Silvio Calabi: Azera, the gentleman’s express
To gaze upon Hyundai’s shapely Azera is to realize how few cars today are truly pretty. In a market that values fuel economy, luxury, green-ness, low lease payments or whatever, “pretty” evidently doesn’t cut it any longer. Even Ferraris look a bit grotesque these days. The Azera, though — that’s pretty. No gaping grille, no swollen goiters, no painful angles; it is thoroughly harmonious.
But, as mother used to warn us, pretty is as pretty does. As it happens, though, the Azera does quite well, thank you.
Till the Genesis appeared, in ‘08, the Azera was Hyundai’s flagship, its most expensive car. Then both were upstaged by the luxury-liner Equus, and the Azera became merely a “premium” car, albeit one that gets close to 30 MPG on the highway.
Today Hyundai offers us 13 models with two, three, four or five doors at prices that stretch from $15,000 to $60,000. Most of them are aimed at families, students, young professionals and Capitalists — automakers’ prime quarry — but now Hyundai has a Boomers’ blue-plate special. The Azera is for grownups who no longer have expense accounts, but still have expense-account tastes.
The Azera backs up its looks with a creamy V-6 tuned for 293 horsepower and connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually. Suddenly dumping this much power into the front wheels inevitably causes torque steer, but Hyundai has engineered the mad zigzagging down to a mild, easily controllable pull. (We retirees rarely open the throttle that quickly anyway. Unless we’re vintage racing.) Furthermore, understeer — the tendency of a nose-heavy FWD car to plow through tight corners — is non-existent, at least in public. On the interstate, the Azera holds its speed and line effortlessly; in town and on secondary roads, the handling, steering, launching and stopping become invisible.
With its spacious charcoal-and-cream interior, the Azera is as satisfying and as “premium” inside as it is outside. No one should be stymied by the controls on the steering wheel and the center console, or by the satnav. The seats are excellent. In the front, the headrests can be adjusted fore-and-aft; rear passengers get two semi-bucket seats plus reading lights, soft-touch grab handles, a fold-down armrest and ample foot and leg room. Driving or simply being driven in the Azera is an exercise in comfort and serenity.
Then we tried something different: I sat in the car with the spec sheet in hand and mentally deleted all the added features. The 19-inch wheels became standard 18s; the dual-pane skyroof with its electric shade was replaced by featureless headliner. The audible backup sensors disappeared, along with one of the driver’s-seat adjustments, the seat memory, the 3-stage cooling in the front seats and the powered tilt-and-telescope on the steering wheel. The rear-window shades went away. So did with the mood lighting, the carpet floor mats, the higher-grade stereo, the Xenon headlights and the iPod cable. The sticker price dropped by $4,100.
Was the “stripper” Azera still a premium car? Was it worth $32,250? For that matter, was the loaded car worth $37,225?
There’s no denying the desirability of some of those extras—I’m partial to the huge sunroof and the high-intensity headlights — but what remained was impressive. If the parking sensors are gone, there’s a still a backup camera. The computer screen and GPS stay. The sound system now has seven speakers instead of 12, but all the wireless connectivity remains. The front seats are still leather, still heated and still adjusted via Mercedes-style controls. The HVAC system is still automatic and still has two zones. The self-dimming Homelink rear-view mirror is there too, as are the automatic high beams, the push-button ignition and the auto-unlocking doors. The air-bag count remains at nine. So it seems that the answer to all three questions above was “yes.”
The Azera doesn’t break new ground in performance or technology. What it does is come up behind the establishment in this segment — Toyota’s Avalon, Nissan’s Maxima, a Honda product or two, various Buicks, Fords and such — and hip-check them aside.
Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.