2006 Azera New Car Test Drive
The 2006 Hyundai Azera is an all-new, full-size sedan and it is a remarkable car. The powertrain is state of the art. The 3.8-liter V6 engine features variable valve timing for low emissions and a broad power curve, while the five-speed automatic gives the driver the option of shifting semi-manually, all very competitive with Lexus, Infiniti and Acura. While there's nothing especially striking in design or styling, take off the Hyundai badge, and it'll pass as family to any one of those Pacific Rim nameplates.
Inside, fit and finish set a new standard for the marque, with quality materials and assembly. There's a quiet elegance in the simplicity of the instruments, usability of the controls and sleekness of design. What isn't readily visible received the same attention as what is, with hardware studiously hidden away and storage bins fully finished. All is not perfection. Some faux leather feels more like vinyl than bovine. But the overall presentation is quite upscale.
At a more practical level, the Azera equals or betters the competition in standard equipment, with special emphasis on safety. Eight airbags are standard, as are electronic stability control, traction control, antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and active front seat head restraints. Rain-sensing windshield wipers, more commonly found only on high-end cars, are optional.
In design and styling, creature comforts, powertrain and those all-important safety features, the Azera offers as much or more than anything else in the class, and at a lower price.
Azera marks a new venture for the South Korea-based carmaker. It's a move upmarket, to compete with the likes of the Toyota Avalon, the Nissan Maxima, the Buick LaCrosse, and the Mercury Milan. Rumors abound that it's the proverbial toe in the water as Hyundai contemplates joining Honda, Nissan and Toyota in creating a stand-alone luxury brand, along the lines of Acura, Infiniti and Lexus. If the Azera is what Hyundai can do with an entry-level luxury car, imagine what it could do with a car costing half again as much.
Hyundai makes it easy to pick your Azera, offering only two models, the SE ($24,335) and the Limited ($26,835). The same engine, a 3.8-liter, 263-horsepower V6 with variable valve timing, powers both and drives the front wheels through a five-speed, Shiftronic automatic transmission.
The SE comes with dual-zone climate control; cloth upholstery, four-way driver and two-way passenger power front seats; power windows, mirrors and central locking with keyless remote; leather-trimmed, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and shift knob; cruise control; AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with steering wheel-mounted controls; bi-level front center console; 16-inch wheels. The SE Premium Package ($1,600) adds a power tilt-and-slide sunroof, premium stereo with in-dash, 6CD changer, heated front seats. Dealer accessories include floor mats ($85); wheel locks ($40); sunroof wind deflector ($80); trunk floor mat ($90); and composite cargo tray ($90).
The Limited steps up with leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, woodgrain and leather-wrapped steering wheel, powered rear sunshade, 17-inch wheels and Michelin tires. The Limited Premium Package ($1500) adds the power sunroof and premium stereo. The Ultimate Package ($2500) includes the sunroof and stereo plus power adjustable pedals and tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, memory for the driver's seat, mirrors, and steering column, rain-sensing wipers and power folding outside mirrors.
Safety features are comprehensive, including state-of-the-art frontal airbags, full-coverage side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, active head restraints for the front seats, and LATCH child safety seat anchors. All five seating positions have adjustable head restraints and three-point belts; the front seatbelts have pre-tensioners and height-adjustable shoulder loops. Active safety features for crash avoidance include antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), electronic stability control and traction control.