1. What’s new for 2015?
A move upscale for a full-size sedan already doing a fair impression of an entry-luxury car. Base and Limited trim levels return, with the base gaining as standard the navigation system previously exclusive to the Limited. Both catch up to top competitors by finally getting blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert; it’s newly standard, along with a trunklid that can open automatically when you stand behind the car. Front-end styling is subtly updated and so is the dashboard.
2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?
The South Korean automaker keeps it simple, with just the two models and, for 2015, incorporating the previously optional $2,150 Premium Package into the Limited’s standard features. There are essentially no factory options. The base Azera is priced at $34,895 and the Limited at $39,095. Both figures include Hyundai’s $895 destination fee. With amenities such as leather upholstery, heated and cooled power front seats and heated rear seats already standard, Azera undercuts similarly equipped versions of rivals like the Buick LaCrosse and Toyota Avalon, even the Kia Cadenza, its mechanical twin from Hyundai’s affiliate brand. It flies well under the general public’s radar, so dealers will be thrilled you’re interested and are quite apt to negotiate. A good deal would be at least 8 percent below base price, or around $32,095 for a base model and $35,965 for a Limited. With some haggling, chances are good you’ll do even better.
3. When will the next big change be?
The Azera nameplate came to the U.S. for the 2006 model year and today’s version belongs to the second-generation design, launched for model-year 2012. The ’15 updates constitute a mid-cycle freshening and the car probably will continue with little or no additional changes until its next full redesign. That’s likely for model-year 2018, though if demand stays low, some reports speculate Hyundai may not bring a third generation to the U.S.
4. What options or trim level is best for me?
With good deals abundant, Azera buyers have tended toward the Limited model, maximizing features for just a relatively modest price hike over a base model. With this year’s upgrades, though, the base version is an even more attractive deal, highlighted by a very good navigation system with a bright 8-inch screen. Heated power folding mirrors, a 14-speaker Infinity audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview backup camera, remote entry with pushbutton start, and 18-inch alloy wheels continue as standard. We’d still press the dealer for a low price on a Limited, however. It enhances the base version with LED fog lamps and is the only way you can get an Azera with lane-departure and forward-collision warning, xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, and 19-inch alloys.
5. What engine do you recommend?
There’s only one choice, a 293-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 linked to a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. It’s a smooth, responsive powertrain, well-suited to this car.
6. How is the fuel economy?
Midpack, with EPA ratings of 19/29/23 mpg city/highway/combined. That’s despite the automaker’s impressive campaign to lighten its vehicles; indeed, this sedan weighs 100-300 pounds than most similarly configured rivals. However, competitors are moving quickly to more efficient automatic transmissions with seven, nine, even 10 gear ratios, and some offer mileage-maximizing turbocharged four-cylinder engines and hybrid powertrains.
7. How does the Azera handle?
The powertrain outshines the suspension and steering systems, which Hyundai’s been tweaking in a quest for a better controlled, more compliant ride and more natural feeling steering. Smooth-road cruising is stable, but there’s an on-center numbness to the steering and an artificial build-up of effort as you change direction. Everyday handling is just fine, but rapid cornering can trigger unseemly noseplow.
8. Are the controls easy to use?
Yes. The dashboard is attractively shaped with controls logically organized, generously size, and clearly identified. Redundant audio, Bluetooth, and voice-command functions are also nicely presented on the steering wheel. And the center console hosts a shift lever and seat-heating/cooling buttons that, like all the controls, move with a smooth, solid action.
9. Is it comfortable?
Yes. Passenger-compartment volume tops the competitive set, even edging out the Cadenza, which puts a slightly longer body on this same 112-inch wheelbase. The seats are generously sized front and rear and balance cushioning and support in equal measure. Interior-materials quality is also a cut-above, if below that of genuine luxury cars, including Hyundai’s own larger, more expensive Genesis. Azera’s trunk is average for the class, but a still-sizable 16.3 cubic feet. Wind, road, and mechanical noises are well-muffled to create a quiet cabin. The Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger, and Avalon are among rivals that absorb bumps with less harshness.
10. What about safety?
We’re delighted to see blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert finally arrive but disappointed that lane-departure and forward-collision warning are confined to the Limited model. And Azera still lacks crash avoidance and mitigation features such as lane-keep assist or automatic braking. Neither the current-generation Azera nor its Cadenza cousin have undergone crash testing under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 5-star rating system. However, the influential, insurance-industry-funded Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) grants the Hyundai “good” ratings in frontal-, car-to-car front-corner, and side-impact tests, as well as roof-crush and head-protection tests. “Good” is the IIHS’s top rating for cars not yet subjected to its “small overlap test,” which is designed to emulate what happens when a vehicle’s left-front corner strikes a pole or tree.
11. How’s reliability and resale value?
Azera earns the top rating for initial quality and ranks above average for reliability from J.D. Power, the No. 1 automotive owner-survey source. As a brand, Hyundai rated quite high for initial quality, slotting fourth in the 2014 Power rankings (the latest available), finishing just behind Lexus and ahead of Toyota. Resale value is relatively strong, with Azera earning four out of five stars in residual value by the car-value forecasting experts, ALG.
12. Is it better than the competition?
The purchase decision here likely will come down to styling and perceived value for the money. This is one of the handsomest sedans on the road, with refined lines flowing over contemporary proportions. And true to Hyundai’s market strategy, you’ll be impressed when you compare the level of standard equipment against that of like-priced rivals. But shortcomings in ride and handling are evident to the keen driver. And the Hyundai brand still may be an outlier to mainstream shoppers. Overall, we rank the Impala and Avalon ahead of Azera among front-wheel-drive rivals, while the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger are enticing alternatives if you appreciate the handling balance of a rear-wheel-drive-based design — and both are available with the all-weather security of all-wheel drive.