The Hyundai Azera, the Korean automaker's premium sedan, is now entering its third season, and the accolades are still rolling in. For the second year in a row, Azera scored a first-place finish in the J.D. Power and Associates Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, and in its Strategic Vision Total Quality Award. That's after landing a second-place (but still ahead of the Toyota Avalon) in Power's 2006 Initial Quality Study.
Azera is Hyundai's entry in the full-size, near-luxury segment, an alternative to the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima. Azera boasts as much or more total interior and cargo volume as the Avalon, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans, and the BMW 7 Series. In design and styling, in creature comforts, powertrain and in safety features, Azera offers as much or more than anything else in the class, and at a lower price.
Azera's powertrain uses the latest technology. Both available V6 engines feature variable valve timing for low emissions and a broad power curve; while the standard five-speed automatic gearbox gives the driver the option of shifting semi-manually. These are features that compete with Lexus, Infiniti and Acura. While there's nothing especially striking in Azera's design or styling, take off the Hyundai badge, and it could pass as family among any of the top-rated Japanese nameplates.
Inside, fit and finish are first rate, with quality materials and assembly. There's a quiet elegance in the simplicity of the instruments, usability of the controls and sleekness of design. What isn't readily visible received the same attention as what is, with hardware studiously hidden away and storage bins fully finished. All is not perfection: Some of the faux leather feels more plastic than bovine. But the overall presentation is upscale.
At a more practical level, the Azera equals or betters the competition in standard equipment, with special emphasis on safety. Eight airbags are standard, as are electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and active front seat head restraints. Rain-sensing windshield wipers, more commonly found only on high-end cars, are available. In addition to the awards cited above, Azera has earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) top crash test rating for frontal offset impacts.
For 2008, Hyundai has expanded Azera's list of standard and optional equipment. The 10-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels reserved for Limited models last year are now standard on all Azeras, as is XM Satellite Radio. The Limited now comes with a power sunroof and a 315-watt Infinity audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer and 10 speakers. New options include leather for the base model and an LG navigation system for Limited. And all Azeras benefit from a re-tuned chassis and quicker steering.
The 2008 Hyundai Azera comes in two trim levels. The base model, which was called the SE last year, has been renamed the GLS. The GLS comes with a 3.3-liter V6 rated at 234 horsepower. The Limited comes with a 3.8-liter, 263-hp engine. Both come with five-speed automatic transmissions.
GLS ($24,600) also comes cloth upholstery; dual-zone automatic climate control; eight-way driver and four-way passenger power front seats; power windows, mirrors and central locking with keyless remote; leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob; cruise control; AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers and steering wheel-mounted controls; XM Satellite Radio; auto-dimming inside rearview mirror with HomeLink; bi-level front center console; automatic headlight control; and P235/55VR17 tires on ten-spoke alloy wheels. The Premium Package ($2,200) adds leather seats with heat in front, and a power tilt-and-slide sunroof. The sunroof is also available as a stand-alone option ($950).
Limited ($28,550) now comes with a power tilt-and-slide sunroof and 10-speaker Infinity premium audio, in addition to leather-trimmed seats (heated in front), simulated leather inner door trim, heated outside mirrors with power fold-away, an electroluminescent gauge cluster, power rear sunshade, and other upgrades. The Limited model comes standard with the larger engine.
The Ultimate Package ($1,250) adds a 605-watt Infinity Logic 7 Surround-Sound system with 12 speakers (including subwoofer) and external amplifier, power adjustable tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, integrated memory system, woodgrain steering wheel and door pulls, and rain-sensing wipers. The Navigation Package ($1,750) combines the 605-watt Infinity surround-sound with the new the LG navigation system; the CD changer is deleted. To get all of the above, choose the Ultimate Navigation Package ($2,750).
Dealer-installed accessories include a Bluetooth hands-free phone system ($325), floor mats ($100), cargo mat ($95), composite cargo tray ($100), and wheel locks ($50). A selection of pearl paint colors also cost extra ($200).
Safety features are comprehensive, including state-of-the-art frontal airbags, full-coverage side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, active head restraints for the front seats, and LATCH child safety seat anchors. All five seating positions have adjustable head restraints and three-point belts; the front seatbelts have pre-tensioners and height-adjustable shoulder loops. Active safety features for crash avoidance include antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, electronic stability control, and traction control.