If the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe makes anything clear, it's that the Korean automaker is determined to repeat its midsize sedan market success with the Sonata in the crossover market as well. One way it plans to do that is by uniting two separate models under one slightly confusing banner. You see, the 2013 Santa Fe replaces the three-row Veracruz, and the 2013 Santa Fe Sport takes over for the two-row 2012 Santa Fe.

Hyundai also is making a major change under the hood. The 2012 Santa Fe was offered with an I-4 and a V-6 engine, but its Sport replacement will come with two four-cylinder options instead. The base engine is Hyundai's proven 2.4-liter, tuned to make 190 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. Available as an option is the turbocharged 2.0-liter from the Sonata (and others). It makes 264 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque, 12 hp fewer but 21 lb-ft more than the V-6 it replaces. The long wheelbase model is powered by the Azera's 3.3-liter GDI V-6.

This is by far the most refined installation of this powerplant to date.

Prior to the introduction of the 2011 Sonata, Hyundai's styling could best be described as safe and inoffensive. Likewise, the previous-generation Santa Fe was handsome in an anonymous sort of way. The new third-generation Santa Fe, though not quite as daring as the Sonata was for its segment, has a much sharper and more distinct look that showcases the new "fluidic precision" theme that Hyundai sees as the logical evolution in its signature "fluidic sculpture" design language.

The interior is fresh and contemporary, and features a center stack that packs a lot of features without being overwhelming or intimidating, continuing Hyundai's tradition of intuitive, easy-to-understand controls. Hyundai's Blue Link telematics service is built into all models along with the now-usual assortment of Bluetooth phone connectivity, remote power locks, and an iPod connector. Navigation and a rear-view camera are optional. Models equipped with cloth seating feature YES Essentials easy-clean stain-resistant fabric. One interesting feature we think might be ignored or overlooked by many buyers in this segment is the driver-selectable steering effort, which made its debut in the Elantra GT. It's more appropriate for cars like the Veloster Turbo and Genesis Coupe, and we doubt most buyers will bother spending much time playing with this setting.

Although well-equipped overall, the Santa Fe Sport forsakes a few features found on competitors. A power liftgate was nixed because of weight savings considerations, for example. However, since it's offered on the long-wheelbase Santa Fe, product planners said a power liftgate could be available in the near future. Also not offered at launch on the Sport are driver's side memory seats, HID headlights, and LED taillights.

The most noteworthy characteristic of the new Santa Fe is the level of refinement and noise, vibration, and harshness isolation. For a model that's going to be predominantly powered by four-cylinder engines in a class that has historically offered V-6 power, this is an important consideration, and Hyundai did not disappoint. U.S. customers can partially thank the Korean and European markets for this remarkable level of refinement. The Santa Fe is a global model and was engineered from the outset for diesel power, which requires extra NVH isolation measures. These, in turn, pay dividends when it comes to the refinement levels of the gas-powered models. Larger suspension and subframe bushings also contribute to the quiet, well-isolated ride.

What makes this level of refinement even more remarkable is the significant weight loss achieved with the 2013 model. Typically, major weight loss in a vehicle can sometimes translate into sacrifices in refinement and NVH. Although the short-wheelbase Sport model achieved a net 266-pound weight reduction compared to its predecessor, additional sound damping in the form of an underbody cover and strategic acoustic insulation added 38 pounds, and roof strengthening measures to meet tougher European NCAP crash standards added another 31 pounds. The biggest weight reduction was achieved though a significantly increased use of high-strength steel, which allows for thinner gauge of sheetmetal offering the same or better strength as conventional sheet steel.

An advantage Hyundai enjoys over its competitors is that its corporate parent operates its own foundry. As a result, engineers are able to communicate directly with the steel plant regarding sheetmetal specifications and needs instead of relying on third-party suppliers for available metal stocks. Hyundai is proud of the fact that these significant weight cuts were achieved without the extensive use of aluminum and composites.

The power offered by the 2.0-liter Theta II GDI turbo AWD models we drove on the model's launch in 6000-8000-foot elevations in Utah was sufficient for the high altitude. As in the Sonata - and other models equipped with this engine -- midrange torque and passing power were the most impressive characteristics, in part because peak torque is available from just 1750 rpm. Thanks to the extensive NVH measures taken in the Santa Fe, this is by far the most refined installation of this powerplant to date. However, back in California, as-tested performance was below expectations. The 0-60 mph sprint took a disappointing 9.1 seconds, and the Santa Fe Sport posted a quarter mile time of just 16.8-seconds at 82.7 mph.

Despite Hyundai's weight-loss claims, our as-tested weight of 3936 pounds was more than 200 pounds above Hyundai's 3706-pound claim. Even with this discrepancy, the 2013 Santa Fe Sport is still 184 pounds lighter than the official weight of a comparable 2012 AWD V-6 model.

Another area where the 2013 Santa Fe Sport beats the 2012 Santa Fe is fuel economy. The 2.4 FWD model achieves an impressive 22/33 mpg city/highway and the AWD 2.4 gets 21/28. Turbo models don't sacrifice much for the extra power -- FWD variants are rated at 21/31 mpg city/highway; AWD ones at 20/27. Hyundai representatives claim the EPA test is not necessarily indicative of real-world mileage and that the real-world fuel economy penalty of AWD isn't as significant as the numbers suggest.

In terms of pricing, the front-drive 2.4 Sport starts at $25,275 including destination, with a fully equipped 2.4 Sport with all-wheel drive and the technology package topping out at $33,625. The 2.0 turbo model starts at $28,525, topping out at $35,625 for a fully equipped 2.0T with AWD and the tech package.

Whether the 2013 Santa Fe can make Hyundai more than a footnote in the crossover segment remains to be seen, but at first glance, the Sport certainly seems to have what it takes to take on the similarly sized Ford Edge, Nissan Murano, and Toyota Venza. How it actually fares against those competitors will require a comparison to find out. Stay tuned.

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD
BASE PRICE $27,025
PRICE AS TESTED N/A
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/264-hp/269-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3936 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 184.6 x 74.0 x 66.1 in
0-60 MPH 9.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.8 sec @ 82.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 122 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.80 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.7 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/27 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 169/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.86 lb/mile