2011 Hyundai Azera Expert Review:Autoblog
Even five years ago, Hyundai was widely considered to be a bargain-basement marque. After all, anyone interested in checking out the brand's lineup could visit a rental company within five miles of any major airport. But why dwell on the past when the Korean automaker is kicking butt and taking names in the here and now? Hyundai has been on a roll these past few years, with hits like the Genesis, Genesis Coupe and 2011 Sonata. With those successful entries, Hyundai has clearly established itself as a prime player in the U.S. market, but the company's improved standing has also substantially raised the public's levels of expectation. Where qualifiers like "for a Hyundai" were once the norm, we're now measuring each and every new entry donning the italic H against the best from Toyota, Ford, General Motors and Honda.
Hyundai's most recently refreshed product is the 2011 Azera. When the Azera first arrived on U.S. shores as a 2006 model, it came came close to nixing the "for a Hyundai" stigma with an impressive level of standard equipment and a lower price tag than its competition. But even with a strong value equation and plethora of amenities, that original Azera still wasn't as refined as the current crop of winners coming out of South Korea. Can the freshly redesigned 2011 Azera, with an improved powertrain and increased level of luxury equipment, truly succeed like its all-star siblings?
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL
The Azera has received more than a mild refresh for 2011, with a pair of upgraded powertrains, new headlamps, taillamps, fog lights and a host of tweaks and tucks to the front and rear fascias. Our Midnight Blue Limited tester included the only available option, a $1,750 navigation system, nudging the Azera's MSRP to $32,620. That's still about $5,000 fewer greenbacks than a similarly equipped Toyota Avalon or Ford Taurus. A good deal? Perhaps, but competing in the full-size sedan segment means measuring up on more than just price.
When looking over the Azera from the outside, the large sedan's newest features shine brightest, and not just because we're talking head- and taillamps. The Azera's headlights are pretty special, with the LED-encrusted, Audi-like elements begging for attention. The taillamps are pretty snazzy as well, as Hyundai has gone a bit nuts with the light-emitting diodes. The chiseled front grill also impresses, borrowing its basic shape from the Genesis Sedan while going all-in with chrome in a decidedly American manner. We're also fans of the rich, sparkly Midnight Blue paint job, which gives the Azera a welcome touch of class.
While the Azera's updated exterior elements add a touch of freshness, there are still more than enough throwbacks to push it towards the back of the pack visually. Exhibit A: a tall and somewhat awkward greenhouse. Compared to the steeply-raked, coupe-like roofline of the Sonata, the Azera looks as if it were penned by a fan of Oldsmobiles from the 1990s, and it doesn't fare much better against sleek-looking competitors like the Nissan Maxima or Buick LaCrosse.
Given that the Azera underwent just a refresh and not full redesign, we expected the tweaked exterior to fall short of game-changing. But the interior is another matter altogether. Since it's easier to swap out cabin components than re-engineer sheetmetal, refreshed vehicles often receive fairly substantial interior upgrades. Sadly, not so with the Azera. The interior looks essentially unchanged from the outgoing model, save for some aluminum graining on the center console and a low-tech eco indicator that's about as interesting as a check engine light. The Azera's interior wasn't terrible before with a muted cabin, comfortable seats and reasonably high quality materials on the dash, seats and doors. Unfortunately, "good enough" just doesn't cut it in a segment where MSRPs regularly exceed $30,000. The Avalon, LaCrosse and Taurus far outshine the Azera in this regard with better materials, cushier armrests (the Azera's is as soft as diorite) and superior aesthetics all around.
Park a new Sonata next to an Azera and even the optically challenged can see the larger Hyundai offers a far less compelling cabin while commanding a starting price that's several thousand dollars lower. On the high end of the company showroom is the Genesis Sedan – a fair comparison given our tester was within $1,000 of the starting price of Hyundai's Lexus-fighter. The base Genesis and uplevel Azera also share the same basic powertrain and both offer near identical levels of interior volume. The difference, besides the Genesis being driven by its rear wheels and the Azera its fronts, is that the Genesis comes packed to the sunroof with amenities and interior refinement, while the Azera struggles even against the not-long-for-this-world Buick Lucerne. For instance, the sat-nav on the Genesis – a massive, modern-looking system – dwarfs the Azera's seven-inch unit in both size and design.
