Azera marks Hyundai's first foray into the luxury arena with a value-priced sedan loaded to the gills with plush features and electronic gear. One thing is instantly clear: This is a traditional car for older drivers, with a soft ride and conservative styling. High on comfort but short on panache. Don't expect anything sporty because it's just not there. Azera seems to take the old-school view of no-nonsense U.S. drivers who want to be cradled in their luxury rides. But the latest products from domestic and Japanese brands are taking the opposite tack, putting a stronger emphasis on firm suspensions and handling performance, even for the cushiest luxury sedans. But the new Hyundai exudes the same aura of refinement as the best of them, highlighted by an exceptionally smooth and potent V-6 engine. Some might blink at a Hyundai costing nearly $27,000, even though the South Korean long ago shed its image as the maker of disposable econoboxes. Hyundai is now a full-fledged car company with a decent range of cars, SUVs and a minivan. Hyundai's new flagship takes aim at midluxury sedans from such brands as Buick, Mercury and Toyota. As usual, the South Korean offers the goods at a reasonable price, considering the full cadre of features. Matter of fact, the Limited test car came absolutely loaded without a single option, not even a charge for shipping, leaving nothing extra to push the price above the $26,835 base. A good value, but Azera would do well to drop the pillow-soft ride of yesterday's sedans for the sharper handling of today's agile family cars.
PERFORMANCE: The all-new 3.8-liter V-6 is a superb engine, delivering a feeling of seamless power with a silky purr. With continuously variable valve timing, double-overhead cams and all-aluminum construction, the 263-horse powerplant is quite impressive at this price range. The five-speed automatic works flawlessly, with a well-integrated manual-shift function.
DRIVABILITY: The suspension does a great job at soaking up the bumps but delivers nothing in the way of road feel or handling precision. Rebound and body sway are poorly controlled. The power steering works well enough, but it's too light and numb. Overall, a boring car to drive but a comfortable ride for the pampered passengers. There is a full range of desirable electronic gear, including electronic stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes, all standard.
STYLING: Not a bad-looking sedan, with a classy appearance and a substantial feel. But the styling follows too closely along the lines of Buick, Honda or Toyota sedans, coming across as too safe and generic. Too bad Hyundai doesn't heed the lessons offered by the daring, popular designs from Chrysler or Nissan.
INTERIOR: Traditional, in a good way, with a well-tailored feel and attractive design, along with nicely integrated wood and leather trim. But the "electroluminescent" gauges look cheap and tacky compared with the rest of the cabin. Standard safety features abound, including side and side-curtain air bags, front and rear; active head restraints; and seat-belt pre-tensioners.
BOTTOM LINE: If not for the mushy throwback suspension, I'd be all over this latest Hyundai, mainly because it offers so much content, refinement and safety features at the price of an average sedan. Pricing starts at $24,335 for a well-equipped SE model and $2,500 more for the upgraded Limited version.
Hyundai Azera Limited
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive. Engine: 3.8-liter V-6, 263 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 255 pound-feet torque at 4,500 rpm. Transmission: Five-speed automatic Wheelbase: 109.4 inches. Overall length: 192.7 inches. Curb weight: 3,629 pounds. EPA rating: 19 city, 28 highway.
Highs: Value pricing, engine refinement, loaded with features. Lows: Mushy suspension, numb steering, ugly gauges.
Base price: $26,835. Price as tested: $26,835.
The Limited model comes fully equipped with a load of features, including electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, side-curtain air bags, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather and wood trim, power rear sunshade, full-power interior features, automatic headlights, remote locking and audio system with CD and is MP3-compatible.
Shipping: No charge.
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