Hyundai Azera Limited Review
There are three basic markets for any car: price, value (price plus quality) and quality (price no object). Automobiles aimed at the top and bottom of the food chain are relatively easy to produce; price-oriented manufacturers can let things slide, quality-oriented carmakers can afford perfection. Value is a bitch. Automakers in this arena have got to do it all, do it right and do it at a price. One false step and competitors on either side of the financial divide reach down or reach up and snatch your bread and butter. In short, the new Hyundai Azera is something of a miracle: a car that hits the value bulls-eye with supernatural precision.
In these days of retro muscle cars and two-door coupes, pundits tend to forget that miraculous makeovers needn't be brash. That said, compared to Hyundai's previous flagship, the Commissar's XG350, the Azera is a supermodel. And compared to a supermodel, the Azera is a local newscaster: sexy in an entirely unthreatening sort of way. In truth, the Azera seems carefully designed to melt into the dull blur of oncoming traffic. The front end is fantastically inoffensive– and that's it. The back end's nicely-wrapped LED taillights and Bimmer-style butt make it a bit more distinctive, though equally, almost admirably, forgettable. From the side, the Azera's ten-spokes seem an inch too large, the rear wheels are set mysteriously far forward and the swooping bulge flowing up and over the wheels looks like a resting bunny rabbit. Of course, everybody likes bunnies…
Inside, the Azera Limited is the ultimate content queen. The $27,495 sedan has enough airbags to salvage a sunken ship, active head restraints, leather seating surfaces and "wood grain" trim, heated power memory seats, Lexian electroluminescent gauges, fully automatic dual-zone climate control (with particulate filter), electronic stability control, traction control, power rear window shade, power sunroof and a MP3-compatible megawatt music system. Ergonomically, the Azera's got it wired– but not digitized. No joysticks and digital screens here (there are some things money shouldn't buy); just sensible controls, well positioned vents and uncomplicated switchgear. In fact, the fully-loaded Azera Limited is an entirely convincing budget alternative to a "proper" (i.e. twice as costly) luxury car.
Well, almost. Despite the Azera's S-Class-plus sized interior, there's a palpable difference between the Korean import and the mighty German and Japanese luxobarges. The Azera's front dash fascia is hard plastic textured to look soft (whose half life probably rivals actinium's). The leather deployed throughout the cabin is industrial-strength hide; you'll need to place aromatic leather scraps under the front seats for that impress-your-friends Connelly hide effect. Despite the pseudo-luxe materials – or perhaps because of them – the Azera's interior is a curiously soulless place to spend your time. The cabin lacks… originality. Coherence. Character. Zen.
The Korean four-door is powered by a 3.8 liter all-aluminum V-6 with continuously variable valve timing. The 263-horse powerplant responds to the whip with gleeful enthusiasm, growling convincingly through dual exhausts, romping to sixty in just 6.8 seconds. The Azera's five-speed "Shiftronic" gearbox is a real peach, delivering smooth shifts in cruise mode, and brisk kickdowns and upshifts when asked. Unfortunately, after the first half-inch of throttle travel, the Azera's drivetrain tends to snap into frisky mode…….whether you want it to or not. Practice will probably tame the tendency, but watch for straight-armed, surprised drivers pulling away from stoplights in their new Azeras.
Once underway, the Azera's speed sensitive steering proves to be lighter than a perfectly baked croissant– which may be just as well. The Korean family car may have the power to keep up with the Maximas of the world, but when push comes to bend, the Azera is a bit of a wallower that's prone to nosedive under heavy braking. On the positive side, the Azera's front double wishbones and rear multilink suspension serve-up the kind of self-assured big car ride its non-sporting target market will adore. Provided they stay off the gas, the ultra-quiet cabin will reinforce the impression that they got the luxury car deal of the century.
Perhaps they have. Just think: you can buy the Azera Limited for under $30k, drive a reasonable distance in excellent comfort for three years, then hand if off to your chromosome split (maintaining original ownership). The Azera would remain under its bumper-to-bumper warranty for another two years. After that, your progeny could drive the sedan for another five years before the ten-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty expires. In case that all sounds a bit dull and worthy, well guess what? These are exactly the kind of calculations that made Toyota so successful, and GM so hard-pressed. First the Sonata, now the Azera. Look out Detroit. Watch your back Japan. Hyundai's value-packed vehicles are on a roll.
More by C Douglas Weir
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