Pros: Ultra-modern styling inside and out; buttery ride; great front seats; limo-like back seat; features galore.

Cons: V6 could be stronger; price range overlaps with Genesis luxury sedan.

What's New: The 2013 Azera is unchanged, but the EPA has found an extra mile per gallon on the highway, allowing the Azera to join the 30-mpg club.

Introduction

If you haven't been paying attention to large sedans over the past few years, the 2013 Hyundai Azera has some surprises in store. Now entering its second year of production, the current Azera is much more interesting than the previous model--a generic Korean cruiser that most folks have forgotten already. Indeed, it's as if Hyundai put the word "generic" up on a whiteboard and said to the Azera team, "There won't be any more of that."

The boldness starts with the rakish yet graceful exterior, which makes conventional competitors such as the Chevrolet Impala look like cars from an earlier era. Then there's the futuristic dashboard, which is a festival of curves and slopes that's more spaceship than sedate luxury sedan. Hyundai even throws in a standard telematics suite called BlueLink, which can read your text messages aloud to you, among other nifty features.

Don't worry, the Azera still nails big-car basics, providing a pillow-soft ride, light steering, and a cosseting back seat. But this Hyundai clearly isn't for folks who want to stay the course. It's for those who look at other large sedans and see a serious lack of innovation.

There's one Azera drawback worth mentioning here, and it's the Hyundai Genesis, a rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan aimed squarely at the world's best. The Genesis boasts a stronger 3.8-liter V6, and you can get into one for about the same price as a loaded Azera.

But the Azera is newer than the Genesis, and it looks and feels the part. We think that anyone shopping for an affordable luxury sedan should give the Azera a chance. Full of pleasant surprises, the 2013 Azera just might change the way you think about Hyundai.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Hyundai Azera is offered in one well-equipped trim level that includes 18-inch alloy wheels; fog lights; keyless entry with push-button start; dual-zone automatic climate control; a tilt-telescopic steering wheel; leather upholstery; 8-way power front seats with driver lumbar adjustment; heated front and rear seats; iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity; the Blue Link telematics system; and a 7-in touchscreen that controls the navigation and standard audio systems.

The only option is a comprehensive technology package that adds 19-in alloy wheels, Xenon headlamps, a panoramic sunroof, an Infinity audio system, a power tilt-telescopic steering column, cooled front seats and a nifty power-inflating thigh support for the driver's seat.

In our interior evaluation, we found the Azera's front seats to be unusually supportive for this segment, even featuring some lateral bolstering. We're fans. The tilt-telescopic steering column has plenty of adjustability for a variety of driver sizes, and the gauges are electroluminescent for luxury-class clarity.

Form has clearly trumped function on Azera's swoopy central control panel, but the various buttons are logically grouped. We suspect owners will acclimate quickly. And the whole dashboard looks exceptionally sharp and sophisticated, so we can live with that learning curve. Material quality is what we'd consider "Sonata-plus," which means it's average-plus for this class but short of Genesis-grade.

The Azera's heated back seat is one of our favorites in any car. Legroom is expansive, the bottom cushion is high and plush like a good easy chair's and headroom is satisfactory even for tall folks--this despite the Azera's sloped rear roofline. Trunk space is also generous at 16.3 cu-ft.

Technology

With standard iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as a navigation system with a 7-in touchscreen, the Azera meets most of the technology needs. We've found the touchscreen fairly intuitive to use, if not as aesthetically pleasing as some. But we'd like to see the Infinity audio system come standard on every Azera. We respect the huge strides Hyundai's made over the past few years, but full-size sedan shoppers care about value, and we feel it's fair to expect premium audio in a $32,000-plus vehicle.

Unexpectedly, the Azera comes standard with a nifty new telematics system called Blue Link. Notable services include voice-recognition software that converts your spoken words to text messages (compatible smartphone required), monthly reports on vehicle performance and maintenance, emergency roadside assistance at the push of a button, point-of-interest searches for nearby restaurants and more.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive Azera is powered by a 3.3-liter V6 rated at 293 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a 6-speed automatic. This V6's output numbers are fully competitive, but the Avalon and Impala subjectively feel stronger with their larger-displacement V6--and the Sonata's 2.0-liter turbo inline-4, by the way, is stronger. Although the Azera's V6 fails to raise the bar, it's an admirably refined motor that should please most drivers.

Fuel economy is pleasant, too, at 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway.

Safety

The 2013 Hyundai Accent comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and nine airbags (front, front-side, driver knee, rear-side, full-length side curtain).

The government had not crash tested the Azera as of this writing, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Azera its highest rating of Good in all crash tests.

Driving Impressions

The Azera is all about comfort and isolation from the elements. Road and wind noise are minimal, and the soft suspension filters out impacts from all but the roughest roads. Less optimally, the steering feels isolated (artificially so) and there's a bunch of body roll in corners. We have to give the Azera's suspension engineers their due, as the Azera is actually reasonably athletic for a full-size sedan once you get used to that body roll.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Impala - The venerable Impala is the polar opposite of the Azera in terms of style, and it's due for replacement in 2014. Still, it has a great 3.6-liter V6, and you can probably get one on the cheap.

Hyundai Genesis - Sorry, Hyundai, but the prices overlap, so we had to say it. The rear-wheel-drive Genesis is a heckuva car, even in its most basic V6-powered form.

Toyota Avalon - New for 2013, the reinvented Avalon is a sedan after the Azera's own heart, boasting attractive styling and lots of technology. It also has Toyota's lovely 3.5-liter V6, and there's even a Hybrid option.

AutoTrader Recommends

The technology package features are certainly desirable, but we have a harder time making a case for the Azera at an MSRP of over $36,000. So we'd take the base car, which serves as an intriguing alternative to top-of-the-line family sedans.

In November 2012, Kia and Hyundai adjusted the fuel economy ratings on some 2011-2013 models. This article has been modified to reflect the accurate EPA ratings.


author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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