Hyundai is one of the worst at the name game, and a perfect example is the recent debut of its new flagship, the 2006 Hyundai Azera. Yes, it roles off the tongue a little - Ahhhzeerah - but it could be anything from a far-away news outlet to the name of a new jungle creature. But at least Azera is better than the non-descript moniker given to the outgoing XG350, the vehicle it replaces. Not that it really matters - if the car is good enough, you can call the thing anything you want - people will get used to it. If that happens with the Azera, a likely result will be plenty of smiles that have nothing to do with names, and everything to do with a nice ride, ageless styling and a great interior.
As the replacement for the XG sedan, Hyundai hopes that the Azera will compete with the big boys on the luxury block as a lower-end luxury choice. Their optimism isn't far off, judging from the initial reaction at the 2005 New York International Auto Show.
What it is
The 2006 Hyundai Azera is a new flagship sedan for the Korean automaker, and it replaces the XG350. The Azera holds Hyundai's hopes for a feasible luxury alternative to buyers in the US.
Why it matters
The name Azera comes from the French word azure, which means blue. To Hyundai, the significance of the color blue is up above, as in blue skies for the company, which they feel is best represented by this new luxury sedan. As the flagship replacement, Hyundai hopes that the Azera will compete as a higher-end choice.
When you can buy it
Available in Hyundai dealerships later this fall, Hyundai claims that the Azera offers buyers segment-leading standard safety features including Electronic Stability Control (ESC), ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), front dual active headrests, and eight airbags - including roof-mounted side
How much it costs
Pricing has not been announced, but the feeling is that Hyundai will not necessarily price this as a discount lux-alternative. With loads of features and a grown up style, the 2006 Hyundai Azera will likely fetch a higher price than the outgoing XG. Standard equipment will include dual-zone climate control; electronic tilt and telescoping steering column; a memory system for the driver's seat, outside mirrors, steering column and foot pedals; a power rear sunshade; rain-sensing windshield wipers; and the requisite leather seating surfaces. The Azera will also be available with an Infinity audio system and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The 2006 Hyundai Azera will be offered in GLS, LX and Limited trim.
How quick it is
With a 3.8-liter V6 engine that makes an estimated 265 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 257 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm, the 2006 Hyundai Azera should get down the road with no trouble. Emissions ratings are projected to be Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV). Controlling the engine is a five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control.
What it looks like
If the Azera is supposed to conjure the peaceful easy feeling of blue skies, it hits the mark - and that's both bad and good. It's good because it carries with it a nice, smooth style that will avoid polarizing potential buyers. But that's also the bad part - the exterior styling is not a head turner. This will likely pay dividends, as a classic sedan design ages slowly, whereas something new and edgy fades and looks, well, amateurish and nervous after a bit.
What we think
If Hyundai dealers get people to sit inside the car, it will sell. The leather is comfortable, controls are nicely designed and there are plenty of luxury touches, such as dampened controls and wood grain. The style focuses on traditional luxury sedan design with a few touches of personality - probably fine for the buyers that Hyundai seeks. Whether you like the look or not, however, the 2006 Hyundai Azera is a clear step up from the XG350, and looks to be another win for Hyundai.
Engine: 3.8-liter V6 engine that makes an estimated 265 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 257 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm
Emissions: Ratings are projected to be Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV)
Transmission: Five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control
Suspension: Four-wheel independent with double-wishbone front and multi-link rear
Wheels: 16- or 17-inch wheels
Photos by Erik Hanson and courtesy of Hyundai Motors America