Sunday, August 27, 2006

Azera is Hyundai's Best Effort Yet


Speed is a relative term. Indy cars turn laps at an average of just under 230 mph. Funny cars exceed 300 mph in the quarter mile. Fast, yes, but nothing compared to the Mach 2+ capability of the F22 Raptor.

Then there is South Korean automaker Hyundai, which has gone from joke to Azera about as quickly as it is possible to do in the auto industry. Remember those bargain-basement Excels? The only thing the Azera shares with those cars is the Hyundai label.

To put it most succinctly, the Azera is a handsome mid-size near-luxury sedan that combines outstanding performance, a roomy, comfortable interior and an abundance of standard comfort, safety and convenience packages at an extremely affordable price. Hyundai ought to sell every Azera it can build.

Here’s why: First, take the performance produced by the 3.8 liter, 263 horsepower version of Hyundai’s familiar Lambda V-6. This responsive, smooth-revving powerplant is mated with a manumatic five-speed automatic transmission. Punch the go pedal and the Azera will scoot from zero to 60 mph in 6.39 seconds.

More important, the engine eagerly flings the Azera forward in mainly mid-range romps, yet provides quiet and economical power for around-town driving and daily commuting. Assuming it proves to be reliable over the long-term, this V-6 could rival those from Nissan and Honda for top-ranking.

The Azera’s passenger cabin is generous in providing room for five adults. There is perhaps not quite as much headroom as taller occupants would likely seek, but space in other directions is excellent. The instrument panel is simple and straight-forward, with electro-luminescent gauges that could be taken straight out of a Lexus.

The climate and entertainment controls are in the center of the instrument panel and are located high enough to be easily seen and reached. The standard stereo is a 315 watt unit that produces high-quality sound.

Speaking of sound, the Azera sounds and feels extremely tight on the road and suggests the same kind of quiet, confident quality one encounters in much more expensive vehicles. On the intangible “feel” scale, this Hyundai tops the chart.

The standard safety equipment list is lengthy, including eight air bags, traction control, electronic stability control, active head restraints and anti-lock brakes. And there is that 100,000 mile Hyundai powertrain warranty. All for $28,415.Toyota, Honda – you’ve been warned.