Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hyundai's 2006 Azera flagship is value-priced, premium sedan

Compare the Hyundai Azera to the Toyota Avalon and Buick Lucerne BASE PRICE: Estimated $24,800 for base SE; estimated $26,900 for Limited. AS TESTED: Estimated $29,400. TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, large sedan. ENGINE: 3.8-liter, dual overhead cam V6. MILEAGE: 18 mpg (city), 27 mpg (highway). TOP SPEED: 146 mph.LENGTH: 192.7 inches. WHEELBASE: 109.4 inches.CURB WEIGHT: Estimated 3,750 pounds. BUILT AT: South Korea. OPTIONS: Ultimate package (includes power sunroof, power adjustable pedals, rain-sensing wipers, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, upgraded Infinity audio system with in-dashboard, six-CD changer) estimated $1,900. DESTINATION CHARGE: Estimated $600. Add another Hyundai to the shopping list. With the release this month of Hyundai's new flagship sedan, the 2006 Azera, the South Korean automaker offers another noteworthy model for American car shoppers - this time for buyers of near-luxury to entry-luxury large sedans. The five-passenger Azera is an attractively styled, V6-powered car with a quiet cabin, plentiful standard convenience features, more interior volume than a Toyota Avalon and more standard safety equipment, including eight airbags, stability control and traction control, than a Buick LaCrosse or Buick Lucerne. The Azera also comes with Hyundai's industry-leading warranty coverage that includes a limited powertrain warranty that lasts for 10 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. Hyundai officials have not publicly announced final pricing yet, but they expected the base Azera SE would have a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price under $25,000. This compared with a starting price of the car it replaces, the 2005 Hyundai XG350 sedan, of $24,899. With destination charge added, the XG350's total starting price was $25,494. Hyundai officials said the top-of-the-line Azera, the Limited model, is likely to start around $27,000. In comparison, the competing 2006 Toyota Avalon has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $27,165 for a base XL model. The 2006 Buick LaCrosse starts at $23,595 for a base CX, while the 2006 Lucerne starts at $26,990 for a base CX. The Azera rides on a stretched version of the front-wheel-drive platform used by Hyundai's mid-size sedan, the Sonata. Styling is attractive and upscale. This is the first Hyundai with light-emitting diode taillamps, which are normally found on pricier luxury cars. There's nothing bold and brazen here like you find on a Chrysler 300 large sedan. Indeed, the Azera rides on relatively modestly sized wheels and tires: 16- and 17-inchers. Most intriguing, the Azera doesn't look like a large sedan, even though it's classified as one by the Environmental Protection Agency. For example, at 16 feet long, the Azera is 4.5 inches shorter than the Avalon. But the Azera's 106.9 cubic feet of passenger volume matches that of the Avalon, and the Azera's trunk is larger, with 16.6 cubic feet of space versus the 14.4 cubic feet in the Avalon. Headroom is commendable in the Azera, with even back-seat riders having 38.2 inches of room. This compares with 37.2 inches in Buick's LaCrosse back seat. Even the larger Buick sedan coming to showrooms later this year, the Lucerne, offers a bit less rear-seat headroom of 37.6 inches. Front-seat legroom in the Azera matches or bests that of other premium, family-sized sedans. For example, front-seat legroom of 43.7 inches in the Azera is greater than the 42.5 inches in the Lucerne and the 41.3 inches in the Avalon. But the Azera's rear-seat legroom of 38.2 inches is less than the 41 inches in the Lucerne and the 40.9 inches in the Avalon. The Azera also has a bit less hiproom than the Lucerne and Avalon. In real world driving, the test Azera Limited, a top-line model estimated to be priced under $30,000 with options, had such comfortable seats with soft leather, front and back, I had no trouble settling in. In fact, the interior seemed exceedingly inviting for a car at this price. The nicely arranged, large buttons and knobs that controlled the ventilation system and audio from the center part of the dashboard reminded me of those in a Lexus car. The Azera Limited's mixed wood-and-leather steering wheel and wood-trimmed gearshift lever seemed to have been plucked from a luxury car, too. And there are thoughtful touches, such as assist handles above the doors that are damped so they don't clunk noisily back into place. Front-seat head restraints not only are adjustable for height, they can be positioned forward and back, closer or farther away from a passenger's head. The rear seatback splits 60/40 and can fold down, allowing room for long items to fit into the trunk. And the Azera hood is raised - and held up in place - by a hydraulic arm, not a manual stalk. The ride is cushioned but not isolating. The Azera's front independent, double wishbone suspension and rear independent, multi-link suspension - both with stabilizer bars - keep bumps from jolting passengers but still give the driver confident handling. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering can adjust the steering effort needed as engine speed picks up, but it still seemed to need too light of a touch for my taste. I never lacked for responsive power from the Azera's 263-horsepower, 3.8-liter, double overhead cam V6 with continuously variable valve timing and 255 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. Indeed, Hyundai said the Azera's 0-to-6-mile-an-hour time of 6.5 seconds makes it the fastest Hyundai yet. This is a new Hyundai engine, considered the 'big brother" of the 3.3-liter V6 used in the Sonata. In the Azera, the 3.8-liter V6 uses regular gasoline and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with smooth shifts and a shift-it-yourself manumatic mode. Engine sounds are mostly muted during cruising, as you'd expect in a premium family sedan. When heard during acceleration, the engine conveyed a strong, satisfying sound in the test car but wasn't overbearing. The Azera's performance numbers aren't far from the 268 horses and 245 foot-pounds of torque at 4,700 rpm that come from the 3.5-liter V6 in the Avalon. It's also more than the Buick LaCrosse, which has two V6 offerings. The Azera, however, doesn't include a V8, while the Buick Lucerne will be available with an uplevel, 270-horsepower V8 capable of 290 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. The Azera's fuel economy isn't anything to brag about. This car is rated at 18 miles a gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway. This is less than the 22/31-mpg rating for the 2006 Avalon. In recent model years, Hyundai has made a name for itself with its generous standard safety features, and the Azera is no exception. The car's eight airbags include not only side curtain airbags for both front and rear seats but rear-seat airbags that deploy out of the sides of the seats to provide protection in side crashes. The Avalon, LaCrosse and Lucerne do not include these rear-seat airbags, though the Avalon has a driver knee airbag that deploys during a frontal crash to help ensure a driver doesn't slide forward and get mis-positioned in the seat. Stability control and traction control also are available on the Avalon but are not standard on all models as they are on the Azera. The Azera has been on sale for months in South Korea, where sales have outpaced the Hyundai Sonata. There has been no safety recall of the new Azera, and no crash test rating is available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And Consumer Reports magazine does not list a reliability rating. Source: Associated Press / Always remember to visit for latest deals available Gary Rome Hyundai , Hyundai Accessory Store and Hyundai Performance Auto Parts.

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