Hyundai aims high with the 2006 Hyundai Azera, offering many standard features and, at first glance, a very luxurious ride for ridiculously little money. With its refined body style, luxury features, and large interior space, the Azera tries to do more than merely compete with Toyota's Camry, even though its price is equivalent. Its sights are set on bigger fish.
The most noticeable luxury appointment in the cabin is the 10-speaker, 315-watt Infinity stereo system with an in-dash, six-disc MP3 CD changer and cassette. This stereo sounds good all around the cabin, with little distortion at high volume. The interface is a bit lacking, however. For a luxury play, Hyundai misses the boat by not offering a navigation system or Bluetooth integration.
On first entering the 2006 Hyundai Azera, we anticipated a smooth, luxurious ride, thanks to the amount of space for front and rear passengers, combined with the big, wide leather seats. But closer inspection revealed some fit-and-finish issues. And the suspension, while adequately damping bigger shocks, communicates too many of the smaller shocks to the cabin, which can produce an incessant, large wave vibration over less-than-perfect freeway asphalt.
The engine, a 3.8-liter V-6, is a decent fit for the size of the car. It shoots the Azera forward nicely and can handle a full passenger load. But forget about sport luxury--this car comes close only to the latter half of that equation. Those wide seats offer no lateral support, and the car wallows in tight turns. The five-speed automatic has a manual gear-selection mode but no sport mode, and it will hold a gear close to redline before automatically shifting. But straight-line fast launches have limited entertainment value, and most drivers will probably forget about the manual mode.
The sticker price is the best news, as well as a crucial part of Hyundai's competitive game. Our test car, a 2006 Hyundai Azera Limited, has a base price of $26,835. That includes a nice list of standard features, such as dual-zone climate control, leather seats, an autodimming mirror, electronic stability control, and even a powered rear sunshade. Our test car added the Premium Package for $1,500, which includes a power sunroof and the Infinity sound system, for a total of $28,335. For $2,500, the Ultimate Package can be had, which includes the sunroof and the Infinity stereo system, along with a power-adjustable steering wheel and pedals.
The interior of the 2006 Hyundai Azera is spacious, with a clean-looking dash. The power-adjustable driver and passenger seats are wide and comfortable, and a stylish metallic trim covers the center console. Although it's supposed to be another touch of luxury, the glossy fake-wood trim on the steering wheel seemed out of place in the otherwise modern-looking interior..
The electroluminescent instrument cluster is a touch of class, along with the autodimming mirror with inset compass. That refinement is lost, however, with the stereo and climate-control displays, which are green-background LCDs that have been used in cars for years. More time spent in the cabin revealed further strikes against the car's luxury pretensions. Large gaps where the front doors meet the ends of the dashboard were particularly noticeable.
We were very pleased with the premium Infinity audio system in our test car. It has 10 speakers, including subwoofers fore and aft, and it produces a rich sound that fills the cabin. Sources for the system are limited, however. Although the six-disc changer plays MP3 CDs, there is no iPod adapter, auxiliary input, or satellite-radio option. It does come with a cassette player, which can stand in for an auxiliary input with a cassette adapter. And while the control interface makes it easy to navigate an MP3 CD, the display shows only filenames and not ID3-tag information.
The 2006 Hyundai Azera's stereo offers a variety of equalizer presets: rock, jazz, classical, and the like. It's also possible to adjust treble, bass, midrange, and subwoofer levels, but there is no advanced digital-signal-processing control. Hyundai doesn't offer navigation or Bluetooth for the Azera, a major oversight for a luxury play--and somewhat surprising, considering the abundance of electronics manufacturing in Asia.