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.
Call the Azera’s ride creamy, like whipped peanut butter. And to think – it’s from Hyundai. You’ve come a long way since the Excel, Chairman Mong, though you’re not really riding in an Azera luxury sedan right now, are ya? Take some solace in the fact that you brought about the Korean automaker’s first real American-ready luxury sedan, one so good that it stands toe-to-toe with the best luxury offerings from Toyota, of all companies.
Yes, Toyota, not Lexus, so let’s not get too excited. The Azera may not be in the same class as the actual luxury nameplates out there, but it sure drives nicely and will outperform like-priced cars, such as a fully-loaded Camry, otherwise and also known as an Avalon. But back to smooth. The Azera is all that and a jar of jelly, with a whisper-quiet ride and enough power to empower its driver at stop lights and when passing Avalons. You’re not in this car for its torquey ride and great handling character, mind you, and you do get some body roll while taking corners. The Azera’s ride is a bit too soft for some, though it’s important to remember that this is basically a Korean Buick. When it comes to a nice luxury cruise, however, the Azera hits the mark right on target, and does so with some decent power off the line. Stopping, however, takes a little more pedal pushing than I’d like. The steering feels good, though I found that it lost some composure at higher speeds. The transmission is set for cruise, yo, so don’t expect to rev this car. It doesn’t deal well with that type of aggressive driving.
The distinct impression here is that, in normal day-to-day operation, the Hyundai Azera is a mannerly gentleman who serves up a quiet, smooth ride and gets you to your destination in comfortable fashion. Get on it a bit hard, however, and that gentleman will start sucking brew from a beer hat and screaming like a banshee, ultimately putting the drive in jail, which, come to think of it, would give him something in common with the Chairman of Hyundai.
Hyundai Azera – Ron Perry’s Driving Impressions:
Yes, I knew what car I had just slid behind the wheel of, but I was caught off-guard by the look and feel of the new Hyundai Azera. Had I not known what car I was getting into, I would have guessed it to be one of the “upscale” manufacturer cars – the Hyundai Azera’s interior feels and looks that good. The multi-adjustable leather seats and the tilt-and-telescoping wheel make finding a proper driving position easy while the design and layout of the dash and controls allow easy reading of gauges and access to all functions. Starting the Azera brings the 263-horsepower V6 to a smooth purr. The engine’s power and torque work well together to provide sufficient and smooth acceleration at all speeds, including launches from a stop. Add to that the seamless shifts from the five-speed automatic and you have a sedan that is nothing short of impressive. The steering has a solid feel and feedback is excellent. The brakes are good but feel a bit vague at times. Inside, the cabin is quiet with slight tire noise intrusion and the ride is best described as supple and luxurious. Large side mirrors allow exceptional outward vision as does the rear view mirror. The Hyundai Azera is an example of what can be done when a manufacturer sets its sites on the competition, and from my point of view the competitors better raise their standards or get out of the way.
Hyundai Azera – Christian Wardlaw’s Driving Impressions:
Engine power is strong, the V6 sounds good, and the transmission behaves most of the time. It kicks down for passing, and shifts smoothly, but the Hyundai Azera is geared to feel strong off the line and short-shifts to second gear in an effort to save fuel if you don’t have the accelerator planted to the carpet. This, combined with the lengthy delay between first and second gears, is off putting. I averaged 18.9 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving.
Brake pedal feel and modulation is terrific, but at first you can really feel the Azera’s heft sloshing forward as the nose dives, and this makes you feel like you need more brakes to get the car stopped. Other than this disconcerting feel upon initial application, the brakes are fine. Steering heft, on-center feel, the wood-and-leather rim, and the turn signal clack immediately recall a Jaguar. This is impressive if you’re familiar with Jaguars. If you’re not familiar with Jaguars, you might think off-center effort levels are too high, but you’ll like the solid on-center feel.
