2011 Hyundai Azera Introduction

The Hyundai Azera is improved for 2011, headlined by a new 6-speed automatic transmission. Azera offers a choice of two V6 engines, both of which offer improved fuel economy for 2011. Subtle styling revisions and minor interior refinements distinguish the 2011 Azera from the 2010 version.

Hyundai broke sales records through 2010. The Azera is a near-luxury sedan with front-wheel drive, and it's good enough to get the attention of the cars that rule the class, such as the Lexus ES 350, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus, and Buick LaCrosse.

The new 6-speed sequential automatic on the 2011 Azera is the lightest and most compact transmission of its kind, as Korean engineering leads the way on this one. The new 6-speed automatic comes standard on all models.

The Azera Limited uses a smooth and powerful 3.8-liter dohc V6 that makes 283 horsepower. Fuel economy with the 3.8-liter engine is EPA-rated at 19/27 miles per gallon City/Highway. Azera takes first-in-class on fuel mileage. After a total of 286 miles in an Azera Limited, including some stop-and-go L.A. freeway traffic, we averaged 25.6 mpg.

There's also a lower-priced 2011 Azera GLS that uses a smaller aluminum 3.3-liter V6 with all the same new-for-2011 technology, including four valves per cylinder, dual continuously variable valve timing, and variable intake system. The 2011 Azera GLS gets an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg, which represents an 11 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over the 2010 model.

The 6-speed automatic transmission, along with the smooth and powerful V6, are Azera's best features. The transmission is very well-behaved, kicking down no more than necessary, which isn't a lot with the good torque from the engine.

The Azera is not a sports sedan, it's a cruiser. The freeway ride is smooth, and it's good over speed bumps but it's not as good over sharper bumps like railroad tracks. Considering the market for this car, we'd call the ride and suspension on target. The brakes have good feel, within limits.

The Azera seats five. The leather seats are not exactly a sport fit, but more supportive than some, and adequate for the two three-hour stints we took behind the wheel. We found the gauges extremely pleasing. The speedo and tach are just right: organic white lettering with bright red needles, sharp and clear so the information jumps out at you. The design and layout of things like grab handles, door pockets, cupholders and storage compartments is about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, however. The navigation system, made for Hyundai by the Korean electronics company LG, is easy to program, but it led us astray a lot.

Azera's Achilles heel is styling. It's like a copy of the Lexus ES350 gone bad, or not quite pulled off, at least. Its looks give it the air of an old person's car, no matter how sharp and sporty the engine and transmission are. First launched as a 2006 model, the Azera replaced the XG350.

The warranty is a definite plus. It's 5 years and 60,000 miles, bumper to bumper.

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