Hyundai's recently redesigned Sonata and Elantra have been solid sellers in their respective segments, but the nearly invisible Azera has not been as fortunate. The new 2012 Azera leaves its anonymous predecessor behind with distinctive styling and a comprehensive equipment list. Hyundai aims the Azera at the Toyota Avalon and Buick Lacrosse, but the Ford Taurus is also a likely alternative.
Pricing for the Azera starts at $32,875 with the destination charge. Notable standard features include a navigation system, rearview camera, heated front and rear leather seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The $4000 Technology Package adds HID headlights, 19-inch alloy wheels, panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats, power rear sunshade, manual rear side-window shades, power tilt/telescoping wheel, and a 550-watt Infinity audio system. Even when equipped with the Technology Package, the Azera undercuts the Avalon and Lacrosse, which cost more when fully optioned. However, a similarly equipped Taurus Limited is only slightly more expensive than the Hyundai.
Inside the Azera is a luxurious environment designed to pamper the driver and passengers. Supple perforated leather seats offer support without becoming confining. Power seat controls are mounted on the upper door panels, easily within reach. Attractive gauges consist of a blue-rimmed speedometer and tachometer with backlit white markings. A multi-function driver information display is centered between the gauges. Integrated within the 4-spoke steering wheel are audio, phone, and cruise control buttons. The engine start/stop button is on the right side of the instrument panel.
The standard navigation system combines a touchscreen and buttons for frequently used functions. A huge volume knob is flanked by audio and navigation buttons. At the bottom of the console are the climate control knobs and buttons. A flip down door reveals a storage compartment with auxiliary audio and USB inputs, along with a 12V power outlet. Mobile devices can be charged up by an additional 12V outlet located behind the center stack. On the center console are buttons for seat heaters and the power rear sunshade, which retracts automatically when the shifter is in reverse.
The Azera is powered by a new 3.3L V-6 mated to a 6-speed automatic. The aluminum V-6 combines direct injection and variable valve timing to generate 293 bhp @ 6,400 RPM and 255 lb.-ft. @ 5,200 RPM. According to the EPA, the Azera is rated at 29 MPG highway and 20 MPG in the city.
As is typical in this class, the front suspension consists of MacPherson struts, coil springs, and stabilizer bar. At the rear is a multi-link design with dampers, coil springs and a stabilizer bar. An all-disc brake layout includes ABS, traction control, and Vehicle Stability Management (VSM). Standard tires are P245/45R18 mounted on 18-inch alloy wheels. Selecting the Technology Package upgrades the wheels to 19-inch alloys and P245/40R19 tires.
We spent a few hours driving the Azera and came away with the impression that Hyundai has transformed the bland Azera into a competent entry luxury sedan. But there are some aspects of the Azera that don't quite measure up to the class leaders. The smaller than average 3.3L V-6 lacks low-RPM torque, although midrange throttle response is decent. To its credit, the V-6 is barely audible cruising at 60-70 MPH, while road and wind noise are similarly hushed. The optional 19-inch wheel and low profile tires contribute to a gritty ride over bumpy pavement. Staying with the standard 18-inch wheel and tire combination is likely a wiser choice. The Azera's heavy steering, combined with moderate understeer encourage a relaxed pace, fitting for a sedan with no real sporting pretensions. So despite a few minor deficiencies, the Azera's combination of standard equipment and overall value will likely steal more than a few sales from its better known competitors.