Few automotive market segments have such a tightly defined target market as full-size sedans. And unlike minivans, SUVs and even musclecars, the real-life buyer profile of large cars is almost always this core set of consumers.
The full-size sedan buyer is in their mid-50s, seeks limo-large back-seat space, and wants the latest premium tech. All with a price cap of $40,000.
For their cash, full-size sedans typically deliver a huge bump in roominess versus their mid-size siblings, but sometimes with unintended consequences. After all, it is extremely tough for even the best carmakers to pack S-Class tech into a half-price offering. Engines and platforms of full-size cars can get seriously wobbly in full-size form, as well.
Hyundai’s Azera has long received scornful glances on the highway from this auto writer, but spending a week in the Azera has changed my tune completely.
In fact, we know for certain that the Azera’s drive manners, handling and tech suite top the segment-leading Toyota Avalon by a country mile. But how does the Azera compare with other diverse competitive sets? Is it special enough and big enough to justify a $5k price premium over the loaded Sonata? Or what about the big Genesis with its $38k base price? And versus the Buick LaCrosse?
And if all are vanquished… what about comparing the Azera with its dream crew: the Audi A6, BMW 535i and Mercedes-Benz E350?
All answers revealed below via Exterior, Interior, Performance and Pricing section heads.
2015 Hyundai AZERA Limited Review
We clearly loved the Azera and were very, very surprised with its competence on the road. From the driver’s seat, passenger seat and rear lounge… the Azera stuns with easy-going comfort, luxury and handling in fine balance.
But the style!? The style is a pretty big let-down. Two main reasons: LED functionality, and overall blah-ness of the grille and nose look.
Surplus of LEDs… Yet Limited Functionality
The style of the Azera is fully fresh all around for 2015, with flashy LED designs grabbing the eye with their angel-eye wrap around low-beam projectors and even LED fogs down below (on the loaded Limited trim only.)
Another headlamp LED accent lines the top of the headlamp unit in a fresh way, but there is a big catch to these premium-class style moves.
The Azera LEDs are not actually daytime running lights. This means the Azera’s default daytime look is lit LEDs in white, plus a garish yellow highbeam DRL. It looks really down-market on the road in default Auto mode. (This affliction also mars the Hyundai Santa Fe/Santa Fe Sport and the Genesis 3.8.)
In addition, there is no setting to just have the LED accents lit without any other lamp.
It might seem like a detail thing, but it really sticks with you. Why bother with those cool and clean LEDs, only to run a nasty highbeam DRL? Likely a safety concern, but one that does not bother premium LEDs in any BMW or Mercedes. Those vehicles are able to use the LED lights as intended: an always-on, always-visible safety feature.
We drove the Azera around with the parking lights on during the day, and all lights on at dusk or evenings…. just to get *some* of the cool style points these LEDs should deliver.
Awkward Grille and Nose Recalls Old Elantra, etc
The dark charcoal grey of the grille finish on the Azera is quite sexy and modern. But its shape in an ultra-wide stretch just looks too downmarket for our eyes. Not just downmarket, but like a distorted version of the previous-gen Sonata. Despite trying extensively, we never warmed to this nose look.
Around back, a fresh shoulder crease gives the Azera some rear-drive aspirations. The Bangle-style trunklid has an extremely bluff face to cars behind the Azera, while its overall shape can remind one of the BMW 745Li or Lexus LS460 — the mid-2000s models.
So not a huge fan of the Azera’s design. But luckily, the cabin, handling and tech of this Azera makes up for any extreme conservativeness outside.
This is a fantastic cabin. Finished in dark grey versus the very-posh tan we snapped at the Houston Auto Show, the Azera interior majors on total balance.
Pure and smooth ride, with extreme quietness at all times in light-throttle driving. The 3.3-liter V6 voices up on hard throttle, surging toward its redline with a snappy and sophisticated growl.
So what is just extra special inside the Azera? How does it stand so far above the Lexus ES350, Ford Taurus, Chevy Impala and Chrysler 300C?
Tough to identify one silver bullet, but overall, the Azera stands tall by hunkering down low. The Azera’s class-best driving position and full glass moonroof do wonders for your mood in the car.
Massive, massive slide and tilt ranges for the front seats mean we could get into the favored ‘gangsta-lean’ drive stance we love so much. Bum on the floor, seatback reclined a bit more than normal, and the steering-wheel out and down as far as it will stretch. To these all-car defaults, the Azera really scores a shot to the heart. (Through the posterior. But no mind…)
Azera ace in hole? Tilting the seat base up at the front unfurls a BMW and Mercedes tech detail that we always LOVE. What is this magic? The extendable seat base squab. Stretched out, the Azera seat holds your lower body and legs nearly down to the knee. No more perched driving positions more like a barstool than barcalounger.