So the Azera's interior is many meters short of segment leading, but there is some good news under the hood. Remember the part about the Azera and Genesis Sedan sharing the same engine? The Azera Limited's new 3.8-liter V6 churns out 283 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 263 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. (Lesser GLS models make do with a 3.3-liter V6 producing 260 hp and 233 lb-ft.). If you're thinking that the 3.8-liter provides a lot of pop for a sedan driven by its front wheels, you're right – particularly if you're slamming the go pedal from a dead stop. While bull riders would love that level of torque steer, we're less inclined to saddle up. But when you're already in motion, the extra punch is very welcome, and as an added bonus sounds damn good from the driver's seat.
When mated to its new, smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, the revised Lambda 3.8-liter V6 proves is very competent and impressively smooth – easily the best attribute the Azera has to offer. And all that power doesn't kill you at the pump, as the EPA rates the 3.8-liter V6-powered Azera at 27 miles per gallon on the highway and 19 mpg around town. We managed to average just under 22 mpg, mostly because we were "fully experiencing" the 3.8-liter engine.
Dynamically, the Azera is competent for a vehicle that tips the scales at 3,585 pounds. Beyond its torque steer problem, Hyundai has managed to tie down the chassis to the extent that it doesn't offend an elderly buyer looking for a smooth ride. Body roll stays within an acceptable range, though our tester's 235/55VR17 Michelin rubber emitted predictably high levels of tire squeal when pushed. Steering was a bit heavier than we found at the helm of the similarly sized Avalon – generally a good thing – though any semblance of feel went undetected by our paws. Overall, the Azera feels just about how we'd expect a large family sedan to drive – not as tight as the Maxima and not as loose as the Avalon.
So we've established that the Azera shouldn't waste the application fee for any beauty contests, its interior could use some love and its powertrain is a strong suit. Is that enough to propel Hyundai's updated sedan past the "for a Hyundai" designation? In a word, no. Truth is, the competition from Toyota, Buick, Nissan and Ford has it all over the Azera in most every way. The closest the Azera comes to sniffing the winner's circle is with the Limited's excellent V6 engine, but this segment is chock-full of competent powertrains. And we'd argue that "for a Hyundai" isn't even fair to the marque's other products. Is it as good as a Sonata? The Genesis? No.
So why has Hyundai decided to let it hang around? Even though it's been a slow seller, we hear that Hyundai has kept the Azera in its lineup for buyers who come in to sample the Sonata, only to walk away because its styling is too avant-garde. If that's the strategy at work, it also neatly explains the visual conservatization brought about with the car's 2011 facelift. Said another way, the Azera remains as a hedge bet for keeping elderly and more traditionally minded customers in the fold who are looking for comfortable full-size transportation with a good warranty. By that yardstick, it succeeds – but only just. In 2006, we would have called the Azera competent, affordable and perhaps even a bit surprising, but it's 2010, and these days we expect more.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL
New Car Test Drive
New and improved near-luxury sedan.
The Hyundai Azera is improved for 2011, headlined by a new 6-speed automatic transmission. Azera offers a choice of two V6 engines, both of which offer improved fuel economy for 2011. Subtle styling revisions and minor interior refinements distinguish the 2011 Azera from the 2010 version.
Hyundai broke sales records through 2010. The Azera is a near-luxury sedan with front-wheel drive, and it's good enough to get the attention of the cars that rule the class, such as the Lexus ES 350, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus, and Buick LaCrosse.
The new 6-speed sequential automatic on the 2011 Azera is the lightest and most compact transmission of its kind, as Korean engineering leads the way on this one. The new 6-speed automatic comes standard on all models.
The Azera Limited uses a smooth and powerful 3.8-liter dohc V6 that makes 283 horsepower. Fuel economy with the 3.8-liter engine is EPA-rated at 19/27 miles per gallon City/Highway. Azera takes first-in-class on fuel mileage. After a total of 286 miles in an Azera Limited, including some stop-and-go L.A. freeway traffic, we averaged 25.6 mpg.
There's also a lower-priced 2011 Azera GLS that uses a smaller aluminum 3.3-liter V6 with all the same new-for-2011 technology, including four valves per cylinder, dual continuously variable valve timing, and variable intake system. The 2011 Azera GLS gets an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg, which represents an 11 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over the 2010 model.
