2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: What’s New
Hyundai, once known for its affordable cars and lengthy warranties, now has the 2012 Hyundai Azera acting as the final piece to complete its full family sedan renaissance that kicked off with the introduction of the Genesis in 2009. The redesigned 2012 Azera not only carries the sleek and stylish "fluidic sculpture" design language now recognizable across the Hyundai line-up, it is now a credible entrant in the front-wheel drive luxury sedan segment up to and including the Lexus ES. To show us how far this car has come since its roots as the oddly named XG350, Hyundai gave us some seat time in the 2012 Azera that was introduced at the 2011 Los Angeles International Auto Show. After a day spent driving this front-wheel drive flagship, it is clear that there is still plenty of breathing room for the Azera to exist between the Sonata and the rear-wheel drive Genesis sedan.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in South Korea, the 2012 Hyundai Azera is only offered in a single trim with a starting price set at $32,000. Not only is this new starting price about $6,500 more than the outgoing Azera, it also used to be the starting point of the Hyundai Genesis Sedan, but considering how much standard equipment and luxury the 2012 Azera delivers, this should only help the car fit in into place even better. Fitting in with the mono-spec base model, the 2012 Hyundai Azera comes with a simply organized option list that is crammed into a single package. Checking that option package gave our car an as-tested price $36,875, and while this fully loaded price puts the 2012 Hyundai Azera on par with a base Lexus ES 350, a true apples-to-apples comparison shows about a $5,000 savings compared to a comparably equipped ES.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: What It's Up Against
The typical competition for the 2012 Hyundai Azera are cars like the Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse, but with the added luxury, technology and styling, Hyundai can now take on bigger names including the aforementioned Lexus ES as well as front-wheel drive luxo sedans like the Lincoln MKZ and Volvo S60. Sales of the Hyundai Azera have been dropping even since the Genesis sedan was launched for the 2009 model year, and this trend continues through the first three months of 2012 where the Azera is the slowest-selling Hyundai model (even less than the Equus) with just 522 units sold. Fortunately, this dismal trend will likely end soon as the new 2012 Azeras are just starting to hit dealerships and the new design should help create a little more separation between these two closely priced luxury sedans.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: Exterior
What's New for 2012:
- new exterior design using Fluidic Sculpture language
- 18-inch wheels standard, 19s optional
How It Looks:
After watching Fluidic Sculpture evolve over the last couple years, the 2012 Hyundai Azera is definitely the pinnacle of this styling direction. When it comes to Hyundai's unique design language, the one word that best describes everything is flow. All of the car's lines and creases flow freely over the body, and this all starts with the front end. The intricate creases in the grille and front fascia help form the basis for most of the car's flowing lines such as the creased hood, the swept, arched front fenders and, especially, the tasteful chrome strip that runs between the headlight and the hood flowing back into the DLO trim. Toward the rear of the car, the beltline makes a subtle rise helping to accent the stylized rear haunches which are a throw-back to the first-generation Azera. Adding to the car's smooth and modern look, the headlights have LED accents while the rear of the car is finished off with a full-width LED taillight treatment and integrated, chrome-tipped dual exhaust outlets. Not all of the new 2012 Hyundai Azera's styling cues were aimed at giving the car its upscale appearance either as the new car has a longer wheelbase (while keeping the same overall length) and is wider than its predecessor giving the car improved handling abilities and a sportier look. Our test car came with the optional 10-spoke, 19-inch wheels and was painted in a sparkly Porcelain White Pearl hue.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: Interior
What's New for 2012:
- standard Blue Link infotainment system with a 90-day complimentary trial period
- improved styling and comfort
- optional panoramic roof
How It Looks and Feels:
The Fluidic Design theme also carries over into the cabin of the 2012 Hyundai Azera with a flowing instrument panel and its waterfall-like center stack. Of course, this design element only helps to accent the plush cabin that comes standard with leather adorning the seats and steering wheel and enough legroom and headroom for all five passengers to make this a practical family sedan. The 2012 Azera isn't the best in class when it comes to passenger and cargo volume, but we'd gladly give up a couple cubic feet here and there for a design as striking as this car. One thing that helped make this interior look even better is the Chestnut Brown leather (offered only on models with the pearl exterior colors) which creates a rich look to go with the metallic and faux carbon fiber trim throughout the cabin. Attention to detail should also win Hyundai plenty of praise from consumers with touches like the Azera badges on the door panels and the front power seat controls seemingly inspired by Mercedes-Benz. For the price, the 2012 Hyundai Azera comes packed with plenty of features including standard navigation system and push-button start, and after a day spent driving the new Azera, the company that was once known for building cheap cars with lengthy warranties is quickly cementing itself as an automaker capable of crafting high-quality and luxurious sedans with Lexus and Acura dead in its sights.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: The Extras