The Azera doesn’t track down the road like a Jaguar, and while it attempts to waft along like an older XJ, the suspension ultimately proves too busy to pull off that impression. Indeed, the suspension is the worst aspect of driving the Hyundai Azera. The shocks are too stiff and the springs are too soft, so the car ends up with excess body float combined with sharp wheel motion. And that sharp wheel motion isn’t soaked up by the suspension; it’s transferred to the cabin in the form of impact harshness and occasional snapping sounds that make it seem as though the components are loose. Put the car across diagonal railroad tracks or bridge joints, and it dances beneath you while the suspension tries, and fails, to control body and wheel motion. The car just doesn’t feel connected on any kind of irregular pavement. Hyundai should take a look at what its corporate sibling, Kia, is doing with suspension tuning to get an idea of how to get it right.
I didn’t take the Azera on a twisty road – what would be the point? – but around town, taking corners and freeway ramps with speed, body roll is kept in surprisingly good check. However, the tires give up pretty easily, and squeal. Plus, the car always feels heavy, in part due to the steering feel but also the way the suspension attempts to handle body motion.
If the 2006 Hyundai Azera is uncomfortable to you, then my friend, you should visit a chiropractor. I thoroughly enjoyed luxuriating in the Azera, though the seat bottoms could use more support. Granted, they have all the controls you demand from a luxury car, with heat and lumbar and multiple ways to adjust. That helped considerably, but after an hour-long drive in traffic, the nuts and bolts of the chair were a tad off to me. Backrest padding was too thick, thigh support was too thin, and the overall result was a comfortable seat that caused fatigue quicker than a well-bolstered seat with proper back support.
But that’s only one aspect of the Azera’s comfort. The leather feels of high quality to me, and the controls are a pleasure to touch. It’s as if Hyundai went hog wild on dampening everything inside the Azera, from the cigarette lighter/ashtray cover to the sunglasses holder and all the little compartments throughout the cabin. Practically every possible inch of plastic is covered with a soft touch material. The result is that everything feels like luxury, and everything acts like luxury – which is the entire point. The back seat follows with the first. There’s plenty of leg and hip room, but the seats were a little uncomfortable to sit in for a $40,000 car.
Ah. There’s the point. The Hyundai Azera is NOT a $40,000 car, but a $27,000 car at the top trim offering. It feels much more expensive than that on the inside, that’s for sure.
Hyundai Azera – Ron Perry’s Opinion of Comfort:
Hyundai designers have done a great job on the inside of the Azera. A power leather driver’s seat and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel allow easy placement for finding your comfort zone. The seats also have nice bolstering, just enough for a sedan, and seat warmers for those cold mornings. Headroom is plentiful and the cabin has a spacious feel. Padded leather trimmed door panels and a padded center console allow for comfortable resting of arms and finish out the interior nicely.
Slide into the rear seats and you are again met with plenty of foot, knee and headroom. Padded door armrests and a fold down center armrest with cup holders are available to passengers that must ride in the back seat. Center console-mounted vents supply cooled or warmed air when needed and a power rear window sunshade helps to keep the interior and occupants cool.
Hyundai Azera – Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of Comfort:
Wide, plush front seats will keep most people happy, and though the most time I spent in one sitting was about an hour, I never felt uncomfortable. In fact, after a tough day at the office in a crappy desk chair, the Hyundai Azera provided welcome sanctuary. Armrests, including the upper door sills, are nicely padded, and though I personally dislike wood-rimmed steering wheels – they’re hard, and they get hot in the sun – the Azera’s is a tilt-and-telescopic affair that makes it easy to drive. I did, however, take issue with the off-center effort required to twirl the wheel. My bicep tendonitis flared whenever I took a right turn steering with my left hand.
