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It would be easy to dismiss the 2012 Hyundai Azera as just a bigger Sonata or a front-drive version of the Genesis Sedan -- I know I did. A largish premium sedan seems an odd choice for a burgeoning automaker that already has two. However, look beneath the surface, read between the lines and Hyundai's new sedan might just reveal itself as much more than that. Its Bluelink powered cabin technology package represents yet another small step in the evolution of Hyundai's infotainment offerings. Its proximity in size and spec to the Genesis can be interpreted as Hyundai's belief that these two models are, perhaps, not competitors -- that the Genesis is somehow separate from the rest of the Hyundai line, but that's not what we're here to discuss today.
Styling and cabin comfort
When I first met the Azera at the 2011 LA Auto Show, I thought it looked a lot like the Camry and many of you disagreed. In profile, I still think there's a resemblance, but that's not really a fair assessment, since almost all sedans in this class have adopted a similar slab-sided profile.
Viewed from the front or rear quarter, Hyundai's Fluidic Sculpture design language makes itself more evident with the organically styled front grille and windswept headlamps, which feature optional HID Xenon illumination and LED flourishes. Like the Sonata, the Azera's headlamps connected with a cool chrome accent that starts nearly at the front of the vehicle, flows nearly to the rear, and envelopes the side windows. The dramatic crease that underscores the C-pillar at times makes the car look muscular and wide, but also looks awkward and misplaced from other angles. Meanwhile, the rear lighting array is joined by a large red reflector, a throwback to the previous-generation Azera models.
The inside of the Azera's cabin is surprisingly spacious. Despite being a few inches shorter and narrower than the Genesis Sedan, the Azera manages to match its larger sibling blow for blow in almost every interior dimension. In a few places, such as trunk space and front legroom, the Azera is actually more spacious. I found the seating position to be a bit odd, and was never really able to get the power adjustable driver's seat and tilt/telescoping steering wheel just right. You'll probably have more time to fiddle with it once you own it. Once you get the seat setup just right, lock it in with the optional memory function.
The spacious cabin is made even more airy thanks to an optional panoramic sunroof that basically allows the driver to expose a massive glass viewport in the roof of the car. Power tilt and slide allow the forwardmost of the roof's two panels to open, allowing some air in to go with the sunshine.
Looking around, I noticed that otherwise, the Azera's styling is pretty standard Hyundai styling, with a swooping upper dashboard made of that soft, rubberized material that I've taken to calling Godzilla skin and a mix of nice plastics where you touch (buttons and knobs) and cheapo plastics where you don't (the underside of the dashboard). I incorrectly thought the seats were faux-leather until I double-checked the specs and saw that they were, in fact, real leather, which should say something about the quality. Overall, Hyundai spends your money where it counts, making cheap materials look more expensive than they are, delivering with a cabin experience that is largely pleasing. Nice touches like optional ambient lighting, which hides little blue LEDs under the dashboard's overhangs, standard heated seats for the front and rear passengers with optional cooled seating surfaces for the fronts, and an optional rear power sunshade with manual shades for the rear side windows help to further highlight the cabin.
Standard on the Azera is the latest iteration of Hyundai's infotainment system. This touchscreen actuated system features navigation and turn-by-turn directions using simple 2D maps. Traffic is provided by a standard SiriusXM connection, as are weather and stock quotes. The map quality has, it seems, improved for this generation of Hyundai's system--either that or the screen's resolution has greatly improved.
Also standard are USB connectivity for MP3 playback and an auxiliary input, both of which can be bridged by a $35 cable to create a full-speed iPod connection. Bluetooth audio streaming is also standard along with hands-free calling with voice command. The voice command system now extends to include the navigation system, allowing users to input addresses by speaking, but the system is crude, requiring multiple prompts for city, street name, and number. Likewise, it seems like voice dialing has gotten more complex. Now you must say, "Phone, Call contact, Antuan Goodwin on cell phone." where you once got away with just saying "Call, Goodwin Antuan on mobile." At least Hyundai seems to have fixed that odd surname inversion bug that annoyed me in previous models.
Other audio sources for the standard Dimension audio system include HD Radio, AM/FM radio, CD playback with MP3 decoding, and the aforementioned SiriusXM Satellite Radio (a 90-day trial is included). Users who want better sound can opt for an upgraded Infinity 550-watt, Logic 7 audio system with 12 speakers, including an 8-inch subwoofer and external amplifier, which is part of the same package that includes the sunroof.
From the Azera's 7-inch WVGA touch screen, users can also monitor their fuel economy, view the rear camera when reversing, and browse photos on a connected USB key when parked.
