The Hyundai Azera’s roots actually date back to 1986, when Hyundai’s sole offering here was the tinny Excel. Those days are long behind us, with the name Azera arriving on North American shores in 2006. At the time, it was the South Korean manufacturer’s flagship car. As the case was then for most Hyundais, a completely forgettable car. Yeah, we all got the car had a load of standard features and a long warranty, but the truth is the Azera was a wallflower in the entry-level luxury car market. That was then, this is now. In case you haven’t noticed, Hyundai has been on a rampage with new vehicles rolling out. The second generation Azera was introduced in 2012; our 2013 test car is unchanged from the new car’s debut.
If I were to describe the Azera’s styling in one word, it would be fluid. The overall look is bold, but not overdone. Note how steeply raked the front windshield is, while the rear of the cabin recalls a Mercedes-Benz CLS. If I had told you a chrome trim strip runs from about 6″ behind the rear door all the way to the tip of the front grill, it sounds really tacky, or a garish throwback to 1950’s American iron, but in execution the effect actually works, without looking contrived or forced. Fitted in 19″ alloys and Black Onyx Pearl finish, our Azera would easily fit in at any high-end restaurant or hotel.
Inside, the Azera offers a relaxed environment for driver and passengers alike. There isn’t a single bad design flaw to be seen, but it does not match the exterior of the car in terms of design execution, which, I admit, is so good the bar was set very high for interior design. Seats offered plenty of comfort, and there was plenty of room for four. A massive trunk ready to swallow up golf bags is a clear indicator of who Hyundai is targeting-the affluent baby boomer. Which is funny, because living with the Azera for a week, I couldn’t help but think my 67 year old father would really like this car. It’s comfortable, easy to see out of, has all the tech features you would want without being overwhelmed with gee-wiz features. Build quality is tight, the leather seats sumptuous, most surfaces soft to the touch, but there are hard bits of plastic here and there.
For reasons I cannot fathom, the Azera is available in the US, but in checking Hyundai’s Canadian site, not up north. While the Azera is sold globally with choices of several four and six cylinder engines, the US market only receives the top spec 3.3L direct injected V-6, rated at a healthy 293hp. A smooth shifting six-speed automatic puts the power to the front wheels. EPA fuel economy figures come in at 20/29 MPG city/highway. Power off the line is brisk, and passing power is impressive. Yes, it has the ponies under the hood, but the Azera is not, and was never intended to be a sports sedan. Steering is light, handling competent but everything has been tuned to comfort.
So, you may be wondering, who is the Azera competing against? Think Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus, Buick LaCrosse, and Toyota Avalon. In the Hyundai family, the Azera is slotted between the common Sonata and the V-8, rear wheel drive Genesis sedan. This leaves the Azera in a tight space, since the Sonata Turbo we tested was loaded to the hilt, and down on power just by 19hp. Hyundai’s answer is to only offer the V-6 Azera, loaded to the hilt, one model only. Standard features include proximity key, push button start, leather interior, driver and passenger power seats, front and rear heated seats, dual zone auto climate control, navigation, rear view camera, Bluetooth, XMSirius satellite radio, HD radio, and HomeLink. Our test car featured the Technology Package, which included 19″ alloys, panoramic sunroof, xenon HID headlights, rear parking sensors, premium Infinity audio system, ventilated front seats, interior ambient lighting, power sunshade for the rear window and power adjustable tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Including destination charges, our Azera rings in at a fairly reasonable $37,225USD, considering the level of equipment offered.
Yet, something doesn’t make sense to me. The bland, inferior ’06 Azera sold nearly 27,000 cars in the US that year. The vastly improved ’12 Azera? Barely 8,500 cars sold. Some say the introduction of the Genesis is eating up sales of the Azera, but I don’t buy it. I don’t see your Lexus customer cross-shopping a front-drive ES against a rear drive GS, and the same applies here. Also, the Azera is sort like the middle child. You have the blockbuster Sonata behind you, the Genesis with true lux-car creds, and the king of the hill Equus on top. It’s the Jan Brady of the Hyundai family of sedans. Not to mention I do not see Hyundai promoting the car at all.
And that is by no means an insult. The Azera does everything you ask of it, and does it simply, quietly, and without fuss. The Azera checks off all the right boxes the buyer Hyundai wants could desire: a powerful V-6, roomy, comfortable interior, huge trunk, and sophisticated good looks to boot. But the truth is, not every buyer is going to want all the standard features the Azera includes, and they will not pay for it. If I want a car of this size and can do without the Nav and other luxury features, I’m skipping the Azera and am headed straight to my local Buick dealer. I understand it’s all about marketing and positioning your product relative to your own cars and the market, but the Azera is a good car that has been pigeonholed by Hyundai product planners.