Finally! Hyundai Azera is ready for prime time – NBC News.com

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Hyundai Azera

Finally! Hyundai Azera is ready for prime time

Feb. 27, 2012 at 7:23 AM ET

LUCY NICHOLSON / Reuters

Hyundai President CEO John Krafcik (L) and Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun unveil the Hyundai Azera at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, November 16, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: BUSINESS TRANSPORT)

REVIEW: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.”  It is a pseudo-Latin passage commonly used in publishing as a placeholder in anticipation of the real text.  Such placeholders let editors stake out space for the planned final product.

Similarly, the Hyundai Azera, introduced in the 2006 model year, was meant to stake out the company’s spot in the premium full-size sedan segment.  The Hyundai execs knew the car wasn’t going to cause a rush to dealers like we saw recently with the Sonata and Elantra models, but they thought it could help establish the brand in that market in preparation for the day when a truly competitive entry would arrive.

Finally, that day has come.

The original Azera could well have been Hyundai’s last disappointing car.  And in today’s fiercely contested car market new models age in dog years, making it less competitive by the day.  Recent monthly sales have numbered in the dozens, which was good, because the company stopped building the old Azera in December.

  Of 2010.

So the new Azera was well overdue.  That doesn’t diminish the excellence of the 2012 Azera.  The new car isn’t just better than the old one, a false comparison carmakers commonly frame, but it is thoroughly competitive with the segment’s heavy hitters.

Among front-wheel-drive mainstream brands it matches up against the Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon and in the near-luxury segment it contends with the Acura TL, Buick LaCrosse, and Lexus ES350.  Judged in isolation, these are all impressive cars, and the rear-drive Chrysler 300 is another member of this otherwise front-drive group.

Every one of these cars is excellent, judged on its own.  Hyundai hopes you’ll compare the specifications, which show better fuel economy and more features for less money, the very same recipe that has been so successful for the Sonata and Elantra.

And as the latest member of the family, the Azera now shares the graceful Fluidic Sculpture design theme that attracts shoppers’ interest before they start looking at gas mileage and the bottom line.  All other things being equal, consumers will gravitate toward the better-looking car because it is the outside face we show the world when driving.

The old Azera overlapped a bit with the old Sonata, but with the new Sonata’s four-cylinder-only specification, the 293 hp, 3.3-liter V6 Azera has a bit of breathing room.  Customers who want the smoothness and power of a six-cylinder or who need the extra couple inches of space inside can move up without making the leap to the much-pricier rear-drive Genesis sedan.

Where the old car’s suspension was soggy as Seattle in April, the new car is no longer cursed with the cheapest shocks available, an engineer explained.   Instead, now the Avalon uses the advanced Sachs shocks featured on the Genesis and Equus premium models.

The Azera’s steering is excellent on the road, with direct, firm feedback and hinting at its overboosted, numb past only at a walking speed in parking lots.  Another adjustment Hyundai got right is the engine’s response to the gas pedal.

Even the company’s popular recent models have suffered from old insecurities.  That meant the cars leap forward in response to the slightest pressure on the gas pedal, a gimmick that sees the throttle snap virtually wide open with any pedal application to trick drivers into thinking the car is faster than it is.

This is an understandable ploy when a car has a wheezing obsolete engine with no power.  But these days Hyundai is a leader in engine technology, with powerplants that are at or near the top in horsepower, fuel economy and specific output (a ratio of power to engine size).  The Azera is the first Hyundai that finally abandons this unnecessary practice, and hopefully the rest will follow soon.

But lets talk about what is really most important in this category of cars: comfort.  The standard leather seats are heated front and rear and the fronts are ventilated with the Technology Package.

The seats are not only power-adjustable and comfortable even for finicky drivers with troublesome backs, but they include a built-in impact-absorbing structure that the company says reduces head and neck injuries by 17 percent compared to the seats in the old car.

The seat design, along with nine air bags, stability technology that actually steers the wheels to keep the car on course and automatic crash notification in case a crash does happen all bolster Azera’s safety appeal to customers in the full-size segment who tend to care about such things.

Best of all, Hyundai keeps Azera shopping simple.  Almost everything you could want is standard equipment for a sticker price of $32,000 even.  No games with a $31,999.99 price, just a flat $32K.

  And if you do want a few more bells and whistles, grab the technology package to get the panoramic sunroof and HID headlights for a $36,000 price.  Shipping is another $875, but everybody breaks that out separately.

Hyundai Azera

Hyundai Motor America president and CEO John Krafcik notes that the sales price of its cars come closer to the sticker price than almost every other brand.  That’s because “consumers are looking at the sticker price and saying ‘That’s a fair price to pay,’” he said.

This kind of pricing simplicity and clarity makes Hyundais as appealing as their Fluidic Sculpture styling.  The result is an Azera that is no longer a placeholder.  “Lorem ipsum” no more.

Vital statistics: 2012 Hyundai Azera

Base price: $32,000 (not including $875 shipping)

As tested: $36,000

Pros: Lovely styling, comfortable ride, class-leading efficiency

Cons: Lack of name recognition, continuing skepticism of Hyundai, its not one of Hyundai’s American-made models

Verdict: Hyundai has arrived in the market for big sedans.

Standard equipment: 293-hp 3.3-l V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, navigation, premium audio, Blue Link telematics, heated leather seats, automatic climate control

Major options: Panoramic sunroof, HID headlights, ventilated seats

Safety equipment: electronic stability control, nine air bags, including driver’s knee bag, impact-reducing front seats.

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