Rarely do automobiles that are not assembled in Europe excite me. Yes, there are exceptions of course, as Lexus and Infiniti have some powerhouses in their lineups. And the domestic brands have made great strides to the point that buying American, which used to mean you were buying the best, means quality again.
At an early spring cookout, one of my VW/Bimmerphile friends dropped his jaw when I told him about my recent test drive of the 2012 Hyundai Azera. He asked if I would consider the Azera over the Volkswagen CC, and I told him “absolutely!” He rephrased his question – “I know it has a better warranty, but I’m talking from a driving perspective.” “Absolutely” was again my answer. Not only should VW worry about the “Rise” of the Planet of Hyundai, the rest of the industry should as well. From top (Equus) to bottom (Accent) this South Korean carmaker is building extremely impressive products.
Prior to my time behind the wheel of the all-new Azera, I had not seen many photographs of the car. The previous gen Azera was attractive, but the drive experience was pretty much average. After a night of bowling in Mount Kisco, New York, where East Coast launch for the Azera took place, a luxury car pulled up to the bowling alley to shuttle us to our hotel. I climbed into the front seat and noticed the LED lighting band across the dash and outlining the power seat controls and instantly thought “high end.” “Is this the Equus?,” I asked the driver. “No, this is the Azera.” I got out of the car, not believing the guy, and looked at the stunning execution that is the 2012 Azera.
Azera styling keeps with the aggressive design theme that makes Hyundai models so popular. Looking at the Azera from the side, sharp character lines rise from front and rear fenders, with the rear line rising to form a spoiler-like lip on the rear deck. Chrome trim tastefully adorns the lower rocker, lending class and a jewel-like quality to the sculpted lower area. The front features an inverted power dome on the hood, flowing into the signature chrome slatted Hyundai grille. Headlights feature a single LED corona ring treatment around the main lights, with sweeping LED lights between the headlight and grille that indicate fluidity of motion, and are just plain gorgeous. Just below the grille is a large air intake flanked by trapezoidal fog lights. LED turn markers in the side view mirrors complete the impressive front look. At the rear, the aforementioned lip rises above LED taillights, with dual chrome exhaust tips flush with the rear bumper cover.
The entire look belies the pricepoint of this vehicle, which in typical Hyundai fashion, is perhaps the most amazing thing about this car. Prices begin at $32,000, and a full-tilt Azera will run you $36,000. Yes, this is Hyundai Genesis territory, but remember the Genesis is rear-wheel drive, whereas the Azera features foul weather friendly front-wheel drive. The list of what you get as standard equipment is substantial:
- Navigation with 7” screen
- Killer base audio system with HD and Satellite Radio, and iPod connectivity
- Bluetooth streaming for audio and hands-free calling
- Dual-zone air-conditioning with cabin filter
- Aforementioned cool blue cabin lighting
- Leather seats, steering wheel and shift knob
- 10 way driver/8 way power passenger seat
- Power rear sunshade
- Premium carpeting
- A host of safety gear, including electronic stability control, impact reducing front seats and a driver’s side knee airbag
- Cooled glovebox
- Much, much more
Now add just $4,000 more to your tally for the Technology Package, and Hyundai gives you the following:
- 19-inch alloys
- Panoramic sunroof
- HID Xenon headlights
- Power rear sunshade and manual side window sunshades
- Infinity 12 speaker Logic7 audio system with subwoofer and external amplifier *Power adjustable tilt and telescopic steering column, Integrated Memory System (remembers settings for power driver’s seat, exterior mirrors, and steering column) *Driver’s seat cushion extension, ventilated (cooled) front seats
- Rear parking sensors
- Interior ambient lighting
Now that we’ve established that the Azera is fully equipped, what’s the drive quality?
Over a test loop of about 150 miles, I was impressed with Azera’s road manners. Power comes from a 3.3 liter direct injection V6, outputting 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. A firm push on the “go” pedal produced solid acceleration with just a hint of torque steer. It was halfway through the test drive that I realized I was in “Active Eco” mode for optimum fuel economy. Switching to standard mode increased the level of forward thrust during off-the-line and passing maneuvers. By the way, when in “Eco” mode, the Azera achieves a class-leading 29 mpg highway rating. Power is channeled to the front wheels through a six-speed transmission with SHIFTRONIC manual shift capability.
Not only does the Azera go fast, it’s very quiet. Obviously, Hyundai engineers have paid a great deal of attention in the noise, vibration and harshness reduction area. You feel enough road to enhance the driving experience, and that’s it. Again, the level of sophistication belies the Azera’s pricepoint.
My only gripe about the entire drive experience was the amount of wind noise around the glass moonroof area when I briefly opened it to let in some rays. The noise level seemed excessive and out of line with the “silent” quality of the Azera with the roof closed. No worries though – if there is a problem identified within the brand, Hyundai moves quickly to rectify it. That’s how they overcame initial quality problems when they first came here in the 1980s. As they say, the rest is history.
The 2012 Hyundai Azera is extremely well done. Toss in their 100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and considering one for purchase is pretty much a no-brainer.