You can't think of Audi without A4 instantly popping into your head or VW without images of the Beetle dancing through. In our collective psyche, the Hyundai Azera is on the same track. Like the Sonata, the Hyundai Azera is a harbinger of things to come for the Korean automaker and will propel the brand to new heights in the minds of most consumers — luxury or otherwise. In short, it will be the car most of us think of when we hear "Hyundai."
In our long-term test of the slightly smaller Hyundai Sonata, we found the car exceeded our expectations in many areas, and we expect the Azera to garner the same amount of praise. So far it's the car's luxury leanings that stand out as the Azera's defining characteristics. Office banter about the Azera frequently has included comments like "surprisingly comfortable," "decent acceleration" and "It's got a power rear sunshade!?" tossed around like fresh halibut at a Seattle fish market.
No matter how you slice it, it's obvious the Azera is a sedan that's of seminal importance for Hyundai, so we set out to find one that would offer the most car for the money. We came up with an Azera Limited equipped with the Ultimate Package. While the Limited already includes features like leather seats, curtain airbags, stability control, 17-inch wheels and automatic climate control as standard, the extra $2,550 for the Ultimate Package adds an Infinity stereo, power-adjustable pedals, rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof and memory function for the seats, mirrors and steering column. Also, our Azera came painted in Venetian Blue, one of the best-looking hues this side of Ford's Guardsman Blue from the mid-'60s.
In terms of driving dynamics and mechanical execution, no one will mistake the Hyundai Azera for a Lexus or even a Cadillac, but with features like that power rear sunshade, Infinity sound system and super-soft leather seats, most people would be hard-pressed to peg this car as a Korean brand that's built its reputation on low-priced, entry-level cars. In fact, a few editors made that very observation in the logbook.
Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans said, "I'm impressed with the interior design. It looks upscale and the materials are high in quality. I suspect that if I removed all the badges and put the average American in it, he or she would guess it was a Toyota or even a Lexus."
Road Test Editor Brian Moody confirmed this by simply saying, "The Azera's seats are very soft and comfortable — even at a quick glance, it's hard to see this car as first and foremost a bargain" though that's exactly what it is. Our full test of a 2006 Azera Limited pointed out that a similarly equipped Toyota Avalon would be more than $3,000 higher.
All Azeras are powered by a surprisingly smooth 3.8-liter 24-valve V6. The all-aluminum engine sends 263 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 255 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. And the combination creates some scoot.
After about 1,400 miles of break-in, we took our Azera to the test track, where it surged from zero to 60 mph in just 7 seconds flat and covered the quarter-mile in 15.2 seconds. That's two-tenths of a second quicker to 60 mph than the Azera we tested back in March, which makes it almost a full second quicker to 60 than the last V8-equipped Buick Lucerne we tested. Our test driver Chris Walton noted "no torque steer" and said the upshifts were "quick and smooth."
Braking was another story, however. In our full test the Azera stopped from 60 mph in 118 feet — impressive for a sedan that weighs close to 2 tons. Our long-term car, however, took 132 feet and showed significant brake fade. In fact, after four runs the sedan's brake pedal went all the way to the floor. We suspect the brakes may not have been completely broken in, as the car had just over a thousand miles on the clock. We'll test them again in the near future and see if our gut is right.
Through the slalom, our Azera showed noticeable body roll but Chris Walton noted "more sport than expected" on the test sheet. Thanks to light steering and grippy 17-inch Michelin Energy MXV4 tires, we recorded an average speed of 62.6 mph, notably quicker than the last Toyota Avalon Limited we tested, which snaked through the same cones at 58.9 mph.
It's not perfect
Despite its "sportier than expected" performance, however, so far praise for the Azera is not unanimous. If you must have features like Bluetooth and navigation you'll have to go with a car like the Avalon. And while editor Romans was impressed with the car overall, he noted a few areas of disappointment, specifically styling. He said, "It's conservatively styled, which is fine, but even after driving it for days I can't really name a distinguishing feature about it. To me, the exterior look is bland and unassuming." Some editors also noted an unusually high or awkward driving position, which is something we also complained about in our long-term Sonata, and one editor said that while the Azera has a comfortable highway ride, it clearly "isn't athletic."
Hyundai would probably be the first to point out that the Azera isn't intended as a sport sedan, but with few versions available, that one car has to cast a net that's as wide as the appeal of the Nissan Maxima SE and Toyota Avalon Limited.
This Hyundai, for better or for worse, is intended as a near luxury sedan for those who still cherish a good bargain — count us among them. We're off to a good start, but as we begin our year with the 2007 Hyundai Azera, only time (specifically, seat time) will tell if Hyundai can disprove the familiar "you get what you pay for" mantra or if the Azera will only reinforce our well-documented "less is just less" when it comes to luxury sedans.
Current Odometer: 2,482
Best Fuel Economy: 22.6 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 15.0 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 20 mpg
Body Repair Costs: None
Maintenance Costs: None
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.