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.
The Infinity stereo system produces full, rich sound throughout the cabin.
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.
A powered rear-window sunshade is a luxury we've previously seen only in cars approaching the $100,000 mark.
Heated seats and the dual-zone climate control are fine, usable features in the 2006 Hyundai Azera, as are the steering-wheel controls. A limited set of steering-wheel controls lets the driver set volume and change modes, and there is also a mute button. The most surprising feature, and the one that demonstrates the Azera's attempt at luxury status, is the power rear sunshade. Touch a button on the console, and the shade rises up to cover the rear window. For safety, the shade automatically goes down when the car is in reverse, then goes back up again when the car is moving forward.
There's a lot that needs to be hashed out of the 2006 Hyundai Azera's suspension. It uses a perfectly modern control-arm front and multilink rear suspension, which damps out bigger bumps just fine. But Hyundai needs to tune out the smaller shocks, which are all transmitted to the cabin. During freeway cruising on asphalt of moderate wear, we felt an incessant series of shocks that repeatedly knocked us against the headrest as every little roadway imperfection found its way into the car.
The suspension also doesn't help much around corners. The car wallows at any kind of speed, although traction control and electronic stability keep the tires on the road. The steering is very light, good from a luxury perspective, but we'd like a heavier feel at speed.
The 3.8-liter V-6 produces plenty of power for the Azera without overdoing it.
Under the hood, the 3.8-liter V-6 is a solid fit for the size of this car. It's a very modern engine, with double-overhead cams and 24 variable timed valves, putting out 263 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 255 pound-feet of torque at 4,500rpm. This engine produces an EPA-rated 19mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. That city number doesn't look that great, but we averaged 21.6mpg in mostly city driving. The engine also achieves a ULEV-2 rating.
Qualitatively, this V-6 moves the 2006 Hyundai Azera well, letting it chirp the front tires on a fast launch and easily pulling away from traffic. An extra gear on the five-speed automatic transmission would probably improve the mileage if the car spends any time above 70mph. The gate on the automatic stick gives plenty of room--maybe a little too much--between Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive. Manual gear selection is to the right of Drive mode and makes up for the lack of low or sport modes.
The 2006 Hyundai Azera comes well covered by air bags. For the front seats, it has dual-stage front and seat-mounted side-impact bags. It also has rear seat-mounted side-impact bags, plus roof-mounted side curtain bags. Side-impact door beams strengthen the sides. The NHTSA gives it four stars for both front impact and rollover. Side-impact tests haven't been done yet.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes and electronic systems, including traction and electronic stability, assist the driver in avoiding accidents. Standard LED taillights increase visibility.
Hyundai boasts especially long warranty periods. The Azera is covered by a basic 5-year/60,000-mile warranty with 10 years/100,000 miles on the power train. Roadside assistance is offered for 7 years with unlimited mileage.