Hyundai Azera First Impression and Test Drive

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If you were to have ever told me that I would actually feel comfortable peering through Korean glass at the road ahead, I would have laughed and told you that it would only be on the off chance I took an unplanned road trip through Seoul.
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However, when the Hyundai Azera won AutoPacific‘s Vehicle Satisfaction Award as top rated car I broke down and decided to take one home for the night, just to take a closer look. My initial reaction was one of surprise as I walked over to a substantial vehicle with contemporary styling and opened the solid drivers door to a plush, high-grade leather interior. This is a Hyundai? I’m used to bland aesthetics and plastic wheel covers, this car actually had decent lines. I was about to realize how quickly a manufacturer could sneak up on my perceptions. The simple fact was that the Azera, Hyundai’s luxury flagship, was going to introduce me to the tenacity of the Hyundai Motor Company, and their fierce determination in this market segment.


Smooth Lines and Comfortable Cockpit
The Azera’s exterior was tasteful with modern lines, LED (stop/brake) taillights, and modern alloy wheels. The rear end reminded me of an offspring of the newest generation 7-series BMW and an older Honda Accord. The front end reminded me of modern-day Buick styling with the last generation Volkswagen Passat headlamp assembly. The exterior’s mid-section lines and hips reminded me of the first time I saw an Oldsmobile Aurora in the mid-to-late 90’s, only softer. Unfortunately, the door handles felt like hollow plastic and if I were persnickety I would point out that there are no side-markers/turn indicators integrated into the side-mirrors or front quarters; which I have come to expect from ‘luxury’ vehicles. There were hints of hard plastic with that glossy sheen to it but those few pieces were overridden by the overall aesthetic.
Once inside the cockpit, I had a comfortable, secure feeling of being tucked into a catcher’s mitt. There were hints of German and Japanese materials and build quality. The seats were supple and I was pleased with the roominess and spatial relations; there was ample leg, arm and headroom (I’m 6’1”). The comfy seats and solid grab bars integrated into the armrests on the interior doors drew my attention away from less commendable features. The driver’s display and controls were ergonomically positioned and visible (barring three; the instrument cluster dimming knob, Electronic Stability Control (ESC®), and petal adjustment). The driver’s seat offered eight-way power seats with lumbar support, giving the pilot a host of comfortable positions, while the curvature of the front door panels gave the cockpit a more spacious feel. The interior door handles (not the grab bars) were chintzy plastic and so too were the dials on the sound systems head unit (AM/FM/CD), but they did match the interior décor.
I think rear passengers may be pleasantly surprised to find generous legroom and deep seats, analogous to that of the BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS and Mercedes Benz S-Class offerings. There were also dual vents, dual ‘map lights’, and the fold down center consol had two integrated cup holders for rear passengers.
Options and Driveline
Power seats were not the only options this vehicle came with. Our test vehicle had been optioned with Dual-climate control, dual memory seats (I.M.S.®), power rear view mirrors, power door locks, power windows, power sunroof, power rear sunshade (*which I should point out automatically descends when the vehicles transmission is placed into reverse), and a nice Infinity sound system; all at my fingertips. I did have an issue with the sunroof, and whether or not it is an engineering issue between the ‘map lights’ and/or the roofline, I still think the sunroof should be placed between two to four inches further forward. I felt as though my headrest was taking advantage of it more than I was.
As for the Azera’s power plant I thought that I would be awaiting two mice to jump onto their wheel and propel me forward, one bar at a time. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the ample power that was on tap from Hyundai’s transversely mounted 3.8 DOHC V6 power plant. Granted it did feel more like 3.1 liters but it was spunky. Another issue I found was the feedback that could be felt through the steering wheel; as it is front wheel drive.
The engine was mated to a five speed transmission (w/ Hyundai’s SHIFTRONIC ® option) which offered smooth engagements when put through its paces. I was disappointed in the suspension characteristics of the vehicle, even though I liked the fact that it felt substantial and weighty, I did NOT like the suspension float. It felt as though the suspension was over worked and really snuffed out any inspiration the 263 pony’s under the hood might have given me; I was not inspired to use it. I was pleased however that the Azera’s V6 was only turning around 2100 rpm @ 70mph. I averaged just over 20mpg with both city and highway driving. Forward visibility was great, but the exterior rear view mirrors could use a larger vertical image.
Finishing Their Homework
To be honest, I’m not one for four-door family sedans; I’m just not domesticated enough yet. I would like to think that if I were domesticated, to the point of actually owning a four-door sedan, it would be imported from Bavaria, boast over 300 bhp, and inspire me to move my family around corners to and from soccer practice with alacrity. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised by the Hyundai Azera. I do not think that they are ready to play in the major leagues with the BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS or Mercedes Benz S-Class, but they just may be a ball field away.
Frankly, I was not stimulated by driving the Azera, but there was nothing that stood out as an obvious oversight. From my first impression, I think Hyundai did their homework and the Azera may be one of the best values (under $30K; $29,385 as tested) in terms of ‘luxury’. You almost get to play with the same toys for half the price. But now I think it would be time for the engineers to concentrate on the extra credit homework like refining the suspension.
Just as an afterthought: I have long been worried about the longevity of Korean built vehicles, but with a 5 year, 60K mile bumper to bumper warranty and 100K mile powertrain warranty maybe I shouldn’t be?
Pros
Quiet ride
Comfy leather seats
Roomy interior
Good ergonomics
Good turning radius
Good brakes
Modern alloy wheels
Spunky V6
Surprising features:
Rear sunshade that automatically descends in reverse
Electronic petal adjustment
Dual climate control
Dual heated seats
Cons
Chintzy plastic interior door handles/radio knobs
Sunroof placement/positioning
Steering wheel feedback
Suspension float
Front wheel drive road noise
Uninspiring