In an attempt to make the ordering process as simple as possible with the new 2012 Hyundai Azera, Hyundai gave the car only one interior option package: the $4,000 Technology Package. This bulky and pricey package is well worth the cost especially if you're looking to get the most bang for your buck out of this car. Instant gratification from this package comes from features such as the large, panoramic sunroof, power-extending driver's seat cushion for added comfort, ventilated front seats and a power-adjustable tilt and telescoping steering column. The add-on list doesn't stop there either as this package also includes ambient cabin lighting, HID Xenon headlights, rear window sunshades (power rear and manual side rear), rear parking sensors, the 19-inch wheels and, finishing it all off, an upgraded 550-watt Infinity sound system. As much as this package offers, the lack of a blind spot monitor is an obvious omission.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2012:
- new engine
- single powertrain line-up
How Does It Go:
Helping to simplify the packaging of the 2012 Hyundai Azera, the sole engine for the new design is the 3.3-liter direct-injected V-6 that offers the power and torque of the old 3.8-liter V-6 with the fuel economy of the old 3.3. Power output for the new V-6 is now 293 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque (up 33 hp and 22 lb-ft), and despite these significant gains in both categories, this engine is actually slightly more fuel efficient than the previous car's base engine with EPA fuel economy estimates of 20 miles per gallon in the city, 29 mpg on the highway and a rating of 23 mpg in combined driving. Hyundai's Active Eco feature definitely played a part in allowing the new Azera to be more powerful and fuel efficient by adjusting engine and transmission responses translating into what Hyundai says is a 5 percent gain in fuel economy. Trying not to step on the Genesis' toes too much, the second-generation Azera still sends power to the front wheels through the same six-speed automatic transmission.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: How It Drives
Even though the Azera has gained a few pounds in its second generation (between 29 and 117 pounds to be exact), the 2012 model still weighs about 200 pounds less than a LaCrosse and 400 pounds lighter than the Taurus. The Azera is far from sporty when it comes to its handling capabilities, but it was probably as much fun as you could expect from a sedan in this segment with great steering, braking and suspension feel in some of the worst roads we experienced along our drive route in and around New Orleans. The improved ride can be credited somewhat to the upgraded MacPherson front suspension setup, but the Sachs Amplitude Selective Dampers (ASD) also comes in hand to provide a smooth ride when needed but not at the expense of soft, spongy cornering. Hyundai has definitely done a great job eliminating road noise and vibration from the cabin, but there was still some notable wind noise around the mirrors and windshield at highway speeds. Getting up to speed is no problem thanks to the added power given to the V-6, and while drivers will appreciate the confident acceleration, they won't have to deal with the annoying torque steer that usually plagues front-wheel drive cars.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: Is It Safe
So far, the 2012 Hyundai Azera has yet to be tested at all by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or fully tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the latter has given it "Good" ratings for both frontal- and side-impact protection. All new Hyundai Azera models come standard with nine airbags, daytime running lights (DRL), electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), traction control and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). Those keeping score will note that the car does not have active head restraints which is thanks to newly developed impact-reducing front seats that Hyundai expects to help reduce head and neck injuries in rear impact collisions by 17 percent when compared to the previous-generation Azera which came with active head rests.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: Final Thoughts
From the subcompact Accent to the ultra-luxurious Equus, Hyundai's sedan line-up looks totally different than it did just three years ago, and now the introduction of a totally redesigned 2012 Hyundai Azera finishes off this four-door transformation in impressive style. Where the Azera and other "near-luxury sedans" used to stand as a punch line against more established luxury automakers, Hyundai has come on strong in recent years proving that you don't have to spend a lot of money to drive a plush car stuffed with plenty of gadgets and goodies. On the other hand, it is a tough pill to swallow in thinking of a $36,000 car as a value-laden model, but when compared against the 2011 model, the 2012 Azera is definitely worth the added price. After a busy 24 months brought seven new or redesigned models to the table, don't expect Hyundai to lose any of its intensity when it comes to future product... one needs only look at the all-new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe as evidence.
2012 Hyundai Azera First Drive Review: Pros and Cons
- styling and luxury that rivals some bigger-named luxury sedans
- more power, better fuel economy
- simple option packaging
- raked roofline hampers rear-passenger comfort
- no blind spot monitor offered
Hyundai provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross