Hyundai’s first effort at a large, well appointed sedan, the XG300 and XG350, failed to lure fans of rivals like the Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima in big numbers. So, what did Hyundai do? Well, they tried again, with a new flagship 4-door, and a new name, the Azera. It’s sleeker, more powerful, and is Hyundai’s biggest car yet. But does it have what it takes to draw a crowd?

Hyundai is a car maker on the rise. From sales to quality, everything has improved dramatically over the last decade. And the all-new 2006 Azera mid-size sedan is meant to direct that momentum further upscale.

Appropriate for a premium flagship, the Azera rides on a new chassis that’s 68-percent stiffer than the XG350. Size-wise the Azera is only slightly bigger, the 109.4-inch wheelbase is up just over an inch, while even less has been added to the overall length.

The platform, with standard electronic stability control, traction control, and four-channel all-disc ABS brakes, rides on the currently popular front double wishbone and rear multi-link suspension layout with 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Like most premium sedans, the Azera boasts standard V6 power. In this case an enlarged 3.8-liter V6, that also adds variable valve timing. It delivers 263 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. That’s 69 horses more than the XG, and on par with major competitors. Likewise the only transmission choice is a 5-speed with manual shift mode.

Our first driving impressions were drawn from a quick tour of southern California, where we immediately agreed that Azera is a step up the refinement ladder over the XG350.

For a start, it is much quieter on almost all types of roads. Only California’s notorious concrete freeway hop produced significant road noise. There wasn’t much of a sound from the engine bay, as the new V6 delivered good low end and strong midrange for passing. Only when you really punch the pedal is there any vibration and buzz.
O to 60 sprints are estimated at 6.5 seconds, a fine result and over a second faster than the XG350. The Azera also delivers a smoother, better controlled ride. It’s softer than a Nissan Maxima, but not quite as fluffy as an Avalon.

Handling has improved too, although still well short of sporty. The chassis responds quite nimbly, turning in more like a Maxima than an Avalon, though the moderate body roll is still a bit much for our taste. And while the engine speed sensitive power steering is quick, it also lacks feel. In short, Azera fits neatly between its main rivals in mature manners.

The Azera has picked up a lot of polish in styling, as well. It’s more organic, with crisper, more upscale lines. The look is still very conservative, however. With the wider rear quarters reminding us of a hatchback, this sedan won’t light up those drawn to the more adventurous Maxima.

The inviting interior is also slicker, bigger, and safer. Eight airbags are standard with both SE and Limited trim, including full head curtain protection, and class-leading side-impact airbags in the back as well as the front. The layout is handsome and boardroom-like, with luxury touches like wood trim on the doors, dash, and steering wheel.

Standards for the top Limited model include wide seats with leather, heat, and 8-way power for the driver. There’s also a standard CD/MP3 audio, with an optional 10-speaker Infinity upgrade. Climate controls are dual automatic with a particulate filter, and gauges are big and easy to read with Lexus-style electrochromic dials.

The rear seat is quite roomy with real adult size leg room. Headroom is also good, unless you order the optional sunroof. The 60/40 seat back splits and folds neatly, for access to a spacious, well trimmed 16.6 cubic-foot trunk, that, by the way, is larger than either Avalon or Maxima.

But the prices are expected to be smaller. While not yet finalized, the Azera will start at under $25,000 for the SE model and under $27,000 for the Limited. This fits in perfectly with Hyundai’s long standing strategy of offering higher content, while undercutting entrenched rivals on price and warranty. Azera’s powertrain protection runs 10-years and 100,000 miles.

The 2006 Azera is more stylish, more refined, with more room, power, and features than earlier Hyundai sedans. And compared to not only its premium rivals, but also to entry level luxury sedans, it is a high quality bargain. The Azera makes a very strong case for itself, and is yet another example of how Hyundai keeps on trying until they succeed.



  • Engine: 3.8-Liter V6
  • Horsepower: 263
  • Torque: 255 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 6.5 Seconds