When I saw photographs of the 2012 Azera, I wondered why Hyundai had grafted the face of a Klingon onto its full-size sedan, but when I was walking toward our Venetian Red Pearl tester in the parking garage, I came to a stop in surprise. What was this attractive sedan sitting in front of me? Surely, it wasn't the same angry-looking Azera I'd seen in photos. In pictures, the car's crisp, muscular character lines come across as bulbous; the glamorous LED full-width taillights look like something from the mid-1990s; and the grille -- which is elegant and understated in person -- looks like, well, a chrome Klingon forehead.
Inside, it was more of the same: in pictures, the Azera's cabin looks like an upgraded Elantra, but in reality, the interior is lined with premium, soft-touch materials. The sweeping dash and waterfall center stack complement each other well and lend an upscale look to the cabin, while the buttery-soft leather got me to thinking that maybe Hyundai really could pull off its own luxury brand.
That is, until I pulled out of my parking spot and discovered that the same flaws that plague numerous other Korean products continue to haunt the Azera. Most notably, the steering is numb and feels artificial and the disconnected sense that the driver gets from behind the wheel means you're never quite sure of what the front wheels are doing, especially over rough pavement. For that reason, I'll say that the Azera's beauty is only skin-deep.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
When the Azera was launched in 2006, it was Hyundai's fanciest and most expensive model. How things have changed. Since that time, the Azera's U.S. sales numbers have plunged from a peak of well over 20,000 in both 2006 and 2007 to just 1524 copies in 2011. By 2011, though, Hyundai was offering two sedans that are larger and nicer than the forgotten Azera -- the Genesis and the Equus -- and together they sold more than 35,000 units. I'm not sure whether Hyundai expects the all-new 2012 Azera to sell 20,000-plus annually, but the car is charged with competing against the likes of the Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, and Toyota Avalon.
The Azera certainly has distinctive styling, with wild, LED-highlighted headlamps swooping, winglike, toward the fenders. The distinctive exterior is accompanied by an attractive interior. The huge sunroof, part of an appealing $4000 option package, is nice for rear-seat passengers, since it makes the back seats feel even more spacious than they already are.
Unfortunately, I think I'd rather sit in the back of the Azera than drive it. Numb steering, which Donny also mentioned, is the biggest fault. The powertrain is strong, and overall driving performance is very smooth. But this car is also not very interesting to drive.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Too smooth to be interesting, Rusty? Phrased any other way that would be a compliment to Hyundai. This large, front-wheel-drive sedan is for drivers who want a relaxed ride with a near-luxury experience. Refinement and some isolation from the road is an asset, not a liability, for the Azera. The steering assist and the ride quality are a marked improvement over what you get in the smaller Sonata, as those are my two biggest complaints with that mid-size sedan. The 293-hp V-6 is silky and strong, providing nice power throughout the rev range. It would be great, though, if Hyundai could address the torque steer that's prevalent when you floor the accelerator from a stop.
There's no attempt to imbue the Azera with a dynamic persona, but that's just fine by me. The Azera is a comfortable, attractive, pleasant car and its best quality is how it separates you from the sometimes-ugly world of traffic and road construction.
It has nice materials, great ergonomics, and massive amounts of legroom front and rear. There's great visibility for the driver and plenty of light thanks to the huge glass roof. I only wish the stylists had exercised some restraint before showering the interior in so many different surface treatments. There's bright chrome on the door handles, carbon-fiber accent trim, a brushed metal radio bezel flanked by silver-painted plastic and a darker aluminum-look covering for the storage bin and center console. Cutting the number of finishes in half would do a lot to add some class to the Azera cabin.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
The Azera is the Toyota Avalon/Buick LaCrosse of the Hyundai lineup. It might not appeal that much to enthusiasts, but there's a whole demographic of car buyers looking for a car that provides a certain measure of comfort both in ride and in interior amenities and who aren't looking for a sporty car or a high-dollar luxury vehicle. For those people, the new Azera is a very viable alternative. Its powertrain, a 293-hp V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic, gets the car up to speed quickly and smoothly, and the suspension handles road irregularities with ease. The interior looks and feels rich, as it should in a car in this price category. All in all, a pleasant car to drive, and one that would likely satisfy anyone who's looking more for comfort than performance in a full-size near-luxury sedan.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The Hyundai Azera costs some $14,000 more than a Hyundai Sonata, and it feels like it. But think back a couple of years to the Sonata's introduction. The swoopy-looking sedan charmed owners and critics, while the more expensive but ho-hum Azera was, understandably, all but forgotten.
With the 2012 model, the Azera has stepped up its game to a level above the Sonata. The V-6 is smooth and powerful, much more so than the Sonata's 2.4-liter four, the ride is plush, and the interior looks interesting and feels good. The Azera may lack any marquee technologies like blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, or lane departure warnings, but it's a solid competitor in the large-sedan segment thanks to its relative refinement and unique styling. Has the Azera shot to the top of the class? Not necessarily, but it's made quite a few strides.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor