiered headlamp clusters on front corners plus curvaceous fenders over multi-spoke alloy wheels, the Hyundai CUV looks different from the lot of right-angled and top-heavy SUVs.
Its lower body seems substantial and strong like a SUV but the upper section including a narrow wrap of windows with tipped-back windshield and sweeping roofline may be more reminiscent of some classic sports car or even a racy GT-style coupe.
It's taut and athletic in a sculptural shape, but also smooth and sleek, even sensuous -- and clearly a departure from the two-box school of SUV styling.
It's also designed to act differently from that lot.
Hyundai tags the CUV as Veracruz.
It's large -- as long as a big sedan and equally wide, with a prominent hood and broad grille consuming the face between the clusters of headlamps.
It has lots of doors.
There's a pair of portals on each flank below what looks like one extremely long and narrow window stretching from the windshield clear back to the tail.
Also, a top-hinged liftgate at the rear swings high for access into the cargo bay.
Inside a spacious cabin are three rows of seats with a capacity for seven passengers.
The front row contains a pair of bucket seats flanking a center console, the second row has a three-place bench split 60/40 with a fold-flat seatback on the left and a flip-and-fold section on the right, and the third row shows a two-seat bench split 50/50 that folds down and disappears to form a flat floor in the cargo bay.
Hyundai packs aboard so much safety gear.
Every edition of Veracruz stocks passive safety systems like frontal and seat-mounted side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags above outboard seats for all three rows.
For active safety, every issue also has a disc brake at every wheel, with electronic linkage to a four-channel anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
All three trims on Veracruz also carry an electronic stability control (ESC) device which automatically coordinates the brakes and throttle to check against lateral wheel skidding.
For dynamic vehicle handling as well as a comfortable ride quality, Veracruz employs a four-wheel independent suspension system with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement in back.
The rack and pinion steering mechanism brings a direct touch with power boost keyed to engine-speed sensors.
All of the magic for this vehicle starts with its car-like unit-body structure which fosters a long (110-inch) wheelbase and a wide track of 65.7 inches up front and in back.
Pushing wheels to edges of the chassis brings stability to the stance and enhances Veracruz's agility when steered along a twisty route.
Another point: Hyundai guarantees excellent pedal juice out of Veracruz because every edition totes a strong engine promoting top-of-class performance.
The dual-cam 3.8-liter V6 employs CVVT (continuously variable valve timing).
And it romps -- pumping 260 hp at 6000 rpm and 257 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm.
The engine links to a sophisticated electronically controlled six-speed automatic transmission featuring Hyundai's Shiftronic manual shift mode.
To access the Shiftronic mode, a driver simply slaps the shifter lever laterally into a separate gate, then tips the lever forward or back to bump sequentially up or down the gear ladder.
Standard configuration for Veracruz is the front-mounted engine with front-wheel-drive (FWD) traction.
However, for the Snow Belt Hyundai adds optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) with an electronic system which can transfer some of the engine's torque to drive the rear wheels if on-board wheel speed sensors detect that the front wheels are slipping.
The device also has a push-button lock mode for 50:50 torque split front/rear to maintain forward momentum at a low speed on slippery stuff.
There are three trim steps on Veracruz with the entry-level GLS, a SE edition packing more on-board gear and the top-tier Limited trim.
Equipment standard on Veracruz GLS ranges from aluminum alloy wheels capped with P245/65R17 tires to cabin air conditioning with separate second-row controls and power buttons for windows and door locks and mirrors, a remote keyless entry device, a tilting steering wheel with audio tabs and cruise control, and an audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3.
An optional premium package for GLS brings a power sunroof, heat elements in both front buckets, power controls for the driver's seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and back-up warning system.
Veracruz SE adds 18-inch alloy wheels ringed by P245/65R18 rubber, a roof rack, automatic headlights and projector-type foglamps, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a chilled console stow bin, and eight-way power controls for the driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support.
Veracruz Limited goes further with leather upholstery, heated front seats, memory settings for power controls on the driver's seat and mirrors, adjustable gas and brake pedals, rain-sensing wipers and lighted door scuff plates, an automatic climate system and a standard Infinity AM/FM/XM/6-CD/MP3 audio package.
Hyundai's MSRP chart for Veracruz begins at $26,900 for the GLS, with SE trim starting at $28,600 and the Limited tagged at $34,050. Adding the AWD equipment increases the bottom line by $1700.