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2006 Hyundai Azera car reviews

Review Notes: Hyundai Azera SE
Personality Lexus with old tires
Above Average: Great sound insulation and ride for the price
Needs Work In: Gas mileage, front seat ergonomics,
gauge cluster appearance
Mileage and Price EPA: 19 city, 28 highway. $24,325 base price.
Written by David Zatz

Every now and then, we come across a car which is a real surprise, and this is one of them. Listing for $24,000, the Hyundai Azera competes on price with the Camry, base-model Chrysler 300, Accord, Five Hundred, and Impala; but the comfort and noise levels would be better compared with the Lexus GS. The interior is roomy and well decorated, the trunk capacious, and the corning competent, with a generally high quality feel throughout — backed up by Hyundai's ever-rising quality ratings in various surveys and reports. Overall, the Azera is an entry-level luxury car at a family-car price.

Though apparently named after the Voice of Homer, the Azera is not over the top in any way. The luxury-car styling on the outside - a staple of Hyundais long before they were anything but entry-level econoboxes - is now fairly well matched inside, with rather nice suede-style cloth seats, a faux wood trim line separating differently shaded plastics, and a considerable attention paid to styling throughout the car. More to the point, the Azera has a surprisingly comfortable ride, above any other car in this class (including the Camry), which eliminates most harshness and shock from even nasty pavements, while still transmitting enough road feel to satisfy most drivers, and without any wallow or float. Bumps are seen and barely felt, without the subsonics common to many cars; only a distant sound comes through. Sound insulation is also quite good, with the engine barely intruding into the passenger compartment, and outside sounds dampened admirably; there is barely any wind noise even at high speeds, and even the fan is fairly quiet except at its highest speeds. Hyundai's ability to accomplish all this is such a short time, with no luxury car history to draw on, is simply amazing.

The downside is nasty tire squeal on hard acceleration and sharp turns, though this may be due to a poor choice of tires as much as anything else. Cornering is generally adequate at least, though the Azera is hardly a sports car — something some other reviewers appear to be confused by. The ride is more Lexus than BMW, and those who like firm, stiff riding vehicles should move on to Honda or perhaps the Charger; but most people prefer a more luxurious ride and are willing to sacrifice a few miles per hour through the cones to get it. While the Azera does have electronic stability control, which no doubt helps combat the natural torque steer of a front-wheel-drive car with a powerful engine, that does not make it as nimble as, say, a Dodge Stratus; but it can still deal with all an average driver is likely to toss at it.

The Azera remains in control most of the time despite the police-attention-getting squeals on speedy takeoffs. Once at speed, the Azera has a small pause when power is demanded, while the transmission downshifts and gets the transmission into the right gear (assuming you're not using the manual-override feature); but the tires don't squeal. Once in the power band, the engine surges forward nicely, so acceleration is very much "on-demand."

The five-speed automatic generally does an excellent job of both shifting and predicting, aside from that brief delay on kickdown; it makes invariably smooth shifts, even kickdown shifts, and is generally in an appropriate gear, without the "hold the high gear" nuisance of some automatics or the "hold the low gear" behavior of others. The transmission can also be shifted manually via one of the better override designs; just push the shifter over into manumatic mode, and then push forward to go up a gear and pull to drop a gear. Sometimes you have to do it twice to insist on your choice, though that might have just been a problem with our test vehicle (which generally worked out well). The current gear is shown in the dash when in manumatic mode.

The 3.8 liter engine pushes out a respectable 263 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, crossing the normal boundary of front-drive torque-steer performance, but without showing much torque steer under full acceleration. The weight, 3,630 pounds, is decent enough for that size engine, especially when equipped (as it is) with a factory cold-air intake and variable valve timing, to keep performance up when the engine is hot and to broaden the torque curve. That said, the engine is moderately sluggish at lower rpms, and is a bit peaky - it really screams near its redline. Make no mistake, when you hit the gas, something good will happen; but if you're already at speed, and you're not using the manumatic, you might have to wait a brief time for it, and if you're stationery, expect a little tire squeal before the traction control (quietly) kicks in or the tires stop slipping. Hyundai claims 0-60 times of 6.5 seconds, which would be excellent; other testers found times of just above or just under 7 seconds flat, making the Azera quicker than the Toyota Avalon, Chrysler 300M, and base Dodge Charger, along with quite a few other cars.

Visibility is generally quite good, with only a small blind spot in the rear quarter and with large mirrors and windows. Headlights are average, and the automatic rear-view mirror (standard, and including a compass) is, like most automatic rear-view mirrors, not particularly good at dimming headlights. At night, subtle amber lights illuminate the front foot areas, while doors have those little red lights on the bottom to warn oncoming traffic when you open them, and interior lighting is generous.

