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Hyundai Azera, 2006: The Weekly Driver Car Review

As the replacement for the XG350, Hyundai introduced the Azera earlier this year as the Korean manufacturer’s most luxurious and most expensive offering to date. Luxurious and expensive have never been synonymous with Hyundai. And with the Azera only luxurious applies. It’s a vehicle that may finally allow Hyundai to infringe on sales of the popular Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.

Even with the name change alone, the high-end Hyundai has a chance. The now-gone XG350 had its upside, but its name seemed more conducive to a robot or a vacuum cleaner, rather than a car.

Although it’s hardly a household word, at least Hyundai Azera has a catchy sound. The car’s name, in fact, is based on the word azure, the specific shade of the color blue.

But beyond name change, the Azera features a lot as Hyundai’s flagship vehicle. And it has been nearly universally praised for its vast standard features list, refinement and overall value.

Available in SE and Limited editions, I tested the latter as my weekly driver. Both offerings included a 3.8-liter, 263-horsepower V6 with a five-speed automatic transmission. It’s plenty of engine in every situation — short, quick acceleration bursts to the long-term, steady freeway acceleration. The Limited edition has 17-inch wheels, while the SE offers 16-inch wheels.

During my test, the Azera offered a quick, smooth, confident and quiet ride with the exception of some high-end wind rush. Steering and handling were sufficient, with ABS brakes, an electronic stability control system and a traction control system all standards.

The Azera’s mechanical soundness is complemented well by its exterior and interior design. Once criticized for its lack of quality materials and craftsmanship, the Azera’s interior is now well-designed, with an upscale feel.]]> The exterior color, Aubergine (dark, rich purple) wasn’t particularly appealing. But it did match the two-tone tan (leather seats, carpets and steering) and light black interior (console, door paneling).

The Azera has its share of woodgrain trim from the steering wheel to door handles and the center console to the instrumentation panel. It’s all standard, as are: dual front power and heated seats, power rear sunshade, AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with steering wheel controls, air conditioning and cruise control.

The Azera (Limited Edition) had only one option, the Premium Package ($1,500). It includes power sunroof and an upgraded Infinity audio system with a 6-disc, in-dash CD Changer.

If there’s a downside to the Azera, it’s a lack of an available navigation system. But Hyundai has announced the option will be available soon.

Yet the absence of a GPS system is a small issue. The Azera’s got plenty going for it, particularly considering its price point. It’s more well-known competitors all make fine midsize vehicles, but Hyundai now has a quality “player” in the mix.

Safety Features — Dual front, front and rear seat-mounted and side-impact and roof-mounted side-curtain airbags.

Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 19 mpg (city), 28 mpg (highway).

Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 5 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years, 100,000 miles; Corrosion, 7 years/unlimited m miles; (24-hour) roadside assistance program, 5 years/unlimited miles.

Base Price — $26,835.00.

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