If you haven't been paying attention to large sedans over the past few years, the 2014 Hyundai Azera has some surprises in store. Now entering its third year of production, the current Azera is massively more interesting than the previous model, a generic Korean cruiser that most folks have already forgotten. 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, a festival of curves and slopes that's more spaceship than sedate luxury sedan. Hyundai even throws in a standard telematics suite called Blue Link that can read your text messages aloud to you, among other nifty features.

Don't worry, the Azera still nails big-car basics like 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. Rather, it's for those who look at other sedans and see a lack of innovation. Full of pleasant surprises, the 2014 Azera just might change the way you think about Hyundai.

What's New for 2014?

The Azera lineup expands to two trim levels for 2014: base and Limited. The starting price is lower by $1,250 this year, though the base model has lost some standard content.

What We Like

Ultra-modern styling inside and out; buttery ride; great front seats; limolike back seat; features galore

What We Don't

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

How Much?

$31,895-$35,645

Fuel Economy

The front-wheel-drive Azera is motivated by a 3.3-liter V6 engine rated at 293 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a 6-speed automatic.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Azera is good for 19 miles per gallon city/29 mpg hwy, a respectable showing for a large V6-powered sedan.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Hyundai Azera is offered in base or Limited trim.

The base Azera ($31,895) starts with 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, keyless entry with push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped tilt-telescopic steering wheel, leather upholstery, a 10-way power driver seat and 8-way power passenger seat, heated front seats, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, the Blue Link telematics system, a rearview camera, a 6-in touchscreen and a 6-speaker audio system.

The Limited ($35,645) adds power-folding side mirrors, xenon headlights, a 12-way power driver seat, a power-adjustable steering wheel, driver memory functions, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, interior ambient lighting, a color LCD driver information display, a navigation system with an 8-in touchscreen and a 14-speaker Infinity audio system with HD radio.

The Limited's optional Premium package ($2,150) throws in 19-in alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, a power rear sunshade and manual rear side window sunshades.

Trunk space in the Azera measures a generous 16.3 cu ft.

Safety

The 2014 Azera 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). A driver's blind spot mirror is also standard, while rear parking sensors are optional.

In crash tests conducted by the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Azera received the top rating of Good across the board.

Behind the Wheel

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 hey, the whole dashboard looks exceptionally sharp and sophisticated, so we can live with that learning curve. Materials 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 back seat (with available seat heaters!) 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, despite the Azera's sloped rear roofline.

Under the hood, the V6's output numbers are fully competitive, but the Avalon and Impala subjectively feel stronger with their larger-displacement motors. The Sonata's available 2.0-liter turbo inline-4, by the way, isn't far behind -- if at all. Still, although the Azera's V6 fails to raise the bar, it's an admirably refined motor that should please most drivers. There's plenty of smooth power for passing and merging, and that's largely what matters in this segment.

On the road, Azera is all about comfort and isolation from the elements. Road and wind noise are minimal, while the soft suspension filters out impacts from all but the roughest roads. Less optimally, the steering feels isolated despite some claimed improvements for 2014, and there's a bunch of body roll in corners. We have to give the Azera's suspension engineers their due, though, 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 -- Redesigned and massively improved, the handsome new Impala is a compelling car, though it lacks the Azera's adventurous styling (for better or worse).

Hyundai Genesis -- Sorry Hyundai, but the prices overlap, so we had to say it. The rear-wheel-drive 2014 Genesis luxury sedan is a heckuva car, even in its most basic V6-powered form, and a full redesign awaits for 2015.

Toyota Avalon -- The 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 now.

AutoTrader's Advice

While the Azera is a genuine bargain in base form, the Limited's elevated price pits it against some formidable foes. We'd stick with the base Azera and keep the rest in the bank.

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