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Review: 2014 Hyundai Azera Limited (4th place)

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This review is part of a ten-car comparison of large sedans. The Azera is ranked fourth place of ten.

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4th Place: 2014 Hyundai Azera Limited
Summary review

Until recently, the Hyundai Azera – like other Hyundais designed in the mid to late 2000s – was a pleasant and comfortable sedan without eye-catching looks or sporty driving dynamics.

Hyundai set out to change that in the car's 2013-model redesign. The Azera now has sharper edges and a more distinctive look – especially in the cabin – and a firmer ride that yields more responsive handling. The overhaul also yielded modern cabin technology and greatly improved gas mileage while retaining relatively affordable pricing.

But some notable – and almost bizarre – mistakes hold back a car that held a great deal of promise. Headroom is oddly lacking, and the height-adjustable front seats don't go down low enough to address this. The newly distinctive dashboard looks nothing like the competition, but it does look a lot like a $17,000 Hyundai Elantra's, except with less user-friendly ergonomics. And although the car still isn't sporty, ride quality has become too stiff.

There's a lot to like about the Azera. Cushy seats, a hushed ride, an excellent powertrain, a lack of bulkiness, and a relatively low price – just over $32,059 out the door – are compelling. Had Hyundai not goofed on seemingly simple matters, the Azera could have won this comparison. But Hyundai did, so it does not.

Smooth to drive

While imperfect, there's a certain polished smoothness to the Azera's operations. Operating the accelerator and the brake have a reassuring lack of jerkiness or disconnection compared to several competitors, and there's a directness to the steering that makes the car feel agile when it's not pushed too hard.

The Azera also benefits from outstanding noise suppression that puts most of the others in this competition to shame; and a smooth, powerful, and relatively economical 293-horsepower V6. EPA fuel economy ratings of 23 miles per gallon in mixed driving are class-competitive in a class with high standards; in a weeklong test, this reviewer observed 25.3 mpg.

What's sadly not smooth is the ride quality. Perhaps blame the tested Azera's 19-inch wheels, or perhaps suspension tuning designed to make it sporty. Many recent Hyundais have struggled to provide particularly comfortable rides, and that's particularly notable in this market segment. The Azera's ride quality isn't terrible, and a curiously high number of competitors also fall short, but it slams over bumps that a car in this class really ought to take in stride.

The Azera also loses its natural feel when you drive it harder. The steering that feels well-weighted and eager in gentle conditions can become numb and vague if you take a turn fast. You navigate a cloverleaf interchange by watching where the car goes and adjusting accordingly, rather than getting feedback through the steering wheel. Some competing large sedans feel clumsy in ordinary driving, but they lose their poise less quickly than this Hyundai.

Shaky interior design

On the Azera's driver door panel, the power window switches sit too far back, forcing the driver to awkwardly twist his or her arm to reach them. A large door pull instead occupies the place they would normally go. This is a seemingly small point, but it is emblematic of the careless mistakes that Hyundai really should be too developed to still make.

Hyundai also perhaps went too far in its efforts to be unique with the dashboard design. Too many curves, too many different types of materials, and, overall, too much similarity to much cheaper Hyundai models that similarly try to be different. Styling gimmicks do work to make an economy car stand out from the crowd; in this class, a more mature appearance would be appropriate. So, too, would richer materials – the Azera hardly feels cheap inside, and trim pieces fit together well, but the competition's more generous use of leather (or at least convincing imitations) leaves the Azera's plastics behind.

The Azera's instrument panel is dominated by a huge knob that serves as the power button and volume control for the audio system. While this is far superior to cars that tuck away this simple function, the space could have been better used. A radio tuning knob, for instance, would not be out of place. And in one other niggle, the small cubby in the center stack feels chintzy for $30,000-plus.

But the biggest issue with the Azera's interior – perhaps a fault that lies with its sleeker new exterior design – is that there's a surprising lack of headroom for a mainstream sedan. This 6-foot-tall reviewer had almost no head clearance even with the seat at its lowest position. At the same time, one passenger felt uncomfortably low in the front seat unless it was raised to its highest position – this not only reduces head space but, because the seat slides forward as its raised, legroom as well.

But the Azera didn't score so highly for getting everything wrong.

The seats themselves are an impressive blend of cushy yet supportive, and shaped very well. The same goes for the rear, which has very good leg space but barely passable headroom for two adults, thanks to scoops carved out of the roof. (Unlike the Buick LaCrosse, though, which uses a similar solution to a low roof, the Azera does not offer head space for a tall adult to ride in any semblance of comfort in the center rear.)

The Azera also has a decently sized trunk, 16.3 cubic feet, and relatively good outward visibility – especially by the shrinking standards of today's large sedans.

It's also worth noting that the Azera's interior isn't slipshod in quality. Materials are nice, panel fits are solid. The ambiance just isn't as outright luxurious as it probably should be at this price.

Compelling price tag

If the headroom doesn't prove to be a dealbreaker, the Azera offers compelling value. As of this writing, most dealer inventory continues to be 2013 models, which are generously discounted; the 2014s, which are slowly trickling in, offer a few more features and will likely see similar discounts once the 2013s have been cleared out. The main advantage to the 2014 is a lower-cost base model with fewer standard features – albeit still very well-equipped, most notably losing the navigation system – that starts at $31,000.

Expect to pay just over $32,000 out the door for a fully-loaded 2013 model with a sticker price of $37,225; a comparable 2014, now wearing the Limited trim, has a sticker price of about $500 more.

Overall

Even aside from the Azera's value, the car's well-designed seats, hushed ride, excellent powertrain, and alert low-speed driving dynamics give reason to buy it over bulkier competitors that aren't as easy to motor around in. But it takes that low price tag to begin to excuse the lack of headroom, the stiff ride, and the interior design shortcomings.

And even then, it's a close call. Don't write off the Azera without a test drive, but don't expect a car that doesn't ask you to compromise.

Note that some reviewers have questioned whether there's room for the Azera in the Hyundai lineup above the midsize Sonata – there can be no doubt that the Azera is appreciably roomier, more comfortable, and more upscale, and it has also a V6 instead of a four-cylinder engine.

Overall grade: B

- More photos of the 2014 Hyundai Azera Limited
- Report card: Rating the Azera -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Report card: Ranking the Azera -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?

More from this comparison:
- Previous review: 2014 Buick LaCrosse Leather (5th place)
- Next review: 2014 Kia Cadenza Premium (3rd place)
- Introduction
- Rating the ten large sedans
- Ranking the ten large sedans
- Quick summaries of the ten large sedans: Pros, cons, conclusions

See also:
Review: 2014 Hyundai Genesis 3.8
Review: 2014 Hyundai Equus Signature
Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited
Review: 2013 Kia Optima SX-L

Vehicle tested: 2013 Hyundai Azera
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $32,250
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $37,225
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP)*: $37,225
Estimated transaction price as comparable**: $32,059
Test vehicle provided by: Hyundai Motor America

Key specifications:
Length: 193.3 inches
Width: 73.2 inches
Height: 57.9 inches
Wheelbase: 112.0 inches
Weight: 3,605 pounds
Trunk volume: 16.3 cubic feet
Turning circle: 36.6 feet
Engine: 3.3-liter V6 with 293 horsepower
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 20 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 29 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 23 miles per gallon
Observed mileage during test: 25.3 miles per gallon
Assembly location: South Korea
For more information: Hyundai website

* "Prices as comparable" reflect 2014 models with leather seats, a sunroof, a navigation system, a premium audio system, heated front seats, and certain other premium features.

** Transaction price estimates are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.

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