Hyundai's march to the top over the last couple of years has been impressive to say the least. Vehicles from the Korean manufacturer have gone from afterthoughts in their market segments to class leaders thanks to sharp styling, a wealth of standard and optional features and a very generous warranty. The completely redesigned 2012 Hyundai Azera capitalizes on the brand's recent success, and it seems to take the Hyundai toward the premium market where you might find entry-level versions of cars from premium brands like Acura, Infiniti and Lexus.
As part of this effort, this all-new second-generation Azera straddles the line between Hyundai's relatively commonplace Sonata and the stately Genesis sedan in terms of size, refinement and price. The question is, can a place really be found for what is really just a bigger, slightly more luxurious Sonata? But if you can ignore this existential question, you'll be pleased to discover that the Hyundai Azera is a praiseworthy sedan that scores well where it matters most.
As such, the Azera compares favorably against some fairly accomplished rivals. We position the Hyundai in direct competition with the 2012 Toyota Avalon, as both deliver similar levels of sensible luxury while placing a low priority on athleticism. Drivers seeking a little more sporting fun with their large sedans would be well advised to check out the 2012 Acura TL or 2012 Chrysler 300, while those looking for more style will appreciate the 2012 Volkswagen CC. That said, if a comparably equipped Hyundai Sonata leaves you wanting more in the way of interior space, the Azera is the obvious choice for only a few thousand dollars more.
As with every 2012 Hyundai Azera, this test vehicle is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 that produces 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. All of this is channeled through a six-speed automatic transmission to power the front wheels. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 20 city/29 highway mpg and 23 mpg in combined driving.
In Edmunds instrumented testing, the Azera accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, which is quick among sedans competing in this segment. But although the Hyundai gets up to speed with just enough authority to merge onto highways with confidence, there's not more to the engine's personality than this. Gearchanges are quite smooth, but rather slow, reinforcing an impression of quiet yet unremarkable composure. Coming to a stop from 60 mph required 126 feet, which is about average in this class, but we did notice a bit of a wiggle under heavy braking.
In terms of handling, the 2012 Hyundai Azera feels rather soft, like a traditional American sedan for traditional Americans. It rolls and wallows compared to a Sonata or Genesis, although it nevertheless responds quite well to avoidance maneuvers. There's not much in the way of steering feel either, yet the steering response is precise and predictable. Overall, the Azera feels and behaves like a big luxury sedan. It delivers perfect competence, but it's so reserved that you rarely notice the car itself.
The 2012 Hyundai Azera's big sedan character is especially evident on the inside. There's an abundance of legroom for every passenger and enough headroom in the rear seats for 6-footers. Furthermore, the driver seat features a wealth of adjustments to fine-tune it to you particular preference. The Azera isn't quite as insulated from the outside as true luxury sedans are, but wind and road noise are silenced to barely detectable levels.
The same goes for the Azera's suspension. Even over the roughest industrial district roads, massive potholes are pleasantly smoothed over. And while there is a considerable amount of body roll while cornering, the Hyundai remains solidly poised on the highway without a floating sensation.
On the whole, drivers and passengers are also treated to a thoughtfully designed interior. Front-seat visibility is very good, with enough reference points to accurately gauge how wide and long the Azera is in tight spaces. Rear-seat passengers also have a decent forward view, though they will have to peer around the thick door pillar to see out the side. Mounting a rear-facing child seat in the back is a cinch and does not impact front seat space in the least.
Dash-mounted controls for audio and climate are unconventional, but thankfully easy to operate, perhaps because the car is targeted at those who might not be tech-savvy when it comes to electronics. The large power button/volume knob in the middle of the display reminds us of a certain "Easy" button touted by an office supply store. The touchscreen layout and graphics are identical to other Hyundai vehicles, which is to say attractive and intuitive to use.
Sound quality from the optional Infinity audio upgrade is noteworthy, with powerful bass and clear highs. We also appreciated the covered center bin that houses the USB/auxiliary audio inputs, which keeps portable music players out of sight of prying eyes. Elsewhere in the Azera, storage is similarly ample, with a large center armrest bin, cupholders and door pockets. In terms of luggage space, the Azera's trunk is one of the most spacious in the large sedan class, accommodating up to 16.3 cubic feet of cargo. For the rare item that won't fit, the rear seats fold down.
Design/Fit and Finish
As the 2012 Hyundai Azera slots between the midsize Sonata and luxurious Genesis sedan, so, too, its styling and interior appointments bridge the gap between these two cars. Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design ethos — so prominent in the shape of the Sonata — has an equally strong presence on the Azera, albeit on a grander scale. As a result, the Azera has a sharper and more streamlined appearance than the larger Genesis, which looks in comparison more substantial and for lack of a better word, "German." Adding to the Azera's graceful appearance is a taut, arching roof line, the kind that has become so popular among sedans like the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS and Volkswagen CC that aspire to dramatic coupelike style.
On the inside, the Azera also maintains the upscale Sonata theme. There is a significant (and slightly disappointing) amount of hard plastic on the dashboard, so the racy faux carbon-fiber trim seems oddly out of place. On the bright side, elbow touch points and most other contact surfaces are generously padded. We also found the ultra-soft leather and expansive glass sunroof very much to our liking.
Who should consider this vehicle
Finding a target audience for the 2012 Hyundai Azera presents us with a few challenges. This is an impressively large and luxurious sedan with a personality much different from the Sonata and Genesis, but we wonder if this half-size step in size and luxury between the two will seem entirely necessary to Hyundai shoppers, especially since its as-tested price of $36,875 is $2,675 more than the base price of the Genesis.
Once you move beyond the Hyundai lineup, however, the Azera represents an admirable choice among other large sedans. It suits an older audience that will transport adults in the rear seat, not kids, and it should offer appropriately luxurious surroundings at a relatively affordable price. In fact, it's appropriate to compare the 2012 Hyundai Azera against the entry-level models from established luxury brands like Acura, Infiniti and Lexus.