Review and photos by Greg Wilson
Click image to enlarge
As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”
This is the third time in the last year I’ve been surprised by a new Hyundai vehicle. The 2006 Hyundai Sonata was a big surprise in the mid-size class, the 2006 Accent was a very pleasant surprise in the subcompact segment, and in the luxury class, the new 2006 Hyundai Azera is a big surprise with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles on top.
If that sounds like a fanciful press release from Hyundai: my apologies. Since my day-long test-drive across the scenic, twisty roads of Vancouver Island, I’ve been trying without success to think of something really negative to say about the Azera. I do have some minor criticisms, but let me warn you ahead of time, the Azera is an exceptional car for the money. “Base” models start at $34,495 and uplevel Azera’s are priced at $37,495.
Developed on a new front-wheel-drive large-car platform, the Azera is 20 mm longer, 25 mm wider and 70 mm higher than the XG350, and has a wheelbase that’s been extended 30 mm. Hyundai claims the Azera’s combined interior and trunk space is roomier than the recently-redesigned Toyota Avalon, and indeed there is plenty of front and rear legroom and headroom for five adults in this very attractive cabin. However, it is here that you’ll find one of my few criticisms: the height-adjustable driver’s seat is positioned too high for six-foot plus drivers, even at its lowest position.
Unlike the Toyota Avalon’s cabin with its multiple folding metal-look panels and the Nissan Maxima’s sport-oriented cabin, the Azera’s cabin exudes tasteful luxury. Base models have cloth seats, but for three grand more, you can have attractive leather seats, a 6-disc CD player, power rear sunshade, and other luxury features.
Behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel are twin round gauges with attractive metal rings, large numbers, and a warm green backlighting at night. A strip of walnut and aluminum trim runs around the dash and doors, and the wide centre console features a shiftgate and shifter with walnut and metal trim. The central radio and heater units are plainly marked and easy to reach without stretching from the driver’s seat. The front seats are wide, comfortable and supportive and feature adjustable lumbar support.
Standard features on the $34,495 Azera include a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, cloth upholstery, 10-way power driver’s seat, 4-way power passenger seat, seat heaters, stereo with CD/MP3 player, steering wheel controls and six speakers, dual zone automatic temperature control, power windows with auto up/down and pinch protection, mirrors and door locks with a remote entry system; cruise control, trip computer, compass, power sunroof, 60/40 split folding seatbacks, and windshield de-icer. Also worth mentioning is a standard, full-size spare tire with alloy wheel.
Standard safety features include eight airbags: dual front, dual front side, dual rear side, and dual curtain airbags. And the Azera has standard active front seat head restraints, three height adjustable rear head restraints, five three point seatbelts, front pretensioners and load limiters, and rear LATCH anchors for child seats.
The $37,495 Azera Premium adds the leather upholstery, 6-disc in-dash CD changer with extra speakers, power adjustable gas and brake pedals, power rear sunshade, rain sensing wipers, and metal Azera scuff plates. The only thing missing is a navigation system, which is not offered.
While the XG350 came with a 182 horsepower 3.5 litre V6, the Azera comes with a 263 hp/255 ft-lb 3.8 litre all aluminum V6 with twin overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing that uses regular unleaded gasoline. Combined with a standard five-speed automatic transmission with ‘Shiftronic’ manual mode, the Azera has a wonderfully smooth, quiet powertrain that doesn’t sweat when pressed, and delivers exceptional performance around town or on the freeway.
Independent acceleration tests conducted recently by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) showed the Azera’s 0 to 100 km/h time as 7.3 seconds, the same as the 2006 Toyota Avalon.
On the freeway, I recorded an engine speed of just 1800 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2200 rpm at 120 km/h in fifth gear. Fuel consumption, according to official figures, is City: 12.8 L/100 (22 mpg) and Hwy: 8.1 L/100 km (35 mpg), not as good as a Toyota Avalon, but still reasonable for a big luxury car.
Braking distances from 100 km/h to 0, as recorded by AJAC testers, was just under 40 metres, slightly better than the Avalon. The Azera features standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD (electronic brake force distribution), and brake pedal feel is very good.
Though the Azera’s fully independent suspension is tuned for a soft ride (front double wishbone/rear multi-link) and the car leans a bit in the corners, its 17-inch Michelin X all-season tires (235/55R-17) have plenty of grip, and the Azera comes standard with electronic stability control to enhance control in slippery conditions.
I found the Azera’s rpm-sensing power steering a bit light at higher speeds, particularly if engine revs are low while you’re cruising down the freeway. But keep in mind that the Azera is a luxury car first, and everything about it is designed for comfort and ease of use.
Driver visibility is very good, aided by a tall seating position, a third rear side window, and rear head restraints that sit down flush with the top of the rear seats.
Starting under $35,000, the Azera is thousands of dollars cheaper than the Avalon and Maxima, comparably equipped. My only reservation is that the Azera is likely to depreciate faster than its better-known competitors. But then, you paid less for it in the first place – and it’s a car with the kind of understated good looks and all-around comfort that will tempt you to keep it long enough that its resale value won’t matter any more.