Interior space is quite American-sized; there is plenty of back seat legroom, and the trunk is simply huge (front legroom: 44 inches, rear legroom: 38 inches). Cupholders are integrated into a nice rear seat armrest; and there is a convenient felt-lined storage area in the center stack, with an elegant opening switch that works more easily than most of this kind. The center console has two compartments, both of usable size; and the glove compartment has room for gloves.

Though the seats are attractive, we found the driver's seat in particular fairly uncomfortable, but that's a personal preference, and others might like them. They are easily adjustable, including bolster, and the cloth is an attractive color and grade, which look upscale but lack leather's chief problems - too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and too slippery unless coupled with suede. The steering wheel has both tilt and telescope - both manual and both adjustable without detents, just loosen the clamp, slide into place, and tighten the clamp.

The Azera is far less idiosynchratic that past Korean cars; gone is the idea that "as goes the driver's lock, so go the other locks." The only unconventional aspect of the Azera, other than its price, is the "down is on" wiper stalk, which is consistent with the Japanese cars owned by so many Americans.

The dashboard is fairly typical of modern cars, with the usual big speedometer and tachometer surrounded by dull silver rings; using shiny chrome would have gone a long way to making this luxury-feel car look more luxurious to the driver. (The interior does look rather upscale, not just because of the wood-like trim separating differently colored upper and lower panels, but also because of the color choices and the cloth that looks like suede.) The other gauges are the usual temperature and gas level, with lights for the rest. Unlike most cars, when you activate the cruise system (using a convenient behind the wheel flap), the word CRUISE lights; when you lock in a speed, SET lights. The first time we saw this was on the 2000 Neon, and we missed it when Chrysler dropped it. Fortunately, Hyundai picked it up. Cruise control is on the wheel, with big buttons that provide feedback and a prominent cancel button, improving on the usual Chrysler design. On the other side of the wheel are some radio controls, including a mute flap. The headlight control provides a choice of on, off, parking lights, and automatic - the best way to do it, leaving everything up to the driver.

The stereo has excellent sound and is easy to adjust using a mode button; there are also a number of preset equalizer settings for different types of music (none for talk though). It would be nice if the equalizer settings were saved with the radio station, but since most cars don't do that, we can't fault the Hyundai. It was easy enough to lower the bass to the point where even classical music DJs become easily understandable without subsonics, or to deepen it to the point of constant rumble, without losing sound clarity.

The climate control system is likewise easy to use, with dual thermostatic controls for driver and passenger; for once, we left it on automatic, because the automatic setting worked surprisingly well. It was easy to change fan or heat settings, and the air conditioner was fairly powerful.

The Azera comes with a huge complement of standard features, including electronic stability control and traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, active head restraints that easily adjust fore and aft, variable-intake V6, five-speed automatic, 16 inch alloy wheels, remote entry with alarm, dual power front seats, automatic air, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, CD with steering wheel controls, power windows, locks, and mirrors, and cruise. Oddly, though, seat position memory is absent, as is "power memory" - as soon as the key is taken out, everything is off (including, by the way, the headlights).

Among other items, the Limited - still under $30,000 - provides an interior that shames some Caddys, with heated leather seats, wood-grain steering wheel, electroluminescent gauges, power rear sunshade (a truly nice feature), and the de rigeur and pointless larger wheels; an Infinity stereo (more shades of Chrysler past) and sunroof are also optional, as is power adjustable steering column and pedals, rain sensing wipers, and power folding side mirrors.

The only option on our test car was carpeted floor mats - yes, it comes with eight airbags but no floor mats - at the usual inflated price of $85. This makes the total price $24,420, a bargain compared with the Camry and Accord, not to mention the domestics. Those who prefer straight-line performance to cornering and balance will find the Azera irresistable compared with a V6 powered Chrysler 300 as well; and the price is far below the Avalon. Anyone who prefers comfort to cornering is likely to appreciate the Azera; indeed, we suspect quite a few BMW and Mercedes owners will be just a bit envious of their Azera-driving friends once they get inside, if they can push their prejudices and cognitive dissonance away (or if they don't notice the Hyundai logos).

Overall, we found precious little to complain about in the Azera, and quite a lot to praise. The Hyundai Azera does what Toyota has been quite successful doing: emulating the traditional American sedan. Only Hyundai has arguably done it better, providing a Lexus-like ride and sound insulation in a nicely styled (interior and out) car that sells for about the same price as a V6 equipped Camry. Between the two, we'd happily take the Hyundai — assuming its quality matches other recent Hyundai cars.

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