12. September 2013
I had the Azera 2013 parked along Sonoma Square in the northern California city. The parking is diagonal. Because the square, presumably, is more touristy than the norm in other towns where there are squares (e.g., Plymouth, where the AD&P North office is located, for example), most of the dozen-or-so cars parked along with the Azera were current models. That is, they were undoubtedly rentals.
As I was walking toward the square, I got a good three-quarter view of the back ends of the cars in the line. And while there were many badges represented—U.S., European, Asian—there was, by and large, a certain sameness, as though the designers had solved the problem of how to finish the rear by taking a recipe from a digital guidebook, then adding a bit of a fillip by changing a feature or two on the rear tail lamps. But essentially it was short decklid with a slight kick-up spoiler on the top; lamp lenses that wrapped into the body side.
While the Azera didn’t exactly deviate from that approach, there was one thing that was striking. The execution of its rear seems to have a level of sophistication that even exceeded what wasn’t a rental—maybe a lease—a BMW 5 Series. Ach due lieber.
The Hyundai Sonata is the car from that maker that gets the lion’s share of attention. Yet from a styling point of view, the Veloster is far, far beyond that car, and for those who aren’t willing to stretch quite so far, there is the Elantra, which shares the Sonata’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design language, yet because it is a compact car, concentrates the delivery with a stronger punch.
Of course, when you get to a certain size or when you get to a certain age, you need to have something larger than an Elantra, which might lead one directly to the Sonata, but then there is the Azera, the car in the company’s lineup above the Sonata.
Funny thing: this is one of the best cars you’ve probably not even heard of or certainly unlikely to have seen. Let’s put that into some context. According to Autodata, last year Hyundai sold a total of 8,431 Azeras in the U.S., and that’s a 453.2% increase over 2011 sales.
There aren’t a whole lot of them out there.
According to Hyundai, the competitive set for the Azera includes the Buick LaCrosse, Nissan Maxima, and Ford Taurus. I am not exactly sure what this is a set of. A broader set includes the Toyota Avalon, Lexus ES 350, and Acura TL, and I’m not sure how one would create a Venn diagram in any meaningful way with all of these cars.
The Azera’s exterior styling has a greater maturity to it than the other aforementioned Hyundais, yet there are the Genesis and Equus above it in the lineup, with the Genesis being sportier and the Equus being more mature. The Azera, in effect, splits the difference between those two: sporty-yet-reserved.
The Azera is a front-drive car, so it doesn’t get carried away vis-à-vis sportiness, although the 3.3-liter V6 delivers a peppy 293 hp. (Tires actually squealed—front tires, that is—when going from a complete stop on a sharp inclines along San Francisco’s Diversidaro Street; more on that in a moment.) The mpg claim for the car is 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined; I drove just over 300 miles, using the button-selectable Active Eco mode, which changes the shift points and throttle response, and hit 23 mpg, so I’m thinking that the combined number in a normal mode might be a little optimistic.
Inside, there is a somewhat technical look, with some of the trim surfaces having a metallic sheen, although these tend to be overwhelmed by swaths of soft-touch plastic (e.g., the area in front of the passenger’s seat that includes the glove box seems to be an enormous expanse of polymer). Admittedly, there is probably more square inches of standard leather seating surfaces, but still . . . .
One of the many standard features is a navigation system with rear view camera. The camera works great. The navigation system is the worst I’ve ever interacted with. For example, it couldn’t find First Street in downtown Napa, California. That city was incorporated in 1872, and I’m probably not going out on a limb saying that “First” was probably established after “Main” had been used (the two are perpendicular). You think they might have found that street by now. It is really bizarre when you are using directions from Google Maps on your phone, with the phone positioned on the center console below the navigation screen. And the system routed me on Diversidaro to get from the Golden Gate Bridge to 101 South to SFO—presumably in order not to go “out of the way” to Van Ness, which would be further but faster, as it isn’t punctuated with stop signs block-by-block. Finally, its estimated time function may have been telling time in some alternate universe not governed by the temporal rules found here.
OK. I’ve gotten a little carried away by that whole navigation system. But I guess I needed to balance that BMW reference above somehow.
I don’t think that a potential buyer of a LaCrosse or Taurus would even think about the Azera, as it seems to be a car in a far different class, one more contemporary and lithe. But I do think that a potential buyer of a Sonata might want to add a few more bucks to their monthly car payment and get a nicer-looking vehicle (the base MSRP for an Azera is $32,250). Of course, you may get lost, but. . . .
Engine: 3.3-liter GDI, DOHC, dual-CVVT V6
Horsepower: 293 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 255 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Materials: Aluminum block and head
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 112.0 in.
Length: 193.3 in.
Width: 73.2 in.
Passenger volume: 107 cu. ft.
Cargo volume: 16.3 cu. ft.
EPA: 20/29/23 city/highway/combined mpg