• Sep 22, 2010
Refresh Fails To Meet Brand's Own High Bar

2011 Hyundai Azera Limited - Click above for high-res image gallery

Even five years ago, Hyundai was widely considered to be a bargain-basement marque. After all, anyone interested in checking out the brand's lineup could visit a rental company within five miles of any major airport. But why dwell on the past when the Korean automaker is kicking butt and taking names in the here and now? Hyundai has been on a roll these past few years, with hits like the Genesis, Genesis Coupe and 2011 Sonata. With those successful entries, Hyundai has clearly established itself as a prime player in the U.S. market, but the company's improved standing has also substantially raised the public's levels of expectation. Where qualifiers like "for a Hyundai" were once the norm, we're now measuring each and every new entry donning the italic H against the best from Toyota, Ford, General Motors and Honda.

Hyundai's most recently refreshed product is the 2011 Azera. When the Azera first arrived on U.S. shores as a 2006 model, it came came close to nixing the "for a Hyundai" stigma with an impressive level of standard equipment and a lower price tag than its competition. But even with a strong value equation and plethora of amenities, that original Azera still wasn't as refined as the current crop of winners coming out of South Korea. Can the freshly redesigned 2011 Azera, with an improved powertrain and increased level of luxury equipment, truly succeed like its all-star siblings?

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Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL

The Azera has received more than a mild refresh for 2011, with a pair of upgraded powertrains, new headlamps, taillamps, fog lights and a host of tweaks and tucks to the front and rear fascias. Our Midnight Blue Limited tester included the only available option, a $1,750 navigation system, nudging the Azera's MSRP to $32,620. That's still about $5,000 fewer greenbacks than a similarly equipped Toyota Avalon or Ford Taurus. A good deal? Perhaps, but competing in the full-size sedan segment means measuring up on more than just price.

When looking over the Azera from the outside, the large sedan's newest features shine brightest, and not just because we're talking head- and taillamps. The Azera's headlights are pretty special, with the LED-encrusted, Audi-like elements begging for attention. The taillamps are pretty snazzy as well, as Hyundai has gone a bit nuts with the light-emitting diodes. The chiseled front grill also impresses, borrowing its basic shape from the Genesis Sedan while going all-in with chrome in a decidedly American manner. We're also fans of the rich, sparkly Midnight Blue paint job, which gives the Azera a welcome touch of class.

While the Azera's updated exterior elements add a touch of freshness, there are still more than enough throwbacks to push it towards the back of the pack visually. Exhibit A: a tall and somewhat awkward greenhouse. Compared to the steeply-raked, coupe-like roofline of the Sonata, the Azera looks as if it were penned by a fan of Oldsmobiles from the 1990s, and it doesn't fare much better against sleek-looking competitors like the Nissan Maxima or Buick LaCrosse.

2011 Hyundai Azera Limited side view2011 Hyundai Azera Limited front view2011 Hyundai Azera Limited rear view

Given that the Azera underwent just a refresh and not full redesign, we expected the tweaked exterior to fall short of game-changing. But the interior is another matter altogether. Since it's easier to swap out cabin components than re-engineer sheetmetal, refreshed vehicles often receive fairly substantial interior upgrades. Sadly, not so with the Azera. The interior looks essentially unchanged from the outgoing model, save for some aluminum graining on the center console and a low-tech eco indicator that's about as interesting as a check engine light. The Azera's interior wasn't terrible before with a muted cabin, comfortable seats and reasonably high quality materials on the dash, seats and doors. Unfortunately, "good enough" just doesn't cut it in a segment where MSRPs regularly exceed $30,000. The Avalon, LaCrosse and Taurus far outshine the Azera in this regard with better materials, cushier armrests (the Azera's is as soft as diorite) and superior aesthetics all around.

Park a new Sonata next to an Azera and even the optically challenged can see the larger Hyundai offers a far less compelling cabin while commanding a starting price that's several thousand dollars lower. On the high end of the company showroom is the Genesis Sedan – a fair comparison given our tester was within $1,000 of the starting price of Hyundai's Lexus-fighter. The base Genesis and uplevel Azera also share the same basic powertrain and both offer near identical levels of interior volume. The difference, besides the Genesis being driven by its rear wheels and the Azera its fronts, is that the Genesis comes packed to the sunroof with amenities and interior refinement, while the Azera struggles even against the not-long-for-this-world Buick Lucerne. For instance, the sat-nav on the Genesis – a massive, modern-looking system – dwarfs the Azera's seven-inch unit in both size and design.

2011 Hyundai Azera Limited interior2011 Hyundai Azera Limited front seats2011 Hyundai Azera Limited door panel2011 Hyundai Azera Limited rear seats

So the Azera's interior is many meters short of segment leading, but there is some good news under the hood. Remember the part about the Azera and Genesis Sedan sharing the same engine? The Azera Limited's new 3.8-liter V6 churns out 283 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 263 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. (Lesser GLS models make do with a 3.3-liter V6 producing 260 hp and 233 lb-ft.). If you're thinking that the 3.8-liter provides a lot of pop for a sedan driven by its front wheels, you're right – particularly if you're slamming the go pedal from a dead stop. While bull riders would love that level of torque steer, we're less inclined to saddle up. But when you're already in motion, the extra punch is very welcome, and as an added bonus sounds damn good from the driver's seat.

When mated to its new, smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, the revised Lambda 3.8-liter V6 proves is very competent and impressively smooth – easily the best attribute the Azera has to offer. And all that power doesn't kill you at the pump, as the EPA rates the 3.8-liter V6-powered Azera at 27 miles per gallon on the highway and 19 mpg around town. We managed to average just under 22 mpg, mostly because we were "fully experiencing" the 3.8-liter engine.

