Little by little, Hyundai has started to make cars that people might actually want to buy. No longer is the Korean brand the butt of jokes and no longer is it a brand for people who don’t care anything at all about cars, driving, or build quality. Even in the luxury sedan segments, they’re confidently taking on the established names by offering decent looks, luxury, and incredible value. It really does seem that people are finally coming around to a brand that used to be seen as the poor man’s Honda, and it’s not for lack of effort on Hyundai’s part.They’re keeping pace in the ever-changing car world by offering direct-injection on many of their engines, advanced technology and connectivity in their interiors, and current if not exactly original styling on their exteriors. Slated conveniently between the Sonata and the Genesis, the new Azera is an impressive product of Hyundai’s rise, and one that might just have some drivers leaving their Lexus behind.
Hyundai claims the styling of the new Azera has been inspired by “the mechanics of flight”, but in all honesty it hardly stands out from the other midsize sedans it competes against. The lines of the rear quarter panels and the third windows at the back are nice touches and the Azera is overall a handsome car (especially compared to Hyundais of the past), but it’s a relatively safe design in the end.
The available Technology Package, which our test car was equipped with, runs about $4,000 and on the outside gets you Xenon headlights and 19-inch “Hyper Silver” alloy wheels instead of the standard 18-inch ones. This is noticeable, but doesn’t make for a huge difference. What really sets the Technology Package apart is what’s on the inside.
For the interior, that $4,000 bundle of options gets you a panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats with cushion extenders, a rear parking sensor, the 12-speaker Infinity sound system, a power rear sunshade and manual rear side window sunshades. As far as standard features, you get a cooled glove box, a navigation system linked to a 7-inch touch screen and a rear view camera, Bluetooth with voice recognition, and Hyundai’s Blue Link, a connectivity system not unlike the MyLink found in GM vehicles. Heated front and rear leather seats are also standard, and Hyundai boasts best-in-class front head and leg room. This feels very much like a premium luxury car, and seeing that “H” on the steering wheel of such an expensive-looking space comes as a bit of a shock to the system. With the Technology Package, you have just about every bell and whistle you could wish for short of a chauffeur, and even though it brings the price to a little over $37,000, it’s still not a bad deal at all.
Compared to the engines of its rivals, the Azera’s is on the small side, but it actually makes more power than just about all except for the V-6 Buick LaCrosse and still achieves an EPA estimated 23 combined miles per gallon. The all-aluminum 3.3 liter direct-injected V-6 makes 293 horsepower, an impressive 88.8 horsepower per liter, and 255 lb/ft of torque thanks to higher compression (11.5:1), four valves per cylinder, continuously variable valve timing, and a three-stage variable intake system. The engine also has an “Active Eco” mode, which supposedly improves fuel economy by 5%, and it all runs through a six-speed automatic gearbox built in-house that puts power to the front wheels. Taking one more step back and reminding yourself that this is a Hyundai makes you realize that the level of engineering under the hood is just as surprising as the fit and finish of the interior. And the Azera is refreshingly light as well to give it a slight edge in fuel economy and performance. It weighs in at just 3,600 pounds, 200 lighter than a LaCrosse and 400 lighter than a Taurus. With the Azera, picking the Hyundai doesn’t mean you’re just getting the blandest, cheapest option but a real contender. Cars like this are the reason the company is doing so well.
On the road, the Azera was as expected, with chassis dynamics that are well within the requirements of the average driver. As in, operate the car as a nice, practical daily utility and you’ll likely never notice (or need) the performance on tap. Ask something courageous of it, however, and enthusiasts will quickly notice that’s not what the Azera is all about. It’s better suited to pulling down highway miles than carving up the secondary roads. Hyundai plays it safe and that’s okay.
What Hyundai has done here is overdeliver and undercharge. They’ve given it a price tag that will get people’s attention, then load it up with technology and luxuries that midsize sedan buyers really go for. With the combination of looks, luxury, value and reassuring warranty, it’s a bargain. If you’re a driving enthusiast, then get a 3-series BMW, but if that’s not what you want from a midsize sedan, then it might be worth taking a step outside the comfort zone of a Lexus or Buick and into this up-and-comer, the Hyundai Azera.