The Hyundai Azera is improved for 2011, headlined by a new 6-speed automatic transmission. Azera offers a choice of two V6 engines, both of which offer improved fuel economy for 2011. Subtle styling revisions and minor interior refinements distinguish the 2011 Azera from the 2010 version.
Hyundai broke sales records through 2010. The Azera is a near-luxury sedan with front-wheel drive, and it's good enough to get the attention of the cars that rule the class, such as the Lexus ES 350, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus, and Buick LaCrosse.
The new 6-speed sequential automatic on the 2011 Azera is the lightest and most compact transmission of its kind, as Korean engineering leads the way on this one. The new 6-speed automatic comes standard on all models.
The Azera Limited uses a smooth and powerful 3.8-liter dohc V6 that makes 283 horsepower. Fuel economy with the 3.8-liter engine is EPA-rated at 19/27 miles per gallon City/Highway. Azera takes first-in-class on fuel mileage. After a total of 286 miles in an Azera Limited, including some stop-and-go L.A. freeway traffic, we averaged 25.6 mpg.
There's also a lower-priced 2011 Azera GLS that uses a smaller aluminum 3.3-liter V6 with all the same new-for-2011 technology, including four valves per cylinder, dual continuously variable valve timing, and variable intake system. The 2011 Azera GLS gets an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg, which represents an 11 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over the 2010 model.
The 6-speed automatic transmission, along with the smooth and powerful V6, are Azera's best features. The transmission is very well-behaved, kicking down no more than necessary, which isn't a lot with the good torque from the engine.
The Azera is not a sports sedan, it's a cruiser. The freeway ride is smooth, and it's good over speed bumps but it's not as good over sharper bumps like railroad tracks. Considering the market for this car, we'd call the ride and suspension on target. The brakes have good feel, within limits.
The Azera seats five. The leather seats are not exactly a sport fit, but more supportive than some, and adequate for the two three-hour stints we took behind the wheel. We found the gauges extremely pleasing. The speedo and tach are just right: organic white lettering with bright red needles, sharp and clear so the information jumps out at you. The design and layout of things like grab handles, door pockets, cupholders and storage compartments is about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, however. The navigation system, made for Hyundai by the Korean electronics company LG, is easy to program, but it led us astray a lot.
Azera's Achilles heel is styling. It's like a copy of the Lexus ES350 gone bad, or not quite pulled off, at least. Its looks give it the air of an old person's car, no matter how sharp and sporty the engine and transmission are. First launched as a 2006 model, the Azera replaced the XG350.
The warranty is a definite plus. It's 5 years and 60,000 miles, bumper to bumper.
The Azera isn't the kind of car you'd look at twice. In fact it's kind of invisible. It's not ugly, but lacks sweeping lines. The styling says old man's car.
It tries to be like other cars in its forward half, and mostly gets away with it, including the glittery chrome, unless that other car is, say, a Lexus.
But in the rear it tries to be different, and it succeeds, although maybe not as intended; it's got distinctive bulging hips, like a someone wearing a speedo or bikini that shouldn't be. The spoiler over the rear deck is a little hump, as if they forgot to finish it.
The gauges on the Azera are extremely pleasing. What Korean designers seem to do is copy other designs and execute about perfectly (when they get the exterior down, watch out). The speedo and tach are not original, just right: organic white lettering with bright red needles, sharp and clear so the information jumps out at you. The blue backlighting of instruments, switches and buttons is nice too.
The speedo and tach are optimistic at 160 mph and 8000 rpm, as they all are. It's just that, with a Korean car, still a relative newbie on the luxury block, you can't help thinking it's some sort of statement that: we're as good as you all. And bully for them.
The temperature gauge is to the left, fuel to the right, and between the speedo and tach there's a digital info display that's also easy to read. However, you do have to reach around the steering wheel to the dash to hit the button that changes the information in the display. And we could live without the flashing ECO light on the Limited model.
The steering wheel has cruise control and audio controls, and is woodgrain from 10 to 2 o'clock. There's a big grab handle on the door, also woodgrain. The door pockets are medium-sized, and tucked under the armrests, so you'll have to put your one-liter bottles of Pepsi between your thighs, or in your passenger's hands.
