2006 Hyundai Azera Limited Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2006 Hyundai Azera Limited

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Hyundai

Hyundai is serious about competing with the established players in the automotive world, and none of its products show this intent better than its flagship Azera sedan. All new for the 2006 model year, the Azera could be seen as a replacement for Hyundai's first foray into the upscale market, the late XG350, but it's larger, roomier, and better-equipped, with considerably more power and better fuel economy.

Both the drivetrain and chassis contribute to the Azera's advances over the XG350, and many of its competitors. In size, it's solidly in the middle of the mid-size class, with good leg and head room and enough width for three adults to fit in the rear seat. Careful design and use of strong, lightweight high-tensile steel in critical areas of the Azera's structure actually reduce weight compared to the XG350, if only by a few pounds. That, and a new V6 engine that, with 263 horsepower is one of the most powerful in both the price-competitive middle-class midsize class or the midsize entry-luxury class, improve performance significantly - and the new engine is also much more fuel efficient than the XG350's.

Two Azera trim levels are offered. Both the SE and the Limited offer the same drivetrain and basic style, and the full range of active and passive safety equipment, including stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and eight airbags as standard fare. But where the SE is middle-class in trim, with cloth seats and 16-inch wheels and tires, the Limited adds leather, heated front seats, electroluminescent gauges, and fancier interior and exterior trim.

I've just spent a very pleasant week with a new Azera Limited. It compares very favorably with all and any of the premium trim levels of its Asian and American competitors in the middle-class mid-size category, and it could give many of the Japanese and American entry-luxury sedans a run for their money as well. It points to a good future for Hyundai as a serious competitor on the world stage.

APPEARANCE: In its exterior style, the Azera is solidly in the main stream of contemporary design. It exhibits many styling trends not from its price-class competitors but from Asian and European luxury cars, most prominently the five-sided grille and prominently-sculpted hood bulge at the front, the extra-long passenger cabin with small fixed quarter windows behind the rear doors, and the raised tail section at the rear. But they meld into a distinctive whole, and the car's long, low, and wide stance furthers its luxury look, as does the use of a tasteful amount of chrome trim, especially on the Limited model.

COMFORT: That long, low, and wide stance also means excellent interior space. And the large amount of window glass and, especially in Limited trim, styling that emulates the best of the Asian luxury brands makes it seem even larger. Yes, the trim is ``woodgrain'' and ``metalgrain'' plastic, but it's convincing and no different than what is found in more than a few entry-luxury models. About the only clues that the Azera Limited is not a luxury car are the interior door latches, which are merely middle-class plastic. (picky, picky...) The Limited gets leather seats, six-level heated in front, and a wood-and-leather steering wheel with cruise and auxiliary audio controls and easily-visible electroluminescent gauges; both models feature power front seats, windows, mirrors, and locks with remote locking as standard equipment. The front seats are equal to the best in the class, and the rear is wide enough that the center position should be comfortable for at least a short time. There are useful storage spaces around the cabin, with power points found both in the two-level console box and, for rear-seat passengers, at the end of the console. The trunk is huge, even with a full-size spare underneath. A power rear-window sunshade is standard in the Limited, and both models may be had with the ``Premium Package'' of power sunroof and high-quality Infinity audio system with AM, FM, cassette, and a 6-disc in-dash CD changer that can read MP3 CDs.

SAFETY: Passive safety features in the Azera include eight airbags - dual front, seat-mounted front and outside rear side-impact bags, and full-length roof-mounted head curtain bags. All passengers have head restraints, with the fronts being active to reduce whiplash. Active safety is enhanced by four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake distribution, traction control and electronic stability control. Projector-beam headlights and LED taillights let the Azera see and be seen at night.

RIDE AND HANDLING: There is nothing revolutionary in the Azera's design and construction, merely good attention to detail. High-tensile steel is used in important parts of the unibody structure, to improve rigidity and strength and reduce weight. A rigid structure helps to control noise, and the Azera is commendably quiet on the road. The fully-independent suspension uses double wishbones in front and a multilink setup in the rear. It's tuned in the manner of a European luxury car, softly but with very good damping, for both comfort on the highway and competent handling on backroads. Engine-speed sensitive power steering means effort is low at low speeds, such as in traffic or when parking, and appropriately higher on the highway, or when exercising the engine by use of manual shift mode.

PERFORMANCE: Hyundai has gone from an also-ran to a front-runner in the power department with its new 3.8-liter V6. A modern aluminum-alloy design with dual overhead cams, 24 valves, continuously-variable cam phasing, and a variable-length intake system, it makes 263 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 255 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. This is considerably more than the XG350's 194 hp and 216 lb-ft - and better than most competitors as well - yet the Azera's fuel economy is much improved, with EPA ratings of 19 mpg city and 28 highway. It also gets a low ULEV emissions rating. I averaged 22 mpg overall, with 24 on the highway at a steady 65 to 70 mph. The five-speed automatic transmission is a fine match to the engine, and shifts smoothly and efficiently. It can be manually shifted in ``SHIFTRONIC'' mode, but works well enough on its own that manual shifting is never really necessary. Despite the engine's strong torque being sent through the front wheels, torque steer in nonexistent.

CONCLUSIONS: The Hyundai Azera is a new and very viable entry in the popular midsize sedan class.

SPECIFICATIONS
2006 Hyundai Azera Limited


Base Price			$ 26,835
Price As Tested			$ 28,335
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam
				 24-valve V6 with continuously-variable
				 cam phasing
Engine Size			3.8 liters / 231 cu. in.
Horsepower			263 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			255 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		109.4 in. / 192.7 in.
Curb Weight			3629 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		13.8
Fuel Capacity			19.8 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
				 for best performance;
				  87 octane unleaded permissible
Tires				P235/55 VR17
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph				6.5  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Premium Package - includes:
  power sunroof, Infinity audio system with
  6-disc in-dash CD changer			$ 1,500
Destination charge				$ included

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