Keeping to the seat and tactile areas, the buttery-soft leather of the steering wheel is not really matched in texture or smoothness by the seat leathers. Lastly, lack of any fore/aft adjustment for the headrest is something luxury makes always do well. But overall, the cabin and drive position far exceeds the Avalon and ES350.
A fresh shape to that steering wheel and center stack of the dash is actually incredibly soothing. Just a mellow, easy-going and relaxed luxury feel inside. One that is much, much fancier and calming than the Chrysler 300 Limited or Buick LaCrosse.
The giant tinted glass moonroof is also a highlight – literally. This vast piece of glass opens up and slides over the roof in a cool way; yet also avoids buffeting when open at high speeds.
Power shades are nice in summer sunlight to block the roof and rear glass letting in heat, while manual window shades for back passengers cover the while glass pretty tightly. Nice.
A jumbo back seat is par for the course in the full-size segment, and the Azera aces this test with big legroom, a well-finished console and plenty of air vents to keep comfy on long rides. Heated seats are a perk for backseaters, but they lack the powerful cooling of the front seats. Cooled seats are divine, by the way. A must-have feature. =]
Especially paired with the Azera’s really strong AC system. This AC cools the car in a snap — which is not something that can be taken for granted in South Carolina summers.
Just a love-fest in the cabin, then. Good stuff.
Okay, so we knew Hyundai has some sharply-styled models and fantastic cabins and tech in 2015. But in truth, we were planning for the worst when firing up the Azera for a drive.
SHOCK sets in right away at the incredibly well-tuned steering feel, throttle and brake inputs. This is a serious luxury car! Not a shimmy or a shudder to speak of as the Azera cruises around town. The chassis feels incredibly solid and rigid. This let Hyundai really tune the handling to excel beyond seven-tenths driving. The Azera can really haul a**, and haul a** with confidence.
The 293-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 is paired to a six-speed automatic driving the front wheels. A somewhat standard powertrain for sedans, then.
But what the Azera lacks in eight or nine-speed automatics or turbo engines, it makes up for with lunges of low-end torque and than zingy up the rev range on full throttle.
The Azera rides so well and so low-down that it makes the Chrysler 300 Limited feel like a bouncy castle in platform shoes. Something about the Azera handling tune is incredibly good — as we took to a gravel drive to demonstrate in the video above.
Where most front-drive luxo-boats fall apart is in hard driving around bumpy corners. This can expose chassis pogo-sticking (Chysler), giant flubbiness of disconnectedness over dips (Avalon), or a pure and simple anodyne sensory deprivation in the case of the Lexus ES.
There is one particular lumpy road we love to hit hard in all test cars. Front-drive sedans typically bounce and heave over these lumps, perhaps losing traction with spinning front tires, while the rear ends flump along behind like a zombie trailer is hiding out back. It is an odd turnoff that sets handling expectations low in the Avalon, Lexus ES and Chrysler 300. (The LaCrosse handles well in this test route.)
The Azera Limited’s 19-inch rubber helps deliver massive grip and stability around fast bends.
This Azera really has purity and Germanic feel to its handling. When it reaches its traction limits, understeer blends with a natural four-wheel-drift and even passive lift-off oversteer. It sounds bizarre to describe extreme handling traits that most owners will never notice or perhaps care about.
But you know what we mean, hopefully. Pushing the Azera hard is actually pretty fun and rewarding.
The Azera comes in two models: the $34k Azera standard and the loaded Azera Limited from $38k. All in with delivery, the Azera Limited comes in at $39,000 even — and feels like dynamite value considering its long tech-quipment list, comfy seating and BMW-like handling.
Explore pricing and colors over at Hyundai.com linked below. And book a test-drive of this car! It is that good.
That’s right, ladies and gentleman. The Azera is not just a front-drive Audi clone in its drive manners — with a rock-solid ride the only way to ensure autobahn manners. This Azera corners like a BMW 5 series! It really does, with the throttle, steering, brakes and suspension all in sync. The Azera still breathes and coasts like a dream luxury barge all while driving with Euro poise — so it really is win/win.
A total turnabout for Hyundai Azera expectations, then. We were initially drawn to its Gatling-gun LED style, but by the end came to love it for its inner beauty and easy — yet top-notch — infotainment and safety features.
So versus the Sonata? Definitely worth the price jump for those who love a big back seat and a wide cabin up front.
But versus the Genesis? That is a trickier question. Stay tuned for next week’s drive review to hear even more effusive praise at Hyundai’s 2015 luxury sedan excellence.
What do you think?