2006 Hyundai Azera

The Good:
– Fairly well-built
– Smooth engine
– Luxurious interior
The Bad:
– Dull front-end styling
– Fuel economy below average
– Torque steer on hard throttle

Hyundai has moved upscale faster than Toyota ever did. Not that they have surpassed Toyota yet, but Hyundai is definitely not the carmaker from a decade ago, when their cars needed to be driven with a prayer in mind. Hyundai has continuously strived to improve their quality over the years, even as traditionally big players like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volkswagen all went downhill. However, Hyundai’s attempts at a reasonably luxurious car bore very rotten fruit, until now. The new Azera is the first premium Hyundai that we are not really ashamed to be seen in.

The new Hyundai Azera is a rather large car, but not large enough to be as unwieldy as honest-to-goodness large cars like the Ford Crown Victoria or the Chevrolet Caprice. The Azera is more in the league of the Toyota Avalon, in size and in underpinnings. It rides on a stretched version of the front-wheel-drive Sonata platform, and is very unassuming in terms of styling. The front end is so characterless that it could be from any car, but the rear end is truly original, with muscular flanks and wraparound LED tail-lights. Hyundai has also done well to preserve the sleek three-box profile of a proper car, rather than making it look overly tall in the pursuit of headroom. Stand next to it however, and you’ll notice that it really is a very tall car, so interior space is far from compromised.

In fact, the interior is very spacious, more so than the likes of the Cadillac CTS and the Jaguar S-Type, and legroom front and back is more abundant than even 4WDs like the Chevrolet Trailblazer and the Nissan Pathfinder. None of the aforementioned vehicles are direct competitors to the Azera, but it gives a good idea of how spacious this car really is. All the seats are big and flat for lying back on, and even though they are unhelpful during spirited cornering moves, they enhance the feeling of openness while cruising. All the cabin materials seem durable, but seem a grade below what Toyota offers. However, they are a grade above anything from Chevrolet. The optional leather is well-stitched, but the styling on the seats and doors are bland. The dashboard and doors have soft-touch material along the top, but the design is simple. And the central shifter console has a patterned metallic look to it, but the patterns look a little off around the edges. In fact, there are no inherent flaws with the interior at all, except that it all looks somewhat boring. The cabin is loaded with basic luxury features though, such as power seats, mirrors and windows, along with a solid premium stereo setup, a reasonably good a/c with welcome digital controls, cup-holders front and back, optional sunroof, electric rear sun-blind, optional rear parking sensors, front and optional side airbags, and little automatic lights just above the sun visors. The luggage trunk is massive, and hauling space can be increased to titanic proportions by folding down the rear seat.

The Azera is a big front-wheel-drive car, and as such, it is obvious that it wasn’t built for a day at the track. It does excel in carrying its occupants in complete silence, on a ride so smooth, you’d believe you were in a car worth three times more. It is easily one of the quietest cars we’ve ever tested, with wind noise kept at bay until 120 kph, when it can just start to be heard, and a muted engine note even under hard acceleration. The engine, a torquey 235 hp 3.3-litre V6, itself is a smooth operator, powering the car from zero to 100 kph in less than 9 seconds with the help of 304 Nm of torque and a slick five-speed automatic gearbox with rudimentary manual shift capability. The only downside to so much power put down through the front wheels is the noticeable torque steer which causes the steering to pull to one side as you floor the accelerator, even though electronic nannies kill most of the front-wheel spin. Holding on to the steering wheel tightly is a must. The same problem occurs in most V6-powered front-wheel-drive cars, including cars from Toyota and Nissan. Fuel economy though was poorer than the average set by the same V6-powered competitors in our tests, although it is supposed to have better fuel economy ratings according to European and American government tests.

Hyundai was generous in outfitting our Azera with optional 17-inch alloy wheels with juicy 235/55 tyres, which are wider than tyres on many sports sedans. The tyres provided very good grip in fast city-driving manoeuvres, with very little squeal. Push the limits though, and the rubber starts screaming pretty quickly thanks to early understeer, as we found out when we threw the car around hard in quick movements. Body roll was apparent, but surprisingly well-controlled for a luxury-tuned car that occasionally bounces over deep potholes. The four-wheel disc brakes were powerful and the brake pedal can be easily modulated, even though it feels a little spongy and lifeless. The terminal understeer cannot be defeated as left-foot braking proved mostly ineffective and the foot-operated parking brake was too weak and annoying to use in our attempts to induce oversteer. In short, it is impossible to push the car further than what the tyres allow. It wasn’t meant to be a track car anyway, so we’ll let that go, but we have to say that levels of grip were better than expected.

The Korean-built Azera offers excellent value for money, and quite an accomplishment for Hyundai. It might still be a bit rough around the edges, with slightly dull styling and slightly below-average fuel economy, but for the price, it can brush such trivial issues under its carpeted floor mats.

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