That was then, this is now. Today, a scant 20 years later and little more than half a decade after Hyundai introduced a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty that instilled confidence in consumers willing to overlook the automaker’s tarnished brand for an unbeatable value, the Koreans have surpassed most of the domestic brands and are breathing down the necks of Honda, Nissan and Toyota. For proof, one need look no further than the 2001 Hyundai Elantra, the 2002 Hyundai Tiburon, the 2005 Hyundai Tucson, the 2006 Hyundai Sonata, and now, the new Hyundai Azera.
Serving as the Hyundai flagship, the Azera is the most luxurious car that the Korean automaker has ever sold in the U.S. Aiming to offer the roominess and luxury of cars that cost much more while delivering excellent value and segment leading safety, Hyundai’s press release on the new sedan says: “We designed Azera to defy the conventional laws of luxury.” Based on a week-long test drive, we’d say they’re revising the laws, if not rewriting them altogether.
Hyundai offers the Azera in two trim levels: SE and Limited. Both models are equipped with an aluminum 3.8-liter V6 with continuously variable valve timing and which makes 263 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. of torque. Hyundai is quick to point out that the engine’s timing chain requires no maintenance, and that the Azera receives a ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) emissions rating. A five-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control delivers power to the front wheels, which measure 16 inches in diameter on the SE and 17 inches on the Limited. SE models ride on 225/60 tires, while the Limited gets slightly wider and lower profile rubber sized 235/55. Guided by an engine speed-sensing power rack-and-pinion steering system, the wheels are suspended with sophisticated double-wishbones in front and a conventional multi-link arrangement in back. Gas-charged shocks and stabilizer bars are tuned to deliver what Hyundai calls “precise steering and handling, and a well-controlled yet comfortable ride.” The four-wheel-disc antilock braking system includes electronic brake-force distribution.
The Hyundai Azera SE comes well equipped, including typical features like premium cloth seat trim, cruise control, power windows, power door locks with keyless remote entry, power heated mirrors, a six-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, and a tilt and telescopic steering wheel. Other standard equipment includes projector beam headlights, LED taillights, a HomeLink universal programmable transceiver, an engine immobilzer, dual-zone climate control, an electrochromic rearview mirror, power front seats, and a full-size spare tire. Options for the Azera SE include a power sunroof, heated front seats, and an Infinity premium sound system with 10 speakers, a 315-watt digital amp, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, a cassette deck, speed-sensing volume control and audio controls on the steering wheel.
Leather is standard on the Azera Limited, along with a power rear sunshade, electroluminescent gauges, an air quality system, a wood-trimmed steering wheel, and chrome inserts on the bumpers. The Infinity audio system is available, as well as a power adjustable steering column, an integrated memory system, power adjustable foot pedals, rain-sensing wipers, and power folding side mirrors.
Every Hyundai Azera comes standard with stability control, traction control, and eight standard airbags including front airbags with an occupant classification system, side-impact airbags for the front and rear seats and side-curtain airbags for both rows. Active front head restraints are also aboard to help reduce whiplash. Finally, the warranty that put Hyundai back on consumer radar screens is also included on the Azera. Coverage includes five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage, powertrain protection for 10 years or 100,000 miles, five years of roadside assistance for an unlimited number of miles, and seven years of corrosion protection no matter how far you drive your Azera.
To see just how good this new flagship sedan from Hyundai is, we borrowed an Azera Limited for a week of test driving around Southern California, tossing the keys to several staff members for their unvarnished opinions. That same week, we had a $31,000 sample of the redesigned 2007 Toyota Camry, and many people drove the cars back to back. The final verdict: Toyota has good reason to be worried about Hyundai.