Fool a Few Friends

TEST DRIVE | Azera looks lots more upscale than its price

The precisely built Azera sedan is Hyundai’s flagship model and trumps many rivals with its attractive pricing, standard equipment, safety features, spacious interior and killer warranty.

My jet black test Azera turned heads with its slick, although mostly conservative, styling. Some neighbors couldn’t guess that this South Korean car was a Hyundai, mistaking it for an upscale Japanese or European sedan.

The Azera has received high grades in initial quality and the highest safety rating in a frontal offset impact test. The car is fast — 0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds — with the 3.8-liter, 263-horsepower engine in the upscale Limited version.

The Azera has gotten high grades in initial quality and the highest safety rating in a frontal offset impact test. It’s fast (0-60 mph in 6.1 seconds) with the 3.8-liter, 263-horsepower engine in the upscale Limited version, which I tested.

The base GLS model has a 3.3-liter, 234-horsepower V-6, which wasn’t available for testing but should provide lively acceleration. Both engines work with a responsive five-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual/shift capability.

Estimated fuel economy is nearly identical with both engines: 18 mpg city and 26 highway with the 3.3 and 17 and 26 with the larger V-6. Only regular-grade fuel is needed.

The downside is that, despite its smooth appearance and dual chromed exhaust tips, the front-wheel-drive Azera is no sports sedan that offers driving kicks. Rather, Hyundai aims the car at conservative buyers who want a stylish, comfortable, feature-packed and safe sedan for fairly low prices.

The result is an overly soft ride despite an all-independent suspension, with body “float” over uneven surfaces. Former owners of old Buicks will like that, but sporty-car-minded buyers will take a pass.

However, the Azera’s handling is OK for average driving, steering is quick, and strong anti-lock brakes with a brake-assist feature are easily modulated for smooth stops, even in harrowing stop-and-go traffic when someone gabbing on a cell phone ahead of you jams on their brakes.

The Azera replaced Hyundai’s XG350 sedan in 2006 and was longer, wider and larger, while riding on a longer wheelbase. It was positioned as a luxury sedan, with a sleeker exterior, many safety items and a roomy interior. It hasn’t hurt that the Azera has Hyundai’s 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain (engine and transmission) warranty — although few original owners keep cars 100,000 miles.

The GLS lists at $24,600 and the Limited costs $28,550. The mid-level SE model has been dropped for 2008, but the GLS adds new features.

The GLS is arguably the best Azera buy for those who can live without the added punch of the Limited’s 3.8-liter V-8 and such standard items as leather upholstery, heated front seats, power sunroof and an amazing Infinity audio system with an in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer. The GLS costs nearly $4,000 less than the Limited.

Standard for the GLS are air conditioning with dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped wheel with radio controls, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, heated power mirrors and power windows and door locks with remote keyless entry — besides automatic headlights and a split/folding rear seat.

Both the GLS and Limited have fairly large 17-inch alloy wheels that wear 55-series tires designed more for ride comfort than handling. Newly available is XM satellite radio with a free three-month trial subscription.

Safety features for both Azeras include front/rear side air bags, curtain-side air bags, traction control and an anti-skid system.

The GLS has a $2,200 Premium option group with leather upholstery, heated front seats and a power sunroof, which is offered as a $950 stand-alone option for this model.

A $1,250 Ultimate package for the Limited contains power tilt/telescopic woodgrain/leather-wrapped wheel, power adjustable pedals, upgraded Infinity sound system and rain-sensing wipers.

A Navigation package for the Limited costs $1,750 and contains an upgraded Infinity sound system. This model also has a package with such neat items as hefty interior woodgrain door pulls that make it easier to slide out.

Wide-opening doors with large outside/inside handles allow easy entry and exit. And my test Limited had a quiet, nicely trimmed interior with good materials that was almost Lexus-like, with such things as a stylish dashboard with electroluminescent gauges, large and supportive front seats, easily used controls, lots of leather and neatly covered front console cupholders.

There’s plenty of room for five tall adults, although the center of the rear seat is too stiff for long trips and best left to the center fold-down armrest with its twin cupholders.

The steering wheel masks the dashboard ignition switch, and the glove compartment is small. But all doors have storage pockets and there’s a deep, covered console bin. There’s also an ashtray with a cigarette lighter, a feature often no long found in cars and an indication that many South Koreans still are smokers.

Cargo loading is made easier by the large trunk’s wide opening, although it’s somewhat high. The lined trunk lid has manual hinges that are enclosed to prevent cargo damage and a hefty interior handle that makes it easier to close the lid. Rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to enlarge the cargo area, although the pass-through opening between the trunk and rear seat area is only moderately large.

The hood raises smoothly on a hydraulic strut, exposing a neatly designed engine compartment with easily reached fluid filler areas.

The Azera is a good blend of value, luxury and safety. Get a jet black one and fool friends, neighbors and lots of nearby motorists.

Jedlicka’s take: Hyndai Azera

* Prices: $24,600-$28,550

* Likes: Very well-equipped. Excellent fit and finish. Roomy. Especially fast with 3.8-liter V-6. Attractive pricing. Terrific warranty.

* Dislikes: Average handling. Overly soft ride for some roads. Steering wheel masks ignition switch.

April 14, 2008
BY DAN JEDLICKA Auto Editor/Chicago Sun Times

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