Thumbs Up: A lot of car for the money.
Thumbs Down: Luxury yes, but not much sport.
Buy This Car If: You’re shopping for the best bargain in a front-drive luxury sedan.
The old Hyundai Azera was the Rodney Dangerfield of front-wheel-drive luxury sedans: try though it might, it simply couldn’t get any respect. In all of 2011, Hyundai managed to sell just 1,524 Azera sedans, never selling more than 222 copies in a single month. Even the flagship Hyundai Equus outsold the Azera by more than two-to-one, making the old Hyundai Azera the slowest-selling car in Hyundai’s lineup last year.
For 2012, however, Hyundai has introduced a new-from-the-ground-up Azera, and it’s already outsold the old version by more than three-to-one year-to-date. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Azeras only started trickling into U.S. dealer showrooms in March of 2012, proving that Hyundai has managed to hit yet another automotive home run.
Outside, the Azera carries on with Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” design, evolving it a bit from what we’ve seen on older redesigns (like the Sonata and Elantra). While the previous Azera was best described as “anonymous,” the new version can be summed up with the word “distinctive.” In fact, it’s exterior design doesn’t look like anything else on the road, yet it manages to emit an upscale presence that belies its humble roots. Tell the neighbors its the latest Lexus, for example, and almost no one would call your bluff.
Up front, the Azera sports the same winged grille design seen on the Sonata, but its most distinctive styling element could be the curves that start above the lower front fascia, then sweep up to the aerodynamic headlights. The curves are mirrored, to great effect, atop the rear fenders, too, which allows for an upturn at the base of the C-pillar. While details like this sound minor, they combine to give the Azera its own unique sense of style.
In profile, this attention to styling detail is even more evident. First, the overall shape of the Azera is somewhat coupe-like, with the C-pillar extending almost to the rear of the short deck lid. The daylight opening is trimmed in brushed metal, not chrome, and the trim extends across the top of the front fender. Chrome would look a bit garish, yet the brushed metal just looks sophisticated and stylish.
Out back, the wide rear reflector strip carries the Azera name, just as on previous models. The vertical surface of the rear deck lid forms a hexagon, a shape generally used to style Hyundai’s grilles, but it works well on the rear of the Azera, too. We like the way the rear character lines flow across the fenders to the top of the rear deck, giving the impression of a rear spoiler without tacking on any boy-racer bodywork. Even the rear exhaust outlets, set in the lower fascia and trimmed in chrome, manage to blend just the right amount of luxury and attitude.
Inside, the wing theme seen in many of Hyundai’s interiors carries over to the Azera, which benefits from a higher grade of materials than Hyundai’s more price-conscious products. No, the Azera won’t match the almost stuffy luxury of a Lexus interior, but it’s a clear grade above the Hyundai Sonata and very nearly on par with the next step up the Hyundai product ladder, the Genesis sedan. We love the blend of metallic and faux carbon fiber trim used inside the Azera, and we give props to Hyundai for not going the wood veneer (or worse, fake wood veneer route). If you have a chance to climb in an Azera, take a look at the “carbon fiber” trim: it’s got so much dimensionality to it that it’s hard to believe it isn’t real.
Instruments consist of a tachometer and speedometer, bathed in blue light and split by a large LCD driver information display. Below an Azera badge (more attention to detail) lies a coolant temperature gauge and a fuel gauge, and the whole instrument cluster is hooded and wrapped in pebble grain, soft-touch vinyl. Critics will point out that other manufacturers wrap instruments in leather or leather-look vinyl, but we prefer Hyundai’s honesty over others’ pretentiousness. Yes, the Azera is a luxury car, but it’s an entry-level luxury car.
There’s nothing entry-level about the Azera’s seating, though. Front passengers get power adjustable seats wrapped in ventilated leather, equipped with both fan cooling and heating. There’s even a powered thigh extension for the driver (as part of the Technology Package), which adds comfort on long-distance trips.
Outboard rear seat passengers won’t complain, either, since they also get ventilated leather and seat heaters for cold-weather comfort. Despite the Azera’s plunging roofline, there’s ample head room in the rear, and few will complain about the amount of legroom available. If you’re stepping up from, say, a Toyota Camry or Acura TSX, expect to get saddled with car pool duties from your co-workers: compared to smaller import sedans, the Azera nearly feels like a limousine inside.
Power comes from Hyundai’s 3.3-liter Lambda II V-6 engine, rated at 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission option is a six-speed automatic, but we forgive the absence of an available manual gearbox in a front-drive luxury sedan. The combination is still good enough to get the Azera from 0-60 mph in 6.6 seconds, yet the car is capable of returning fuel economy of up to 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Combined, the EPA says to expect 23 mpg, and we achieved a close-enough 22.7 mpg in mixed driving. Had we opted to use the Azera’s Active Eco setting, which modifies throttle response and transmission control for improved fuel efficiency, we likely could have done better.
On the road, the Azera delivers a quiet, composed ride with an emphasis on passenger comfort over agility and handling. That’s not to say the Azera feels sloppy, because it still turns in quickly with minimal body roll in corners, but it doesn’t deliver the kind of precise steering feel or eyeball popping deceleration you’d expect from a sport sedan. That’s fine with us, since the Azera isn’t marketed as such, and compared to many others in the large luxury sedan category, the Azera needs to make no apologies for its handling.
While the cabin is quiet, even over rough pavement, it’s nowhere near as isolating as the interior of a comparably sized Buick. We have no issues with that, either, since in our eyes the Azera delivers a just-right blend of comfort and handling for a non-sporting sedan. It’s nearly-untouchable-by-the-competition list of standard features (including Blue Link, Hyundai’s equivalent to GM’S OnStar) makes the Azera a must-drive vehicle for anyone looking to buy an entry-level luxury sedan.
Hyundai supplied the 2012 Azera for our evaluation. Base price on our press fleet tester was $32,875, including an $875 destination charge, and options were limited to the $4,000 Technology Package (19-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, HID headlights, rear parking sensors, Infinity audio system, ventilated front seats, driver’s seat cushion extension, power rear sunshade, manual rear side sunshades, driver memory settings, interior ambient lighting) for a total sticker price of $36,875.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped Nissan Maxima SV would sticker for $41,050, while a comparable Buick LaCrosse Touring would list at $41,085.