There’s plenty of room in the Azera’s spacious back seat, with the exception of toe room under the front chairs. Even with the driver’s seat low and reclined a bit, my knees still had ample clearance, if not cross-my-legs comfort. The center armrest is plush, though the flip-up lid that covers the cupholders seems an odd design. Getting in and out of the Azera, front or rear, is pretty simple. The rear seats release and flop down pretty easily for extra cargo carrying length, but the trunk liftover is a bit high, the trunk opening is a bit small, and the trunk itself seems a bit shy of full-size sedan territory though it measures a generous 16.6 cubic feet in volume.
And to think that they told me this was a Hyundai, when clearly it’s a Toyota. This car’s nice materials, careful construction, and silent cabin must mean that, yep, it’s a Toyota. Wait a minute – it is a Hyundai, and it just goes to show how important it is to build your cars off of a smartly designed platform. From the Sonata to the Azera, and, recently, the Santa Fe, Hyundai has a strong winner on its hands, especially when it comes to the quality of its construction and the materials used. Already, awards are pouring in for the Sonata and its sister cars – a trend that’s likely to continue. Judged on its own merits, the Azera – at least the two sedans we’ve driven – makes a strong quality statement when other, more well-known purveyors of quality seem to be struggling a bit in the lining-up-of-the-parts-and-the-putting-it-together thing. For now, anyway, the Hyundai Azera is getting it right from the materials used inside the cabin to its initial quality and construction.
Hyundai Azera – Ron Perry’s Opinion of Quality:
Hyundai has come a long way, but our Azera’s exterior still shows room for improvement when it comes to fit-and-finish. Door and fender gaps were all pretty consistent and tight but the areas where the front fender met the A-pillar varied dramatically from side to side. Surround gaps on the grille and headlights were also slightly off and the front fascia moved freely when tugged, unlike the rear fascia.
Inside, minor gaps were also present around the glovebox and upper dash panel. These were minor issues and teeter on being nit-picky. The Azera’s interior exudes quality, from the nicely appointed leather to the distinct textured metal look trim and the faux wood used throughout the interior. All covers and assist handles are dampened, continuing the upscale feel of the interior. Closing the doors results in a resoundingly solid thud, solidifying the Azera’s well-built impression.
Hyundai Azera – Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of Quality:
Hyundai is officially a world-class auto maker. If you still think Korean cars are sloppily assembled of cheap parts, take a gander at the Azera. Outside, almost every panel lines up evenly, fits flush, and exhibits tight gap tolerances. I uncovered minor fit issues with the rear fascia, the trunk lid, the chrome greenhouse trim at the rear doors and quarter windows, and where the front fascia met the hood on either side of the grille. Note that I think these were issues that wouldn’t be noticed at a glance. Indeed, this Hyundai matched up with any recent Honda or Toyota we’ve evaluated. Inside, an even better level of attention to detail is exerted. In fact, I didn’t find anything out of place, and all the parts and pieces were solidly affixed.
As for materials, the signal and wiper stalks were a little shiny and cheap-looking, the leather on the seats exhibited a bit too much gloss in sunlight, and the center of the dashboard was hard plastic rather than the soft material used for the dash top and door panel sills. Otherwise, the Azera is impressively upscale thanks to the mesh headliner, quality plastics, dampened control action, shiny fake wood, and plastic trim on the center console that does a fair job of mimicking metal. I took a car-load of Hyundai malcontents to lunch in the Azera, and each was mighty impressed with how nice the car was.
Bah – the Hyundai Azera is more boring than a Camry. Some may call it polished or professional, and perhaps it is, but the Azera seems so carefully designed that much of the thrill is ironed out of the sheetmetal, so as not to upset anyone’s carefully-coiffed sensibilities. This sedan is, after all, designed to take sales away from the Toyota Avalon, so it will take few chances when it comes to the design. Inside, the interior is very well executed, with the use of quality materials throughout. Climate, audio and secondary controls are nicely finished and exactly where you would expect them – within easy reach of the driver, and the trim inside the cabin created a nice, upscale feel.
