Hyundai Azera is all-new for 2012, the second generation of Hyundai's flagship luxury sedan. Larger and more luxurious than a midsize, Azera compares well with the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Buick LaCrosse, and Ford Taurus, all large, front-wheel-drive sedans typically loaded with leather and all the bells and whistles, and it aspires to compete with the Lexus ES and Acura TL.
Our test drive of this new car revealed the 2012 Azera is comfortable for long distance cruising and economical for urban transport. Azera is smooth and quiet, it gets excellent fuel economy, and its cabin is nicely furnished with quality materials and controls that are easy to operate.
There's only one trim level, one powertrain, one price and one option, so picking the Azera you want is very easy. Priced at a highly competitive $32,000, this four-door, five-passenger sedan is powered by a remarkably efficient, 3.3-liter, 293-horsepower V6 driving the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transaxle outfitted with the Shiftronic manual shift feature. The hardest decision will be choosing the color.
The new Azera comes standard with features often optional in this class. Heading the list is a full-featured navigation system with rearview camera and automatic, dual-zone climate control. Leather is standard as are HD Radio and XM Satellite Radio, a 10-way power driver's seat and 8-way power front passenger seat. The seats are heated, front and rear. Options include ventilating fans for the front seats, a 550-watt premium sound system, a two-pane panoramic sunroof, and a power rear sunshade complemented by manual sunshades on the rear side door windows.
EPA-estimated fuel economy is 20/29 mpg City/Highway, numbers that top the competition save for the Avalon's matching EPA City estimate. Azera also gets Hyundai's new Active ECO system that reins in throttle response and alters the transmission's shift points to eke out more miles per gallon. Hyundai's engineers say this system in the right conditions can deliver an improvement of around 7 percent.
The 2012 Azera's styling presents a less flamboyant iteration of the Fluidic Sculpture motif that debuted on the 2010 Sonata. Where the Sonata's arrays of flowing curved lines flowed strongly and consistently from grille to trunk, the Azera presents, shall we say, an interesting blend of subdued echoes of the marque's motif, with a stately front view, a sporty side view and a classy rear view. The lineage is indisputable, but the Azera's visions are unique. Not all car makers can carry this off, but Hyundai manages to do so with panache.
Interior treatment, materials and finishing are top end. It's everything that's needed, with nothing that isn't, and all where it should be. Controls are well marked and easy to operate. Instruments communicate needed information as does the 7-inch, touchscreen navigation system-cum-backup camera display. The interior is roomy, too, and ahead of the competitors in a number of measurements, not the least being all-important front seat head room and leg room.
Ride and handling are well mannered. It's not sporty, but that's not an aspiration of the new Azera. What is, is comfortable long distance cruising and economical urban transport. Automatically adjusting shock absorbers level high-mileage interstates and urban streets. Capping it off, the Azera adds to Hyundai's recent string of strikingly quiet cars, attributable in part to well placed sound deadening but also to sophisticated vibration isolating and motion counterbalancing underhood structures.
There was a time when Hyundai struggled to earn shoppers' consideration. The 2012 Azera confirms that time is long past.