Driven: 2012 Hyundai Azera

By Brandon Turkus

February 27, 2012

—Las Vegas, Nevada
 
In the recent past, If you wanted a relatively large, affordable, nicely equipped sedan, your options were pretty limited. The comfortable, but bland, Toyota Avalon has been a mainstay, and over the last few years the Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, and Nissan Maxima have all vied for your big-car bucks. Now, Hyundai has thrown its hat into the ring, with its heavily redesigned Azera.
 
This is not going to be a competitor for hotter big sedans like the Chrysler 300C and Ford Taurus SHO, but instead a shot across the bow of the more mainstream entries from Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota. Looks-wise, it’s probably the best looking car of the current crop, boasting the latest instantiation of Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” design language. If anything, we’d say the Azera looks like a mix of the best parts of the old car, along with features from the Sonata and Genesis sedan. We’re quite taken by the taillights in particular, which look like some strange fusion of the Dodge Charger and Jaguar XF. High praise indeed.
 
That theme continues inside, where it’s clear that this is a car to bridge the gap between Sonata and Genesis. The cabin is fresh, boasting soft-touch materials throughout. The leather trim seems of high quality, and looks good. We’re told that the Y-shaped center stack is meant to reference a set of outstretched wings—we think it’s simply a very attractive and intuitive piece of design. The controls are laid out logically, with easy-to-read buttons. 
 
The driving position is for the long haul, rather than the spirited sprint. The seats are soft and rather flat, but still comfortable. Or were, at least, for the run we made through the desert (on our way back from Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch where we tested the Genesis Coupe earlier in the day). We’ll need to get in them for a more dedicated distance drive to render final judgment on their overall comfort, though. We can confirm, however, that the level of adjustability on offer is really nice. Both driver and passenger have access to standard power seats, ten-way for the driver and eight for the passenger. It’s quite easy to get into a comfortable seating position, and the inclusion of standard tilt and telescopic steering makes things that much easier. Simply, you won’t have a hard time getting situated in the Azera.
 
That goes for the back seat as well. With a power rear sunshades, as well as side-window sunshades, it’s not hard to feel rather important when sitting in the back. Room isn’t bad either. You won’t be stretching out the same way as you would in the Equus, but our time in the second row was hardly what we’d call cramped. Leg- and headroom are quite good, and the bench seats are easy to relax in.
 
Look, we’ll come right out and say it: the Azera is not a very involving vehicle. In fact, considering Hyundai’s recent track record with the potent Sonata Turbo and Genesis sedan, we expected a four-door that could bridge this performance gap. Hyundai’s choice of a 3.3-liter V-6 over the 2.0T or even a non-direct-injected version of the 3.8-liter V-6 (the engine that powered the 2011 Genesis Coupe and Sedan) is, to us, a confusing one.
 
The 3.3-liter produces 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers look just dandy on paper, but they don’t translate well on the road. Stoplight heroics are out of the question, as the power on hand is simply adequate, lacking the immediacy of the turbo four or the free-revving nature of the 3.8-liter V-6. Mid-range punch, though, was where we really took issue. There just wasn’t much to play with here, as even hefty dips into the throttle elicited little in the way of results. In fact, put toe-to-toe with the heavier and less powerful Chrysler 300S we tested recently, we’re confident the American would drive away victorious.
 
So no, this isn’t a fast car. Once we got over the lack of speed, though, it was easy to see where the 3.3-liter V-6 works in a comfort-oriented application. It’s a quiet engine with a smooth character, and when paired with the standard six-speed automatic, it delivers the sort of unobtrusive performance that is a comfort hallmark.
 
In terms of ride and handling, the Azera is much more Equus (luxury car) than Genesis (sports sedan). By that, we don't mean that the front-wheel-drive Azera behaves like either of these rear-drivers, but that its handling character is closer to the luxury-oriented Equus. Whereas the Genesis has some sporting pretensions, balancing both handling and comfort, the Azera (like the Equus) is focused purely on ride comfort.The primary and secondary ride of the Azera is excellent, with an extremely stable character at most speeds. Down the highways, vertical float (that sort of waterbed-like ride that we see in the Toyota Avalon) is very neatly controlled. Bumps are soaked up without protestation from the MacPherson front/multi-link rear suspension, with little disruption of the in-cabin experience.
 
