The Azera went away for a while, and it's hard to image that many people missed it. With the Sonata very ably serving in the midsize sedan segment and the Genesis sedan providing a premium, rear-wheel-drive move-up option, it looked as though the Azera had been squeezed out of its place in the Hyundai lineup. Hyundai product planners, however, saw a sliver of space between the Sonata and the Genesis -- or maybe they were just hewing to the company's secret decree to have a direct competitor for every Toyota model (the Avalon, in this case). Regardless of why, a new Azera bowed last year, and it turns out that the Azera makes a case for itself by delivering traditional Hyundai virtues.
Lots of features, moderate price
Hyundais are known for value, and there's plenty of that here. The Azera comes only two ways: with or without the technology package. The standard car is extremely well equipped; it comes with leather, navigation, a backup camera, heated front and rear seats, keyless entry and ignition, dual power seats, and eighteen-inch wheels, all for $33,145. For $4000, the technology package adds a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, Xenon headlamps, ventilated front seats, front seat cushion extenders, a rear parking sensor, a power steering column, a power rear sunshade and manual rear side window sunshades, a fancier stereo, interior ambient lighting, and 19-inch wheels. Either way, that's a long list of equipment for the money. For buyers who equate size with value, the interior is huge and the cabin is well finished. The rear seat is stretch-out spacious, and the trunk is generously sized.
Traditional driving experience
With the Genesis courting premium European sedan intenders, the Azera is free to target drivers looking more for comfort and quiet. And, truth be told, the Azera hits its target more successfully than the Genesis does. This is a quiet cruiser that sops up bumps with little fuss. The steering may be wooden, but it's linear and well weighted. Unlike its predecessor, the Azera doesn't wander woozily in its lane; it tracks cleanly and it doesn't feel like it would trip over its tires in an avoidance maneuver. It still doesn't incite any hooligan behavior on the part of its the driver, though.
The Azera's V-6 engine makes for a point of differentiation from the Sonata, which uses only four-cylinder engines. At the same time, the Azera's 3.3-liter V-6 is smaller than the 3.8-liter unit in the Genesis. Its 293 hp is 40 hp shy of the Genesis engine but 19 hp more than you'll get in a Sonata Turbo. Although the Azera is reasonably lithe, the 3.3-liter's modest torque output of 255 lb-ft arrives fairly high in the rev range (5200 rpm), and so the six doesn't feel as muscular as one might hope. However, it spins smoothly and throttle response is predictable. Working with a six-speed automatic transmission, the engine's EPA ratings are 20/29 mpg, not bad for such a big car.
So is it a success?
As much as the Azera delivers, it hasn't seen that many deliveries. Sales are running at only about one-third the pace of the Genesis (coupe and sedan together) and are a tiny fraction of the Sonata's. However, Hyundai claims that Azeras don't linger long on dealer lots, so it could be that the company so far just isn't putting a lot of cars out there.
Based on Hyundai tradition, that probably won't be the case for long. With Hyundai already performing well in high-volume segments, the company will likely open the taps and send more Azeras to dealers as it seeks further sales growth. Because Hyundai's most characteristic value of all is really its unquenchable thirst for ever-higher sales.