Few people who love cars love full-size sedans. Or, to put it more precisely, few people who love cars love full-size sedans that are front-wheel drive.
|1. A wallflower in the automotive landscape until now, the Azera is Hyundai’s full-size sedan offering, slotting between the mid-size Sonata and rear-drive Genesis.
2. Powered exclusively by a 293 hp 3.3L V6, the Azera is rated at 20/29 mpg with a 23 mpg combined rating.
3. For $32,000 the base trim includes leather heated front and rear seats, a power driver’s seat, keyless access with a push-button ignition and a 7-inch LCD screen with Bluelink telematics, navigation and a back-up camera.
In the rear-drive segment you’ve got some luxury, style and fun with cars like the Chrysler 300. But those front drive bastions of beige (Avalon, Impala, LaCrosse, Taurus), are about as likely to get your heart pumping as their owner’s bowels moving. Prune juice anyone?
Hyundai is looking to change all this with the 2012 Azera, packing the brand’s trademarks of fuel economy and value inside a beautifully sculpted shell. Looking like a stretched Sonata in some respects (by no means a bad thing), it has a unique rear kink that gives a flared fender look along the lines of what you might expect for a rear driver. It’s a little less swoopy and looks significantly wider, with a sophisticated chrome front grille and plenty of shiny detailing on the window surrounds. More angular front headlights with LED accents sit up front, and on the rear are two taillights joined by a center section that is worked into the Bangle-ish trunk lid. Want more chrome? There are two integrated exhaust pipes to give that final luxury touch.
Also helping the car’s luxury look are some big 18-inch wheels with 19s available as an option.
Above all else in the Hyundai lineup, perhaps this car wins the “most improved” title. It even looks well-suited to the prestigious valet lineup of cars (which includes a bright yellow Ferrari 458 Italia) in front of the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas – where the car’s launch event is being held.
Helping convey the luxury look are the Azera’s sizable dimensions, fitting in between the Sonata and rear-drive Genesis in terms of size and price. It’s 3.5 inches longer than its mid-size sibling and an inch wider, and essentially the same numbers down from the Genesis.
It’s smaller than most of its rivals (save the Maxima) and offers the most interior room by volume. Hyundai touts the fact that it has the best front head and legroom in its class, although in reality rear seat legroom, while good, isn’t as expansive as others.
Despite its size, the Hyundai Azera is a relative lightweight. At 3,600 lbs it’s 200 lbs less than the Buick Lacrosse and 400 lbs lighter than the Taurus.
A large front-drive offering designed to grab market share in more Northern states where the rear-drive Genesis just won’t do, with the Azera, Hyundai is also hoping to attract and keep some of the more traditional buyers. According to internal numbers, 30 percent of mid-size car buyers look at buying a V6 engine and roughly 12 percent actually opt for that. With Hyundai’s decision to offer only a 4-cylidner with the Sonata, they’re hoping to move some of those buyers up-market.
Offered exclusively with a 3.3-liter V6 engine, the Azera makes 293 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, putting it in second place in the horsepower race, right behind the Buick LaCrosse. The car’s light weight does, however, give it the highest power-to-weight ratio
On the street it never feels overly potent, though certainly not lacking. It does continue to pull well at higher speeds and doesn’t peter out like a 4-cylinder will.
As for fuel economy, an area where Hyundai excels with its numerous 40-mpg models, the Azera is also touted as a leader. Rated at 20 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway, it has a best-in-class combined rating of 23 mpg (which it shares with several other models). Real world numbers, however, proved disappointing on our admittedly short initial drive, coming up closer to 19 mpg on our test – and that includes partial use of the Eco mode which dulls throttle sensitivity and acts to keep the car in a higher gear.
It’s smooth and quiet to drive, though not quite to the level of a Lexus ES350. Most drivers of a full-size sedan won’t mind the soft steering – it is appropriate for the market. However, it’s also extremely numb on-center, as with all Hyundai products, save the Genesis models.
Another area where Hyundai would like to draw a comparison with the Lexus is the interior. Certainly the spread-wing design and modern cues of the dash are superior, and while the Lexus is dull, the workmanship and materials are hard to match.
It does easily best its direct rivals, with both design and some excellent quality leather. The plastics used are more in keeping with a non-premium model, however. Adding to its appeal is the high level of content. Apart from the usual goodies like a dual-zone climate control, the Azera gets (as standard) heated front and rear leather seats, second row vents, a power driver’s seat, nine airbags, a proximity key with push-button ignition and a 7-inch Bluelink telematics screen with Bluetooth, navigation and a back-up camera. All this for a starting price of $32,000 even.
If you’re looking to really load up on toys, Hyundai offers just one simple option, a $4,000 Technology Package that includes ventilated front seats, parking sensors, ambient lighting, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, an upgraded 550-watt 12-speaker Infiniti audio system, HID headlights, a massive panoramic sunroof, 19-inch wheels, a power rear sunshade and manual second row ones, plus memory settings for the seat, mirrors and steering wheel. It’s a lot of kit for $4,000 and you’d be hard pressed to turn an option like this down.
Compared to the previous Azera, the increase is significant at $6,600. Hyundai counters, however, that the previous gen base model had little content and that next to no one bought one. Similar in content to the previous top-trim version, the increase is a less outrageous $2,000.
Hyundai says that with the Azera it wants to inject passion and style into the segment, and it certainly seems to have achieved both goals. Along with traditional full-sized rivals, it’s threatening cars like the Acura TL and Lexus ES, both of which, to be fair, are in the twilight of their product cycles.
One car Hyundai doesn’t mention in its comparos at all, however, is the Chrysler 300C. We raised this question with Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik and he commented that he doesn’t see the two as rivals at all, stating that the 300 is predominantly rear-drive (though there is an AWD option), and that pricing doesn’t really put them on par. Instead, Hyundai sees the 300 as more of a Genesis rival.
Still, the 300C starts at a few thousand less than the Hyundai Azera (though it does top out well above), and shares one major trait – style. Hyundai admits it’s looking to draw in customers with a great looking package. Likewise, the 300C has the same charm.
Before this review, there’s a good chance you’d never heard of the Azera, even though it’s been on the market since 2005 – or dating all the way back to ’98 as the XG. The reason is that until now it has been completely forgettable, and that’s a seriously huge insult when you consider its competition.
With the all new Azera, Hyundai is not only able to best its competition, but has continued to offer exceptional value and even challenge some premium models with impressive content and style.