Although it's been eclipsed by the Genesis sedan and the forthcoming Equus, there's still room in Hyundai's lineup for a smaller, front-wheel-drive luxury sedan. To counter the likes of the Buick LaCrosse, Lexus ES350, and Toyota Avalon, Hyundai's gifted the Azera range with some modest updates for 2011.
The biggest news for the Azera is its updated powertrain options, which now feature a choice between a 3.3-liter V-6 or the 3.8-liter Lambda V-6 engine, mated to Hyundai's new, in-house-built, six-speed automatic transmission.
The 3.3-liter DOHC V-6 is standard for the Azera GLS and produces roughly 260 horsepower and 233 lb.-ft. of torque and is estimated at 20 city / 28 highway mpg. The Azera Limited is powered by the same Lamba 3.8-liter DOHC V6 engine found in the Genesis sedan and coupe that delivers an estimated 283 horsepower and 263 lb.-ft. in the Azera. Estimated mpg for Azera Limited is 19 city/27 highway.
Mated to each engine is Hyundai's own six-speed automatic with its Shiftmatic manual control feature, a unit the automaker clearly is proud of. Hyundai claims it is the most compact and lightest six-speed automatic on the market. It's some 26 pounds lighter than the five speed it replaces and uses 62 fewer parts. It's also designed so that the transmission fluid will last for the life of the vehicle under normal circumstances.
Under the sheetmetal, Azera features a double-wishbone front and multi-link rear four-wheel independent suspension, and Hyundai says more high strength steel has been used in all the right places in order to add rigidity. In addition, Hyundai says it has improved the Azera's steering and suspension so it can better absorb the bumpy stuff and provide a more responsive steering feel.
Outside, the Azera's exterior receives a facelift, including a reworked front fascia that features redesigned headlamps, an updated grille, and round fog lights. At the back of the car, the Azera picks up LED taillights, along with an updated bumper, chrome tailpipes and decklid treatment. Other updates include new 17-inch alloys and revised side mirrors now sporting puddle lamps. It's a decent-looking update at first glance, but far from the bold new "fluidic sculpture" design that Hyundai rolled out on the new Sonata.
Inside, Hyundai has refined trim accents, and also incorporated a USB audio input (that can control iPods) as standard equipment. Limited models are available with a new navigation system, which also adds a 12-speaker Infinity sound system.
Look for the updated 2011 Azera to arrive at Hyundai dealers this spring.