Driver's Seat: Unexpected luxury from Hyundai

The 2012 Hyundai Azera offers nice styling and good comfort. It's a fair match for its competition in the entry-level luxury sedan category.
The 2012 Hyundai Azera offers nice styling and good comfort. It's a fair match for its competition in the entry-level luxury sedan category.
Posted: July 12, 2012

2012 Hyundai Azera: Luxury from an unexpected source.

Price: $32,000 base price.

Marketer's pitch: Upgrade your expectations.

Conventional wisdom: Korean = econobox.

Reality: Yes, Hyundai can do luxury as well as the rest.

An image problem: In chatting with readers and acquaintances, I find that Hyundais and Kias are often mentioned in passing. The usual refrain is, "And they're getting nicer," followed quickly by, "But I'd never buy one."

But with a few exceptions, I find the cars quite up to the task.

My readership probably skews older, but, still, I think the carmakers continue to have an image problem to overcome.

The Azera ought to help with that.

Outside: I took the Azera on a fairly routine circuit during the week I tested it, and received many compliments on the styling. It's the typical Hyundai swoop — a nice starting point — writ large.

Inside: Like other models, the Hyundai swoop carries inside to the dashboard, as well. The lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat christened it "the Batmobile dashboard" in the Veloster, but the Azera's seems more sedate. The two-tone dash doesn't appeal to everyone, but I thought it was OK.

Blowing in the wind: The real downside to the overdesigned dashboard, though, is the heater vent. Their unusual shape may be attractive, but function lags far behind form. The middle pair don't allow for adjusting the airflow around the cabin. It's in your face, or it's off entirely.

I'd be happier with basic, round vents that twist, turn, and aim in almost any direction.

Comfortable: The driver's seat in the Azera is wide and long, with plenty of thigh support and adjustments.

I happened to hop in my own up-till-now adequate minivan immediately after parking the Azera, and suddenly I found the old Mazda's seats wanting. Short. Lacking adjustment. The Azera's are that good.

On the road: The 3.3-liter V6 delivers 293 horsepower and 255 foot-pounds of torque. The power is distributed through a six-speed automatic transmission with shift capability.

The shifter worked smoothly and gave a feeling of control. Power didn't excite me, as expected, but the car gets on the highway and up hills just fine.

Night shift: The accent lights around the cabin add a nice touch to driving after dark. The gauges are easy to read, and cabin lights are bright and directed where they should be.

In and out: Entry and exit are superb in the Azera, as would be expected in a car aiming for an older buyer.

Friends and stuff: The backseat is super generous with legroom.

A cellphone holder in front of the shifter is tucked behind a door. Like most center-console CD bins, the Azera's features a removable upper auxiliary tray. Usually this does not fit over CDs, but the Azera's bin is one of the few that allows both a stash of CDs and the tray to ride inside.

Trunk room was ginormous. And the seat folds down to make it even ginormouser.

Seating issue: The seat controllers stand out upon initial entry because they are on the door. It seems like a good idea, but they are hard to reach. So adjusting the seat follows this pattern: Reach forward to move seat, move seat, sit back, check seat, decide seat is not in right spot, lather, rinse, repeat.

Too much legroom? The Azera website makes much of its enormous front legroom. It sounds like a great idea until the memory seat slides all the way back upon shutdown. Reaching the brake to start the Azera the next time requires a bit of a stretch.

Fuel economy: I observed 25 m.p.g. in a mix of driving.

Where it's built: Asan, South Korea.

How it's built: The Azera is new for 2012, so its track record remains to be seen. Consumer Reports shows Hyundai models run about middle-of-the-road for reliability.

In the end: I found the Azera to be a competent vehicle, and certainly competitive in its class. In fact, Hyundai may not see this as a compliment, but the Azera is a match for the Buick LaCrosse, another enjoyable entry-level luxury sedan from a company with its own image problem.

Contact Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or ssturgis@phillynews.com.

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