This article has 2 comments

  1. Dr. Donald Scharoff 09/27/2006, 2:40 pm:

    I am a new owner of a 2006 Azera Limited and find your test impressions interesting. Firstly you admit that you are not a 4 door sedan aficionado. We are a senior citizen couple in our mid 70’s and my “hot rod” days are long gone. I have just concluded a long term relationship with Acura TL’s (6 altogether over recent years). My wife needs a car that’s comfortable to drive and offers many of the bells and whistles. After many test drives of other vehicles, I weighed the various pros and cons. Here is a car with one of the best warranties in the business, it has appearance appeal, handles well for a touring automobile, shows a great deal of quality and is priced $1,000’s less than comparable cars. Actually a no brainer. Sure there are some detraction’s such as no GPS offered, a suspension that’s a little noisier over washboard surfaces sometimes but overall it offers a remarkable value. You guys who test cars as a profession are looking for things that the average driver is not even aware of. We don’t race, a difference of 1/2 second from 0 to 60 mph is not critical, but a full complement of air bags including curtain bags, good grades in collision tests, and confidence with the best warranty coverage in the auto industry, these are important to us. As an aside we are a 2 car family, with Acura TL’s in the past, and in Jan. I purchased a 2006 Hyundai Sonata LX6. It was because my total satisfaction with that car that 7 mos. later I bought the Azera. Happy “as a lark” with both cars.

  2. Jason Star 11/21/2006, 3:46 am:

    I took out the Azera for a test drive, and I must say I cannot agree with your review. In fact, a lot of the points in the review are irrelevant.
    Azera drives better than the 2007 Camry. It feels quieter than an Accord. Fully equipped, it can be bought for $25K with a great warranty. All the relevant “features” such as safety, reasonable horse power, easy to operate controls, this car is the bargain of the year. You wish to buy a BMW? OK, have you seen the recent reliability survey results? Why be a sucker while you can have a peace of mind. Koreans kicked butt on this one!
    Jason: Remember, Azera was the top car overall in AutoPacific’s 2007 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. Clearly, Azera owners agree with your perception.
    Editor

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