First Look: 2012 Hyundai Azera

The Azera was once Hyundai’s flagship sedan, but recent years have seen the car’s halo status stripped with the introduction of the Genesis and Equus sedans. Hyundai returns to the Los Angeles Auto Show this year with an updated version of the Azera, now the middle man in the model line-up, ready to do battle in the large-car segment against competitors from America and Japan.

The 2012 Azera makes its American debut at Los Angeles after being introduced to the rest of world as the Grandeur sedan earlier this year. It’s also the first iteration of the large sedan since the automaker adopted its fluidic sculpture design language that guided the looks of cars like the Sonata and Elantra. Korean engineers reportedly gave the car design elements reminiscent of flight, from the front grille and headlights that take streamlined, wing-like features, to the wraparound tail lamp that supposedly apes the wingspan and engines of a 747. 18-inch alloy wheels are standard, and can be upgraded to 19 inchers.

Under the hood, the Azera continues with Hyundai’s 3.3-liter Lambda V-6 engine, but that motor has been tweaked for the new model. The motor, now dubbed Lambda II, gains Hyundai’s gas direct injection system for increased power and efficiency. It now makes 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 33 horses and 22 pound-feet from the old model. Fuel economy inches up to 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, from the previous 20/28.

Hyundai said that while it is physically possible to slot the 2.0-liter Theta turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder engine from the Sonata Turbo underhood for increases in torque and fuel efficiency, it seemed out of character for the large sedan. As such, the Azera is Hyundai’s entry into the mid-level large-sedan market, which competes against the likes of the Toyota Avalon and Buick LaCrosse, both of which feature similarly sized V-6 engines. Against those competitors, Hyundai brags that the new Azera now features best-in-class specific engine output (at 88.8 horsepower/liter), as well as best-in-class front head- and legroom (40.4 inches and 45.5 inches, respectively).

Inside, the Azera gets interior upgrades in the form of a new center stack, which now features a standard navigation system with a seven-inch touchscreen and a backup camera. It also comes standard with SiriusXM satellite radio, which includes access to satellite weather, traffic, stocks, and sports news. The on-board infotainment, which includes Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, and HD Radio, is sent through either the standard seven-speaker Dimension sound system or an optional Infinity system with 550 watts, 11 speakers, and an eight-inch subwoofer.

Elsewhere, a 10-way power driver’s seat and 8-way power passenger’s seat is standard, and both the front and rear seats get standard seat heating and leather surfaces, with the option to add ventilation up front. Base models also get a standard two-zone automatic climate control system with rear-seat air vents and a cooled glove box.

The Azera also gains Hyundai’s new Blue Link telematics system, standard. The system, should the driver purchase a monthly package, has the capability of connecting the car to an operator to find points of interest for the on-board navigation system, send monthly vehicle health reports via email, and use voice-activated text messaging.

The new model also gets a smattering of standard safety features, including nine airbags, traction and stability control, and redesigned front seats that promise to reduce head and neck injuries by 17 percent in the event of a rear-end collision.

Full pricing is not yet available, but it will start around $32,000. Expect a full announcement as the February on-sale date approaches.

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