The 6-speed automatic transmission, along with the smooth and powerful V6, are Azera's best features. The transmission is very well-behaved, kicking down no more than necessary, which isn't a lot with the good torque from the engine.
The Azera is not a sports sedan, it's a cruiser. The freeway ride is smooth, and it's good over speed bumps but it's not as good over sharper bumps like railroad tracks. Considering the market for this car, we'd call the ride and suspension on target. The brakes have good feel, within limits.
The Azera seats five. The leather seats are not exactly a sport fit, but more supportive than some, and adequate for the two three-hour stints we took behind the wheel. We found the gauges extremely pleasing. The speedo and tach are just right: organic white lettering with bright red needles, sharp and clear so the information jumps out at you. The design and layout of things like grab handles, door pockets, cupholders and storage compartments is about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, however. The navigation system, made for Hyundai by the Korean electronics company LG, is easy to program, but it led us astray a lot.
Azera's Achilles heel is styling. It's like a copy of the Lexus ES350 gone bad, or not quite pulled off, at least. Its looks give it the air of an old person's car, no matter how sharp and sporty the engine and transmission are. First launched as a 2006 model, the Azera replaced the XG350.
The warranty is a definite plus. It's 5 years and 60,000 miles, bumper to bumper.
The Azera GLS ($25,495) uses a 3.3-liter dohc V6 that makes 260 horsepower and a 6-speed sequential automatic transmission with manual shifting. The GLS comes standard with upgraded cloth upholstery, automatic dual-zone air conditioning, eight-way power driver seat, four-way power passenger seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, 172-watt AM/FM/CD MP3 audio system with six speakers, steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control, HomeLink garage door opener, three 12-volt outlets, power windows, power locks, heated power mirrors with manual foldaway, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, fog lights, and 16-inch alloy wheels. The GLS Premium package ($2200) adds leather seating surfaces and steering wheel, heated front seats, power sunroof.
The Azera Limited ($30,095) uses the bigger 3.8-liter V6 making 283 horsepower, along with that same new 6-speed automatic transmission. The Limited upgrades with leather upholstery, heated front seats, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, memory for seats, mirrors and steering-wheel adjustment, woodgrain-trimmed leather steering wheel, power sunroof, power rear sunshade, 315-watt Infinity AM/FM 6CD MP3 10-speaker audio, ECO shift indicator, compass, outside temperature display, power foldaway mirrors with exterior puddle lights, in-glass turn signals, 17-inch painted alloy wheels.
The Navigation package ($1750) for the Limited model includes the LG Navigation System and a 605-watt, 12-speaker Infinity Logic7 Surround Sound audio system.
Safety equipment includes eight airbags, stability control, traction control, ABS with EBD and BA, and a tire pressure monitor, LATCH child-seat anchors.
The Azera isn't the kind of car you'd look at twice. In fact it's kind of invisible. It's not ugly, but lacks sweeping lines. The styling says old man's car.
It tries to be like other cars in its forward half, and mostly gets away with it, including the glittery chrome, unless that other car is, say, a Lexus.
But in the rear it tries to be different, and it succeeds, although maybe not as intended; it's got distinctive bulging hips, like a someone wearing a speedo or bikini that shouldn't be. The spoiler over the rear deck is a little hump, as if they forgot to finish it.
The gauges on the Azera are extremely pleasing. What Korean designers seem to do is copy other designs and execute about perfectly (when they get the exterior down, watch out). The speedo and tach are not original, just right: organic white lettering with bright red needles, sharp and clear so the information jumps out at you. The blue backlighting of instruments, switches and buttons is nice too.
The speedo and tach are optimistic at 160 mph and 8000 rpm, as they all are. It's just that, with a Korean car, still a relative newbie on the luxury block, you can't help thinking it's some sort of statement that: we're as good as you all. And bully for them.
The temperature gauge is to the left, fuel to the right, and between the speedo and tach there's a digital info display that's also easy to read. However, you do have to reach around the steering wheel to the dash to hit the button that changes the information in the display. And we could live without the flashing ECO light on the Limited model.
The steering wheel has cruise control and audio controls, and is woodgrain from 10 to 2 o'clock. There's a big grab handle on the door, also woodgrain. The door pockets are medium-sized, and tucked under the armrests, so you'll have to put your one-liter bottles of Pepsi between your thighs, or in your passenger's hands.