Speaking of that in-cabin experience, it’s a very quiet one. While Buick has really pushed the affordable car with a very quiet ride (keep an eye out for our review of the Buick Verano to see what we mean), Hyundai seems to have perfected it here. Road and wind noise are well controlled, and engine noise is scarcely noticeable except at the highest rpms.
 
The Azera’s equipment list belies its subdued driving nature, with a wealth of luxury and styling features and a price that bests much of the segment. Things like navigation, LED headlight accents, eighteen-inch wheels, heated and powered leather seats, electroluminescent gauges, and the Bluelink connectivity system are all standard. The sole optional extra is the $4000 Technology Package, which delivers nineteen-inch wheels, xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof, 12-speaker Infinity stereo, vented seats, and power tilt-and-telescopic steering (as opposed to the manual tilt/telescope that’s standard).
 
Pricing for the Azera starts at $32,000, which is quite a bit higher than the starting points for the Ford Taurus ($25,555), Chrysler 300 ($28,470), and Buick LaCrosse ($29,045). It’s actually cheaper than the base Avalon ($33,995). Considering that you can’t get many of the Azera’s standard features on these base models (navigation for the Taurus means jumping to the $32,155 Limited model, then spending another $1850, while the Avalon requires another $3370 over the base), it’s easy to see the value the Hyundai represents.
 
Hyundai has done with the Azera what it did with the Sonata, Genesis, and Equus. It’s built a car that is exceptionally styled, packed with technology and standard features, and bestowed with a comfortable, quality driving character. Considering the last-generation Azera’s anonymity, this new car represents a significant leap forward for Korea’s largest car manufacturer.
 
VS: Ford Taurus Limited
 
To match the Azera on equipment, we’ve got to look at the highest-spec non-SHO Taurus, the Limited. Starting at $32,155, we’d need to option it out to $38,095 to match the Hyundai. The Ford does, however, have some optional equipment that the Hyundai can’t match, specifically adaptive cruise control and a blind-spot assist system.
 
In terms of comfort, we’d need to give the edge to the Hyundai. Its ride is better composed and smoother overall, not to mention quieter. The Azera’s performance, though a weak point when viewed in isolation, is on par with the Ford, mainly due to the American car’s much heavier curb weight and lower power output (263 horsepower, 249 pound-feet of torque, and 4015 pounds).
 
Despite the Ford boasting a slightly longer wheelbase (112.9 inches versus 112 in the Hyundai), the Azera actually has the larger interior, by a not-insignificant 4.8 cubic feet. That translates to the Hyundai’s best-in-class front legroom (45.5 inches versus 41.9 in the Ford). The Hyundai does give up some rear legroom, though, losing out to the Taurus by 1.3 inches (38.1 in the Blue Oval and 36.8 in the Azera).
 
VS: Toyota Avalon Limited
 
As with the Ford, the base Avalon doesn’t quite cut the mustard. We need to move up to the top-spec Avalon Limited, with a starting price of $36,435. We’d also need to opt for the $1450 Navigation and Premium Audio package, for a total of $38,645.
 
With 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, the Avalon does feel a smidge faster, mainly due to its 3616-pound curb weight. The ride, though, tends to float much more, and lacks the outright, pinned-to-the-road stability of the biggish Hyundai.
 
Once again, the Hyundai sacrifices rear-seat legroom for front-seat legroom. It has nearly four inches more front legroom than the Toyota, but has about four inches less in back. These inch measurements might not seem that great, but we really can’t express how much difference a few inches make in rear-seat comfort.
 
2012 Hyundai Azera Technology Package
Engine: V-6, 3.3 liters, 24v
Output: 293 hp/255 lb-ft
Weight: 3825 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 20/29 mpg
Base Price: $36,000
On Sale: March 2012