2011 Hyundai Azera Limited engine

Dynamically, the Azera is competent for a vehicle that tips the scales at 3,585 pounds. Beyond its torque steer problem, Hyundai has managed to tie down the chassis to the extent that it doesn't offend an elderly buyer looking for a smooth ride. Body roll stays within an acceptable range, though our tester's 235/55VR17 Michelin rubber emitted predictably high levels of tire squeal when pushed. Steering was a bit heavier than we found at the helm of the similarly sized Avalon – generally a good thing – though any semblance of feel went undetected by our paws. Overall, the Azera feels just about how we'd expect a large family sedan to drive – not as tight as the Maxima and not as loose as the Avalon.

So we've established that the Azera shouldn't waste the application fee for any beauty contests, its interior could use some love and its powertrain is a strong suit. Is that enough to propel Hyundai's updated sedan past the "for a Hyundai" designation? In a word, no. Truth is, the competition from Toyota, Buick, Nissan and Ford has it all over the Azera in most every way. The closest the Azera comes to sniffing the winner's circle is with the Limited's excellent V6 engine, but this segment is chock-full of competent powertrains. And we'd argue that "for a Hyundai" isn't even fair to the marque's other products. Is it as good as a Sonata? The Genesis? No.

2011 Hyundai Azera Limited rear 3/4 view

So why has Hyundai decided to let it hang around? Even though it's been a slow seller, we hear that Hyundai has kept the Azera in its lineup for buyers who come in to sample the Sonata, only to walk away because its styling is too avant-garde. If that's the strategy at work, it also neatly explains the visual conservatization brought about with the car's 2011 facelift. Said another way, the Azera remains as a hedge bet for keeping elderly and more traditionally minded customers in the fold who are looking for comfortable full-size transportation with a good warranty. By that yardstick, it succeeds – but only just. In 2006, we would have called the Azera competent, affordable and perhaps even a bit surprising, but it's 2010, and these days we expect more.

Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Shunk / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      I still think this is a fine car. I don't think it's far behind the other Hyundais.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I agree. And the next one will finally seal the gap between it and the rest of the line-up.


        Looks really nice here.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I do.

        No direct injection. And probably variable valve timing on the intake cam only. It's an older Hyundai motor. 233lb-ft out of a 3.8L motor? BMW is getting 230lb-ft out of a 3.0 inline 6. Ford's getting 280lb-ft out of a 3.7L!

        Hyundai can do much, much better than this!
        • 4 Years Ago
        So what if its an older engine. Hyundai's bound to roll out the DI-V6 with the next-gen Genesis, and I'm sure ALL the models that use it are going to get the new hardware. This is a stopgap (at best) until the fluidic sculpture version and DI-V6 arrive in a few (2-3?) years. They had to do SOMETHING with this car until those elements were ready for market.
        • 4 Years Ago
        for hyundai to win this segment they must bring value and styling at the same time. and new azera with another fluidic sculpture design is coming soon. and it will be bigger sonata with big beefy v6.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Actually, Middle Way...

        The 3.8L makes 263 ft/lbs and the 3.3L makes 233 ft/lbs.

        It's called reading comprehension, get some.

        In addition, the BMW makes it's 230 ft/lbs on Premium Unleaded. Both of the Hyundai's don't require premium fuel to obtain their power figures.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The Azera straddles the divide between the old Hyundai and the new Hyundai. I think the next-gen Azera will be the one to look out for.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I agree. Even with the recent freshening it still looks dated to me...kind of like it could be an older Camry if you didn't look closely enough. That doesn't speak to its over competence/quality but first impressions being what they are, it's hard to ignore the car's design.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Man this car looks dated. I can't believe this came out in 2006, time flies! Can't wait for the next gen. Should be a knock-out.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I travel 40,000 miles annually and this model has fulfilled all of my desires without a single trouble other than usual maintenance. I wish they made this car in 4 by 4. http://www.fallonautomotiveashburn.com/
      • 4 Years Ago
      Needs more LEDs

      and maybe 245/45 18 tires on 8x18" with the 3.8 V6.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I like the older Azera center stack from like 2-3 years ago better.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Wrong. It had no available sat nav 3 years ago.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It was the same.
      • 4 Years Ago

      Thats one care that comes on my top 5 list." The Azera's headlights are pretty special, with the LED-encrusted, Audi-like elements begging for attention" that the best words i like the most. http://www.buybrakes.com/ebc/
      • 4 Years Ago
      The Azera has always been a rather conservative and bland looking car, which I actually liked if I was in my 50/60's. But now with the revised front and rear bumpers, this looks tacky like what Pontiac did in the last model year with their G6. Not good.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The new Azera will be coming out early next year. Why even do a review of the last face-lifted Azera when Hyundai doesn't even expect to sell many of them? Isn't it already obvious why Hyundai hasn't done much too this Azera? The new ones just around the corner... Duh ...
      • 4 Years Ago
      Can someone say Oldsmobile?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Have 2007 azera with louad altarnater noise . Any one haveing same?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Let's not beat up Hyundai on this "refresh" ... a new Azera is around the corner and this vehicle isn't a volume seller so it is unwise to spend much cash on one of the last vestiges of the "old Hyundai". I would contend that the Azera sells without advertising so just continue with the status quo until the new model - no one is harmed - and there are alternatives like the Sonata and Genesis - PLUS - I think this makes the Genesis look even better without a true competitor in the stable nibbling at a new upscale entry's ankles.

      No, this isn't a great refresh - but did it really need to be one?
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