The front seats are pretty good, neither hard nor soft, not exactly a sport fit but supportive. They're appropriate for the car, and we found them adequately comfortable for two three-hour stints behind the wheel.
In the rear seats, there's 38 inches of legroom, a competitive number. Hyundai claims that the Azera's total cabin space of 123.5 cubic feet is greater than the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima.
The navigation screen hangs under a big flat gray vinyl dashboard, and it's simple to program and easy to read (split with map and directions), although it could use an eave for shading and better visibility. The navigation system itself gave us fits and got us lost. Either it was all wrong, or somehow we hit something that programmed a previous stopover point, because it kept trying to take us south from Los Angeles, we think to the Pacific Athletic Club in San Diego, when we wanted to go east to Palm Springs. But even after we figured out how to shut it up, and we tried again later, it missed more turns. Another time it told us to turn left, 20 feet past the left turn. Another time it told us to stay left on the freeway when we needed to stay right. Another time it turned the volume down on itself, and began speaking so softly we couldn't hear it.
The center console begins with a cubby under the navigation screen, and runs back over the shift lever that can be used to manually change gears, to two concealed cupholders, a coinholder cubby, and a big double compartment between the seats. The armrest on the door is good, but the one on the center console compartment is too far back to rest your right elbow on and still have your hand on the steering wheel.
Rearward visibility is good, and there's a standard power sunshade in the rear glass. Wide enough that we didn't have to scrunch our 70-inch frame very much, easier on the neck than upright in a seat in the airport, and quieter.
Our favorite part of the interior was looking out to the hood, where two windshield washer nozzles looked back in with jets like robot eyeballs, as if Wall-E's babies were staring up at us through the windshield.
With all the desert freeway driving, we had a good chance to feel the Azera at 80 mph in the flow of traffic, and it easily held its own. It's a very smooth engine.
It was a nice comfortable ride, at least on the terrain we crossed, which did include some bumps. At first we thought the ride and handling felt floaty, but the more we drove it, the tighter it seemed to get. Certainly tight enough for freeway work. Solid and not harsh over speedbumps, although it didn't do sharper railroad tracks as well.
We took the Azera through some uphill curves to a viewpoint over Palm Springs, and at a lightly brisk pace, it didn't really like all those corners. Again, the handling was adequate, but the suspension was built for comfort, not sport. A lot of little corrections were necessary to keep the car on line. If we had driven much faster we would probably have reached the point of wallow.
Coming back down, we challenged the brakes, tentatively. No fade, and good pedal feel, but probably only because the challenge was light. Again, the Azera isn't a sports sedan, it's a cruiser.
The 6-speed transmission, called Shiftronic, along with the engine, are the best features of the Azera. The transmission offers manual shifting with the lever, and it responds well. In automatic, the transmission was very well-behaved, kicking down no more than necessary, which wasn't a lot with the good 262 foot-pounds of torque from the engine. Some impressive stats on the transmission: 26.4 pounds lighter than the 5-speed it replaced, 1.6 inches shorter, and 62 fewer moving parts.
Unfortunately we didn't have a chance to drive the Azera GLS with the 3.3-liter V6 and the same transmission, because at a price that's significantly less than our Azera Limited, if the engine is nearly as smooth, it sounds like a better value, especially since it gets another mile per gallon, rated at 18/28 mpg. That smaller V6 still makes 260 horsepower, and that's pretty darn good.
The Azera Limited with the 3.8-liter engine is EPA-rated at 19/27 mpg City/Highway. We saw 28.5 mpg at a steady 70 mph, and 26 mpg running 75-80 mph in a crosswind out to Palm Springs. After 286 miles including some stop-and-go freeway traffic, we averaged 25.6 mpg. Azera takes first-in-class on fuel mileage.
The Hyundai Azera, a midsize luxury sedan, uses a strong new V6 and smooth 6-speed sequential automatic transmission, and gets the best fuel mileage in its class. Styling is blander than it might be, but the ride is comfortable, cornering adequate, and interior roomy. The lower-priced Azera GLS model should be considered by anyone in this market because of the value it offers.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his drive in the Azera from Los Angeles to Palm Springs.
Azera GLS ($25,495), Azera Limited ($30,095).
Options As Tested
Navigation Package ($1750) includes 605-watt, 12-speaker Infinity Surround Sound audio system; carpeted floor mats ($100).
Hyundai Azera Limited ($30,095).
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