Before crossovers, minivans, SUVs, and “lifestyle utility vehicles” entered the marketplace, U.S. roads were full of full-size sedans. These cars offered average American families size, comfort and presence that no one else in the world could experience. But like dinosaurs, fedoras and cheap coffee, this segment went extinct as gas prices rose, the products became worse and different segments replaced them. But now, this uniquely American segment is seeing a revival, with the Hyundai Azera leading the charge.
The Azera is not new to our shores, but until now has always occupied an odd spot in the lineup. In fact, with a revised Sonata, it was on the verge of extinction. But for 2012, the Azera is all new. New looks, more power and all for around 30k. What you’re witnessing is not only a new car, but also one of the first entries in a revitalized category.
Big cars need to be distinctive on the outside. You should be able to see them coming from two miles away on the highway because of their presence and size. The Azera is certainly an attractive car, but not in the traditional big car way. The Azera continues Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” design theme seen in the Sonata and Elantra, but has been toned down compared with its smaller siblings.
Gone are the deep creases along its flank, like the Sonata, and the overly stylized headlights. In turn, the Azera is more subdued, refined and upscale. This can be seen in its arching rear taillights that span the entire rear, or the slightly upraised haunches. But presence is added by chrome detailing and upscale design cues, such as the jeweled headlamps.
The car looks expensive, but so do many in its segment. Cars such as the Taurus and LaCrosse, and especially the 300C, have also brought styling into the full-size segment. With this in mind, the Azera loses a bit of that full-size presence on the road. That being said, it brings Hyundai’s design language into a new class segment and looks good doing it.
Interior space and design is the killer app of full-size sedans. They must not only provide space and comfort for occupants, but also a sense of design that takes advantage of the size these cars offer. The interior of the Azera lives up to this tradition. The Y-shaped dash welcomes occupants much like that in the Sonata, but immediately apparent is the new found shoulder, head and legroom. It’s not much larger than the Sonata, but the overall result is comforting – just enough to be accommodating, but not so big to make you feel like you are wearing an ill-fitting suit.
The car is also well equipped with a host of standard features that are optional in much more expensive vehicles. For instance, niceties such as navigation, heated front and rear seats, and a navigation system are all standard. And for $4,000, you can add an Infinity sound system, HIDs, panoramic sunroof and a few other premium touches.
The fit and finish is snug and upscale, with soft touch plastics where most of the touch points are and small panel gaps all around. Detailing, though, is one downside. For example: the fake carbon fiber trim that spans the length of the dashboard. This trim piece undersells the air of luxury that this car has and looks gimmicky. Wood would be a much better fit for the image that this car exudes. Some people enjoy the look of carbon fiber, but wood should at least be an option. Styling niggles aside, the interior showcases the value that Hyundai continues to offer by bringing a dearth of technology and convenience pieces to the table standard, and raising the bar that much higher for not much more money.
Engine and Ride
Big cars need big power, but full-size sedans are not sports cars. They should offer power in a refined, dignified way to best facilitate cruising, not drag strip runs. In the Azera, a 3.3L V6 provides the thrust with 293hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. This engine is attached to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The motor is adequate in power and delivery, not providing neck-cracking acceleration, but rather smooth, progressive acceleration. The transmission changes gear smoothly and you can shift yourself. But the best part is unlike those big cars of old; the Azera will return 29mpg on the highway. That means this big car won’t take big amounts of money to keep on the road.
On the ride side, the Azera comes equipped with an adjustable Sachs dampening system with adjustable ride modes, and standard 18” wheels with 19” also available. Hyundai calls this car sporty, but big cars have never been about hustling around corners. Full-size sedans are about wafting between destination points in controlled comfort. In this regard, the Hyundai does well. The ride is comfortable, but not floaty. However, even with the suspension in its softest setting, the chassis is still unnerved by medium-sized road imperfections. The car I rode in was shod with the large 19” wheels and I would point to these as being the culprit. The ride was well composed, but could be a bit more comfortable. If Hyundai was shooting for more sport than comfort, however, I would say they hit the mark.
For either $32,000 or $36,000, the Azera brings classic full-size space and comfort with modern quality and fuel economy. The Azera is a no-compromise car. It has size and power with incredible fuel economy, class-leading technology for a low cost, and a warranty that can’t be beat. And with the full-size segment becoming more competitive with offerings from Toyota and Chevy, as well as existing competition from Ford, Buick and Chrysler, Hyundai has brought their successful combination of style and value to compete for sales domination. The best news for everyone, though, is that the full-size sedan is back on American roads, and a Korean company has built one of the best ones.