It’s truly amazing how good “near luxury” sedans have become.
Hyundai’s mid-size sedan, the Sonata, has made a big splash in the market. The company’s decision to go with only four-cylinder engines, a highly styled body and their usually high content and good value have made the Sonata a far greater achiever of market share than any of its older ancestors.
The Hyundai Genesis is a rear wheel-drive luxury sedan that’s literally trying to play with the big boys. It’s been well reviewed, is a good value, and is even available with a NASCAR-grade 425 horsepower V8 engine. But I have to ask you, how many have you seen on the road?
Given the nearly $14,000 gap between these two products, it’s no surprise that Hyundai has elected to drop its Azera nameplate on another example of their “Fluidic Sculpture” sedans. This sedan bears only faint resemblance to the outgoing Azera, and carry overs little more than the name badge.
Not everyone is smitten by the Azera’s fluid lines, but no one ignores it. The large chrome grille’s upturned ends are the origin of lines that flow between the hood and fenders, then trace the beltline between glass and metal. The line that defines the top of the trunk starts out in the rear doors and has an almost BMW-like crispness. To my eyes, the most distinctive and successful styling elements are the LEDs that outline the top of the modern headlights and the LED taillights that wrap around to good effect.
Under the hood you’ll find a 3.3-liter V6 engine that’s as modern as any of its competitors. Double overhead camshafts, four-valves-per-cylinder and continuously variable timing on all four camshafts help the engine produce 293 horsepower at a relatively lofty 6,400 rpms, and 255 lb-ft of torque @ 5,200 rpms. The power is channeled through a six-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels.
Sliding into the luxuriantly soft leather bucket seats, you’re greeted by a dashboard that flows out to either side of center. The dashboard’s middle is dominated by a large screen, easy-to-use navigation system that’s standard equipment. You might find the XL volume knob as retro and refreshing as I did. The materials are all just below top notch, while the fit and finish is exemplary.
You set the leather-wrapped steering wheel into position and notice its just right size. Maybe your fingers caress the artfully designed “metal” trim on the spokes. OK, it’s not really brushed aluminum, but it is pretty. Push the start button and the engine purrs to life.
Most folks will shift the transmission into drive, but you might care to pull the shifter down one more click to Sport mode. While this will do an admirable job of adjusting the shift points, the Azera’s suspension doesn’t really play along. Hyundai knows its market, and as you ease out of your drive and down the road, you notice more how quiet the Azera is and how solid it feels.
In the first corner, you discover that the Azera is more reminiscent of a Toyota Avalon or Buick LaCrosse than a BMW 5 Series. While the Azera driving experience is pleasant and comfortable, it’s not really an adrenaline producing drive.
But you might get a surge of pleasure when you shop for a near luxury sedan and see how many goodies you get for your $32,875 base price. The large navigation screen will also display the view from the backup camera. The front and rear seats are heated. Bluetooth and Blue link allow you to tell your car what to do with a push of the talk button, and syncing your smartphone opens a world of apps in your car.
The porcelain white tester had the $4,000 Technology package, which upgrades the standard 18-inch wheels to 19 inches, adds ventilation to the front seats, allows you to adjust the steering wheel’s position with the touch of a button and then remembers your multi-adjustable driver seat position with the Azera’s memory feature. There are more items in the package, but you get the idea.
It’ll be interesting to see if Hyundai can continue their momentum from a new-to-our-shores player 25 years ago, to one of the fastest increasing sales car companies today. Will the Azera be a key component? Probably it won’t be, but it sure can’t hurt sales.