It’s amazing to see how far Hyundai has come in the luxury arena in just over 10 years. Those with selective retention may or may not (depending on whether or not you actually bought one) recall Hyundai’s first shot at a near-luxury car for North America—the 2001 Hyundai XG300
That car had all the right ingredients, blended precisely the wrong way.
The XG offered styling cues from a luxury car, a very generous offering of standard equipment, a V6 engine, and was priced to undercut Maxima, Camry and Accord—while simultaneously offering more luxury features than those perennial front-runners in the mid-size sedan marketplace. And it was all wrapped in the quirkiest example of quirky Korean styling to ever besot this continent. Further, its Hyundai nameplate didn’t do a lot to convince Toyota, Honda and Nissan buyers to abandon their tried and true marques. Still, for a company struggling to get its footing in a new segment of the marketplace, the XG300 was a baby step in the right direction for Hyundai.
When the XG300 (by then XG350, thanks to a displacement increase) played out in 2005, it was replaced by a stride, the 2006 Hyundai Azera. More spacious, more luxurious and infinitely better looking than the XG models, Azera made everybody sit up and take notice of Hyundai. For the first time, the average North American even bothered to learn to pronounce the name of the company (which, for the record, is Hun-DAY, not Ha-yun-DIE). With Azera, Hyundai finally got a solid grasp on the near luxury sedan.
For 2012, the company has introduced the second generation of the lovely sedan, and if you thought the first one was nice, wait’ll you get a load of this one. The most successful embodiment of Hyundai’s fluidic sculpture styling language yet, the 2012 Azera caresses the eye with gently flowing curves, tastefully applied chrome, and a graceful, swept-back treatment to its handsome face. The overall effect is a definitive implication of motion.
The interior picks right up on these themes with a tasteful blend of leather and subdued metallic trim. The dash spreads like a pair of wings from the center stack with an integrated monitor for the navigation and entertainment functions.
Powering Azera is a 293-horsepower, 3.3-liter V6 engine, which delivers 255 ft.-lbs. of torque at 5200 RPM on regular unleaded fuel. Graced with all of the latest tech, the engine employs direct injection as well as variable intake and variable valve timing. Hyundai’s proprietary six-speed automatic transmission funnels the output of the engine to the front wheels. Fuel economy estimates are 20-city, 29-highway, and 23 combined.
Powerful and smooth, the engine motivates the graceful sedan without hesitation. Acceleration is strong, passing power is plentiful and the engine is both refined and quiet in operation. The six-speed calls no undue attention to itself, shifting smoothly and efficiently. Always in the right gear for the situation, it’s basically transparent to the driver—which, in a car like this is a very good thing.
Steering and braking feel are more than adequate for this class of car. The 2012 Azera uses disc brakes at all four corners and ABS, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution are all standard. Also standard is stability control, traction control and electric power steering. Even when pushed beyond the role its looks seemingly pigeonhole it into, the 2012 Hyundai Azera rewards the driver with better than expected performance. Yes, it’s a bit soft when asked to corner hard, but this isn’t a sports sedan, it’s an entry-level luxury car—think Lexus ES and you’ll have the right idea.
To that end, the new Hyundai Azera is more than solidly equipped for the task. All of the anticipated current tech is there; HD radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, navigation, a backup camera, voice text messaging, smartphone app integration and of course, emergency assistance (Hyundai calls it Blue Link) are folded into the 2012 Hyundai Azera as standard equipment. On the safety front, you’ll find nine airbags and impact reducing seats as integral parts of the protection suite.
To say Hyundai has come a long way from the days of the XG300 is a considerable understatement, pricing starts at $32,875, including destination charges.