Hyundai Azera – Ron Perry’s Opinion of the Design:
The Hyundai Azera’s exterior design convincingly projects the image of an upscale sedan. With styling cues borrowed from the BMW 7 Series at the rear, a re-worked version of the Bangle rear deck lives on under the Hyundai nameplate. Handsome taillights and chrome trim lend to the upscale design, as do painted, chrome-trimmed door handles. Up front, a chrome-trimmed grille and bumperettes finish out the look.
Inside is where the Azera really shines. Open any door and you are greeted with nice textured metal sill plates engraved with the Azera name, a nice touch that accentuates the car’s upscale look and feel. Door panels and seats are trimmed with soft leather, while faux wood and textured metal are used as accents throughout the interior. The luminescent gauge cluster looks like something right out of a Lexus LS and works well with the rich feel of the interior. The biggest flaw, though they’re still functional, is the tired looking climate and radio controls. Something more up-to-date with a modern flair would have really set off the Azera’s interior design.
Hyundai Azera – Christian Wardlaw’s Opinion of the Design:
Inside and out, the Hyundai Azera blends elements of several different kinds of cars into a handsome if derivative whole that convincingly fakes luxury. Up front, the shapes and proportions say Lexus ES, but with headlight clusters that look like a Mazda 6. The multi-spoke wheels remind me of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the flared rear haunches recall a classic Buick design cue. At the rear, there’s a bustle like a BMW 7 Series, and a steeply raked rear window that unfortunately gives the Azera the look of a five-door hatchback. The wide taillights remind me of the 2003-05 Honda Accord.
Inside, the target is clearly Lexus. The Azera features a clean design, tasteful décor, and a simple control layout with everything logically located. I think that Hyundai wasted space below the climate controls, where there’s a small covered cubby that could have been much larger like what you find in a Honda Accord. The asymmetrical gauge cluster is also a bit off-putting, and I was a little frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t cycle through the radio station pre-sets using the satellite radio controls on the steering wheel. Otherwise, the Hyundai Azera is a simple but luxurious, upscale and appealing sedan.
If you’re shopping for a softer, luxurious ride for less than $30,000, take a good hard look at the Hyundai Azera. It’s arguably the best traditional large sedan available, beating out what Buick and Toyota offer. Before you chortle and click away to the Avalon page, consider this: the Azera has a lower price, better materials and, based on our test example, higher quality construction. It’s also pretty darn fast too, though you’re not buying this kind of vehicle for performance. All in all, the Azera is a real luxury car from a serious automaker, for people who want luxury but haven’t forgotten about the luxurious feeling that comes with getting a good value.
Hyundai Azera – Ron Perry’s Advice:
Definitely give the Hyundai Azera some consideration when shopping for a sedan in this price range. Hyundai has done a commendable job of improving its quality and the company backs it up with a ten-year warranty. I’ll bet if you test drive an Azera you will at least walk away impressed, even if you choose to purchase another vehicle.
Hyundai Azera – Christian Wardlaw’s Advice:
Frankly, the 2006 Hyundai Azera blew me away with its utter competence. From its design and quality of construction to its comfort and performance, there are few things about this new family sedan that would cause me pause. Add in the excellent powertrain warranty, the standard safety equipment, and that – unlike the Accord and Camry – you won’t see yourself coming and going at every corner, and it’s clear that consumers looking for a roomy, comfortable, upscale sedan in the mid-$20,000 range need to test drive the new Azera.
Price of Test Vehicle: $27,490 (including the $660 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 3.8-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 263 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 255 lb.-ft. at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,629
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/28
Observed Fuel Economy: 18.9 mpg
Length: 192.7 inches
Width: 72.8 inches
Wheelbase: 109.4 inches
Height: 58.7 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 43.7/38.2 inches
Head room (front/rear): 40.2/38.2 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 16.6 cu.-ft.
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Photos by Ron Perry