Auto review: Azera shows Hyundai’s all grown up
If you need to know how far Hyundai has come as an auto manufacturer, consider the 2012 Hyundai Azera, the new rendition of Hyundai's full-size front-drive sedan.
You may not even know that Hyundai produces the Azera, which is known as the Grandeur in South Korea.
The previous Azera had trouble making a name for itself due to its bland, anonymous styling. Its predecessor, the XG350, was the last word in baroque Korean styling. And that's being kind.
Unlike the XG350, the 2012 Azera will have you turning your head for the right reasons. The car's exterior wears the company's signature "Fluidic Sculpture" design language, albeit mixed with a dash of Hyundai Equus, which prevents the Azera's design from becoming as ludicrous as the unlamented XG350. A bit of restraint lends the Azera a pleasantly aggressive look without going over the top.
Considering the cars Hyundai views as competitors - the Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus, Buick LaCrosse V-6 and Lexus ES350 - the Azera's design will come across as the most dynamic.
And while it's easy to imagine a Nissan, Ford or Buick buyer cross-shopping this car, it's wishful thinking to believe that a Lexus buyer would. A Toyota Avalon buyer is more likely. (As are Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala and Dodge Charger customers.)
These days, full-size cars are far from the dominant American automotive species they once were. Part of the reason: price. Usually, their market is eaten from below by cheaper midsize cars and from above by pricier entry-level luxury cars. But Hyundai knows this, and played a smart hand with the Azera.
A midsize Sonata sedan, four inches shorter, with an identically sized trunk and offering six fewer cubic feet of passenger space, is cheaper by more than $10,000. Meanwhile, the luxurious Hyundai Genesis costs a mere $2,200 more, before options.
But the Sonata lacks a V-6 model, while the Genesis is rear-wheel drive.
By contrast, the Azera boasts a compact front-wheel drive which, in addition to being a boon in bad weather, allows for an expansive interior. There's room for you, your brood and all of your stuff. At the same time, the Azera boasts healthy performance and features commonly found on luxury cars.
Of course, the luxury is optional.
The test car had a Technology Package that includes the Infinity sound system, 19-inch alloy wheels and tires, a huge panoramic sunroof, high-intensity Xenon headlights, power rear sunshade, manual side window sunshades, power adjustable tilt and telescopic steering column, memory seats, driver's seat cushion extension, ventilated front seats, rear parking sensors and interior ambient lighting.
In other words, this package transforms the Azera from ordinary to extraordinary.
But there's no choice of options under the hood. The Azera has one drivetrain: a 293-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. It produces silky-smooth power, enough to move the Azera to 60 mph in a little over six seconds. Yet mileage is better than some V-6-powered midsize cars, with an EPA rating of 20 mpg city, 29 highway. A mix of one-third city and two-thirds highway driving returned a respectable 27.3 mpg.
Standard safety gear includes nine airbags, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, and electronic brake-force distribution.
The ride is nicely composed; this is not the wallowing Korean car of yesteryear. There is a trace of softness in the suspension that takes the edge off the worst road surfaces. That soft feel can be felt while cornering, but there's adequate grip. And it responds eagerly to quick maneuvers.
That said, like other Hyundais - especially the Hyundai Genesis - the Azera's steering imparts little in the way of road feel and seems oddly weighted at times.
The large front seats are soft, yet supportive. Seat heaters are standard at all four corners, and ventilated front seats are optional. Leather trim is standard.
The cabin is blessedly quiet.
The standard navigation system is easy to use, unlike many systems. Its screen also hosts the standard rearview camera.
There's a large center console and additional console storage behind a large hinged door. And get this: The glove box is cooled.
The 550-watt, seven-speaker Infinity sound system with eight-inch sub-woofer is better than the one in my home.
Yes, the Azera checks all of the boxes a full-size car buyer could want. It's generous in size, performance, features and style.
And it can run with the big boys. That speaks volumes about how far Hyundai has come.
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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