2012 Hyundai Azera Review:
It’s not that the Hyundai Azera gets little respect; nobody in this class gets much.
Neither it nor its competitors—large front-drive sedans—has exactly captivated buyers. Even the most successful in the group’s upper register manage fewer than 70,000 sales in a year.
For example, the Toyota Avalon sold just 28,925 units in 2011. The Ford Taurus did way better, but the total was still 63,526. Buick’s La Crosse accrued 58,474, while the Azera picked off 55,601.
All of those are respectable, even profitable, numbers and would be lusted after by some brands. They are, after all, the sorts of cars traditionally favored by American families. But most of them have gravitated toward mid-size and smaller cars.
Nevertheless, large sedans occupy a territory in which any car company would be delighted to have a breakout model. To do that, they must offer an extra dimension, and that appears to be an orientation toward comfort and luxury while still maintaining relatively reasonable prices.
The 2012 Azera fits that template. Though roughly $6,500 higher in price than its predecessor, the all-new car has levels of equipment, fit, finish and power trains that rival some luxury cars.
Call it near-luxury or premium, the Azera’s standard list includes: Complete safety equipment, including stability management and control, a driver’s knee airbag and impact-resistant front seats; leather upholstery with heated front and rear seats; touch screen navigation system; XM satellite radio and high-definition radio; dual-zone automatic climate control; Bluetooth connectivity and telematics to link smart phones or the web to the car, and a rear backup camera.
All of that settles under the Azera’s base price of $32,875. Likely a good many customers also will opt for the $4,000 technology package, which doesn’t add much actual technology but does bolt on 19-inch alloy wheels, ventilated front seats, sunshades for the rear and side windows, an upgraded Infinity audio system, a powered tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and rear parking assist sensors.
Bottom line: this is nearly as well-equipped car as you can find. About the only things it lacks are blind-spot warning, which is not needed anyway if you properly adjust the existing system, called side-view mirrors, and such things as lane-departure warning and radar cruise control.
Looked at another way, the base Azera costs only a little more than the current average selling price of a new car in the United States.
With the Azera, Hyundai has fleshed out (metaled out?) its lineup from bottom to top, from the humble Accent subcompact through the “North American Car of the Year” Elantra compact, followed by the mid-size Sonata, Azera, Genesis and the flagship luxury Equus. (There’s also the hot 2013 Genesis coupe, with 274 or 348 horsepower and an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual, but that’s a whole different animal).
The Azera and Genesis overlap. They are both large cars, but the more expensive Genesis has rear-wheel drive and optional V8 power to project a performance/luxury image, while the front-wheel drive Azera is more of a family hauler with one drive train: 293-horsepower V6 engine linked to a six-speed automatic transmission.
It does genuflect before the sporting set with a manual-shift mode operated by paddles on the steering wheel. But it’s not likely many owners will use the feature except when hustling around mountainous curves.
The Azera’s forte is relaxed and quiet comfort. In that respect, it more resembles the Equus than the Genesis, though nobody would confuse the two. Acceleration is more than adequate. In fact, it’s powerful enough to induce a small amount of torque steer—that tug at the steering wheel when accelerating rapidly while turning.
The steering and suspension system, though biased toward a good ride and away from all-out handling, deliver long-distance cruising comfort. Straight-line Interstate tracking is solid and true.
However, the ride gets choppy over rough surfaces, which indicates that the suspension system could use additional massaging. Road, mechanical and wind noises are appropriately muffled.
The tested Azera had the full $36,875 treatment, which included a panoramic sunroof, half of which opens to the skies. Front seats were comfortable and supportive, and the combination of power seats and a motorized tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel made it easy for almost anyone to find an acceptable driving position.
Surroundings are plush and pleasant, accentuated by a center stack that flows up like the wings of a bird from the center console into the instrument panel. Basic instruments like the speedometer and tachometer are white on black, large and easily read.
In back, outboard passengers are treated to generous head and knee room. The center position, despite softer bottom padding, still involves sitting on an uncomfortable lump that restricts headroom. That’s not unusual. It’s rare to find a car anywhere with a reasonable center-rear seat. If you carry five routinely and need middle comfort, check out the Toyota Avalon.
Out back, there’s a big, well-padded trunk with C-hinges shielded to prevent luggage damage and pass-through openings to the passenger area for long objects.
Hyundai is “in the middle of a transition from a value brand to a valued brand,” says president and CEO John Krafcik. The new Azera contributes.
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