The Azera's cabin technology doesn't stop at the dashboard -- it doesn't even stop in the car -- thanks to the standard Blue Link telematics system. Tapping the Blue Link button on the rear-view mirror initiates a call to Blue Link's voice servers where you can search for destinations by voice, get fuel prices, and ask for traffic updates and have all of that data downloaded the dashboard for navigation. Blue Link can also send a text or Facebook status update to your friends with your destination and ETA and text you a notification if the car leaves a preset geofence (a virtual boundary of GPS coordinates) without your permission. There's emergency vehicle recovery, crash response, and roadside assistance accessible via the SOS button on the mirror. Factor in connectivity with the Blue Link app that allows the Azera to be monitored and controlled (remote start, door unlock) with a smartphone and you've got a telematics system that pretty much matches what GM is offering with OnStar.
Power train and performance
The Azera's engine room is home to a 3.3-liter GDI engine, a new power plant for Hyundai. (Although the automaker did once offer a 3.3-liter engine in the previous generation of the Sonata, this is not the same mill.) With the help of direct-injection technology, this V-6 engine develops 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. That power exits through the front wheels after passing through a six-speed automatic transmission, the only gearbox available for the Azera.
The transmission features a manual shift mode, but no paddle shifters -- Hyundai isn't trying to kid you into thinking a big front-driver makes any sporty pretenses. The manual shift mode is best for preselecting a lower gear for a passing maneuver, a situation where beat or so of lag between slapping the shifter and the actual engagement of the next gear aren't much of a detriment. Under normal automatic conditions, the Azera likes to hang out in the tallest gear possible to maximize fuel economy.
The EPA reckons that the 2012 Azera will go 20 miles on a gallon of gas in the city and 29 miles on the highway, averaging the values at about 23 mpg combined. Our testing ended at about the 21 mpg mark, which I found odd because most of the miles I logged in the Azera were highway cruising miles which should have yielded a few more mpgs by my estimate, but I'm not exactly known for my light right foot.
On the other hand, my fuel economy probably would have been worse without the help of the Azera's Active Eco functions, which not only illuminate a green Eco light in the speedometer when you're driving green, but also adjusts the Azera's throttle response, power-train mapping, and transmission profile to maximize the sedan's fuel economy and mitigate a bit of lead-footedness. Matting the accelerator pedal still gets you the full beans of the Azera's available torque, so there's no need to step out of Active ECO to pass, but this feature does keep you from using more throttle and fuel than you need to when you're just tooling around town and on the highway.
The Azera's power steering is light enough that it won't offend the sensibilities of the average large sedan buyer, but surprisingly it is not as overboosted as I expected it to be. There's a nice weight to the wheel that helps to make the Azera feel substantial and planted at highway speeds -- I like that.
However, there's still not a ton of feedback to be found at the tips of your fingers. Hyundai's engineers have done a good job of isolating the driver from the road below, the ticking of the GDI engine, and the roar of the wind. Responsiveness and grip are not bad, it's easy to tell that comfort is king when it comes to the Azera's suspension tuning. When you consider that most potential owners will be cross shopping this car with the Toyota Avalon, you begin to realize how low "communicative steering when piloting the Azera round a bend" is on the list of priorities.
Pricing the Azera couldn't be simpler because there's only one trim level: the rather well-equipped base model. That's $32,000 with an $875 destination charge and it gets you the full Hyundai infotainment package with navigation, all of Hyundai's digital audio sources, heated and power-adjustable seats, and the Blue Link telematics system with 6 Months of the Assurance level of service and 3 months of Essentials & Guidance levels.
The only options available are the $4,000 Technology package which pretty much completes the dashboard tech offerings with the rear proximity sensors and the Infinity premium audio system and rounds out the comfort functions with cooled seats for the front passengers, power tilt and telescoping on the steering wheel, a memory function for the power adjustments on the driver's seat, the panoramic sunroof, and the bigger wheels and xenon headlamps. This all or nothing packaging helps Hyundai to keep its prices low, but can be frustrating if all you want is, for example, the nicer stereo. That brings the fully loaded 2012 Azera with Tech package to $36,875 as tested.
In many ways, the Azera is a better buy than the Genesis V-6, if you don't mind being down a few ponies and living with a front-wheel drive platform--which most drivers will surely be. The Azera's slightly smaller footprint makes it just a hair easier to park, but it doesn't compromise on interior space. The typically polarizing Fluidic Sculpture design language is relatively tame here as well. And you get the same tech and comfort options for about $2,000 to $3,000 less than a comparably equipped Genesis V-6.
|Model||2012 Hyundai Azera|
|Trim||Base with Technology package|
|Power train||3.3-liter GDI V-6, six-speed automatic transmission w/ manual shift mode, FWD|
|EPA fuel economy||20 city, 29 highway, 23 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||Approx. 21 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard with traffic and voice|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes with voice|
|Disc player||Single-slot CD|
|MP3 player support||Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, optional iPod connection cable|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM Satellite Radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Optional Infinity 550-watt, 12-speaker system with subwoofer and amplifier|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera, optional proximity detection|
|Price as tested||$36,875|