The front seats are pretty good, neither hard nor soft, not exactly a sport fit but supportive. They're appropriate for the car, and we found them adequately comfortable for two three-hour stints behind the wheel.
In the rear seats, there's 38 inches of legroom, a competitive number. Hyundai claims that the Azera's total cabin space of 123.5 cubic feet is greater than the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima.
The navigation screen hangs under a big flat gray vinyl dashboard, and it's simple to program and easy to read (split with map and directions), although it could use an eave for shading and better visibility. The navigation system itself gave us fits and got us lost. Either it was all wrong, or somehow we hit something that programmed a previous stopover point, because it kept trying to take us south from Los Angeles, we think to the Pacific Athletic Club in San Diego, when we wanted to go east to Palm Springs. But even after we figured out how to shut it up, and we tried again later, it missed more turns. Another time it told us to turn left, 20 feet past the left turn. Another time it told us to stay left on the freeway when we needed to stay right. Another time it turned the volume down on itself, and began speaking so softly we couldn't hear it.
The center console begins with a cubby under the navigation screen, and runs back over the shift lever that can be used to manually change gears, to two concealed cupholders, a coinholder cubby, and a big double compartment between the seats. The armrest on the door is good, but the one on the center console compartment is too far back to rest your right elbow on and still have your hand on the steering wheel.
Rearward visibility is good, and there's a standard power sunshade in the rear glass. Wide enough that we didn't have to scrunch our 70-inch frame very much, easier on the neck than upright in a seat in the airport, and quieter.
Our favorite part of the interior was looking out to the hood, where two windshield washer nozzles looked back in with jets like robot eyeballs, as if Wall-E's babies were staring up at us through the windshield.
With all the desert freeway driving, we had a good chance to feel the Azera at 80 mph in the flow of traffic, and it easily held its own. It's a very smooth engine.
It was a nice comfortable ride, at least on the terrain we crossed, which did include some bumps. At first we thought the ride and handling felt floaty, but the more we drove it, the tighter it seemed to get. Certainly tight enough for freeway work. Solid and not harsh over speedbumps, although it didn't do sharper railroad tracks as well.
We took the Azera through some uphill curves to a viewpoint over Palm Springs, and at a lightly brisk pace, it didn't really like all those corners. Again, the handling was adequate, but the suspension was built for comfort, not sport. A lot of little corrections were necessary to keep the car on line. If we had driven much faster we would probably have reached the point of wallow.
Coming back down, we challenged the brakes, tentatively. No fade, and good pedal feel, but probably only because the challenge was light. Again, the Azera isn't a sports sedan, it's a cruiser.
The 6-speed transmission, called Shiftronic, along with the engine, are the best features of the Azera. The transmission offers manual shifting with the lever, and it responds well. In automatic, the transmission was very well-behaved, kicking down no more than necessary, which wasn't a lot with the good 262 foot-pounds of torque from the engine. Some impressive stats on the transmission: 26.4 pounds lighter than the 5-speed it replaced, 1.6 inches shorter, and 62 fewer moving parts.
Unfortunately we didn't have a chance to drive the Azera GLS with the 3.3-liter V6 and the same transmission, because at a price that's significantly less than our Azera Limited, if the engine is nearly as smooth, it sounds like a better value, especially since it gets another mile per gallon, rated at 18/28 mpg. That smaller V6 still makes 260 horsepower, and that's pretty darn good.
The Azera Limited with the 3.8-liter engine is EPA-rated at 19/27 mpg City/Highway. We saw 28.5 mpg at a steady 70 mph, and 26 mpg running 75-80 mph in a crosswind out to Palm Springs. After 286 miles including some stop-and-go freeway traffic, we averaged 25.6 mpg. Azera takes first-in-class on fuel mileage.
The Hyundai Azera, a midsize luxury sedan, uses a strong new V6 and smooth 6-speed sequential automatic transmission, and gets the best fuel mileage in its class. Styling is blander than it might be, but the ride is comfortable, cornering adequate, and interior roomy. The lower-priced Azera GLS model should be considered by anyone in this market because of the value it offers.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his drive in the Azera from Los Angeles to Palm Springs.