The old Hyundai Azera sedan was solid, although bland. But with swoopy new styling, more power and lots of features, the redone 2012 model that arrived this spring makes the car stand out.
The new front-wheel-drive Azera comes in only one spacious trim level and slots between Hyundai’s Sonata and Genesis models. It looks more expensive, inside and out, than its $32,000 list price might suggest. Its nicely shaped and bumper-integrated tailpipes look as if they came from a top custom-car operation.
The only option is a $4,000 package that contains such items as wider tires on 19-inch (vs. 18-inch) wheels, ventilated front seats and a huge panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade.
The Azera’s long list of standard items include leather upholstery, push-button start, heated front and rear seats, dual automatic climate control and a navigation system with a rearview camera and seven-inch touchscreen. No other car in its market segment offers manual rear-side-window sunshades.
Safety items include nine standard air bags, including a driver’s knee air bag, and an alphabet soup of safety items that include VSM, ESC, TCS, ABS and EBD. Never mind what all that stands for—Azera buyers only need to know they help keep the car safely on roads during trying conditions and give it enhanced braking.
The new Azera is powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 with a high-pressure direct fuel injection system, which significantly increases horsepower and torque with a sky-high 11.5:1 compression ratio—likely the envy of 1960s muscle-car fans. The engine generates 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque.
The quiet, smooth V-6 has all-aluminum construction, four valves per cylinder, piston cooling jets and dual continuously variable valve timing for a broad power spread. A three-stage variable intake system further broadens the power curve to improve off-the-line acceleration and passing performance.
Power flows through a six-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual-shift feature. My test Azera quickly merged into fast freeway traffic and delivered brisk 65-80 mph passing times. The 0-60 mph time is 6.7 seconds.
Estimated fuel economy is 20 miles per gallon in the city, 29 on highways. A driver-activated “Active Eco” mode modifies engine and transmission control for improved fuel economy that Hyunda says translates into more than a five percent improvement in real-world economy.
Helping economy, besides agility and performance, is the solidly built Azera’s comparatively light weight. It tips the scales at 3,605 pounds, which makes it more than 200 pounds lighter than the Buick LaCrosse and more than 400 pounds lighter than the Ford Taurus.
The steering feels a little artificial but is nicely geared, at 2.9 turns lock-to-lock. And an all-independent suspension smooths out rough roads—although serious bumps can be mildly felt.
The Azera is no sports sedan—it isn’t supposed to be one. But handling is confidence-inspiring. There’s limited body sway at brisk speeds in decreasing radius turns, such as those on expressway entry ramps. Brakes are easily modulated.
Big outside door handles and large front and rear door openings make it easy to quickly enter the Azera, which has a spacious and upscale, quiet interior. Even the large fold-down rear center armrest, which contains dual cupholders, looks like it belongs in a more costly car.
Climate and audio system controls are generally easy to use, although I found the main gauges a little hard to read during the day. And thick windshield posts partly block driver vision, especially when he is turning a street corner.
All doors have storage pockets and bottle holders and a deep console bin with a cover. The Mercedes-style power front seat controls are handy, and controls for the large outside mirrors are easy to use. But driver controls for the power windows are set a bit too far back on the door. At least the windows can be easily stopped at various positions when moving down or up by tapping a window control.
The large trunk uses shielded hinges instead of struts. It has a wide, but rather high, opening. And, when the thick rear seatbacks are flipped forward for more cargo room, the pass-through area between the trunk and rear seat is only moderately large.
The hood glides open via twin hydraulic struts to reveal a crowded engine compartment. Still, fluid-filler area are easy to reach from the front of the car, except for one located behind the engine that must be reached from the side.
The Azera is another Hyundai winner, delivering more than a buyer would expect.
Pros: Sleek. Roomy. Potent. Economical. Many features.
Cons: Thick windshield posts partially block visibility. Huge Trunk opening.
Bottom Line: The redone Hyundai Azera has become a standout sedan.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.