What it is: The Azera is Hyundai’s answer to the near-luxury full-size car segment that includes models like the Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon, Lexus ES350 and Nissan Maxima. In Hyundai’s lineup, it is currently slotted in-between the mid-sized Sonata and premium segment Genesis, which is a rather narrow gap for Hyundai to force another vehicle in to. After getting behind the wheel, the car started to make sense. Very few people are shopping for the above cars versus a Sonata or even the above cars versus the Genesis. Most Genesis buyers are purchasing heavily optioned vehicles with the average sales price in the $40-45,000 range. The Azera starts at a much lower $32,000 and tops out at $36,000 fully loaded. That $32,000 base price actually gets you significant amounts of equipment. 18-inch alloy wheels, 7” touchscreen navigation with rearview backup camera, proximity key entry, chrome accents, chrome accents, leather seats and so on. Not shabby for the “base” trim. The only extras you can order come in a single package, the technology package which runs for $4,000. It includes HID headlights, power sunroof, 19” wheels, Infinity sound system and some other niceties. The value is definitely still there though with a comparably equipped Toyota Avalon will run you about $2,000 more. The Azera is powered by a new 3.3 liter V6 that pumps out an impressive 293 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft of torque. Only a 6-speed automatic is offered, and the engine/tranny combination had a great sportiness to it when throttle depression deemed it necessary while acting completely docile and transparent when cruising. The design of the exterior and interior of the car is a home run, especially in comparison to some of the bland offerings from the competitors. It packs a wallop between style and performance for the money. Hyundai’s standard 10 year – 100,000 mile warranty is offered on the Azera, like all of their models insuring that you will have a great easy of ownership for many years to come. MPG: 20 city / 29 highway Upsides: Like all Hyundai models, it provides incredibly value that must have the other manufacturers pulling their hair out with frustration. Downsides: Limited flexibility if you want a special combination of options. The one option package is all or nothing. Wrap-up: I went into driving the Azera that there was no need for it in the Hyundai lineup and that they wasted the millions of dollars that they invested in developing an all-new model. I left having my mind completely switched 180 degrees. The front-wheel drive near-luxury segment is really big, and with the huge success of the Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai is now poised to grab those repeat buyers that are looking to make a step up on the car chain with their next purchase. Hyundai won the highest loyalty of any car brand from J.D. Power and Associates back in January, and it is important for them to keep their momentum going by offering a variety of excellent vehicles for consumers to change to as their life situation changes. The Azera is just the latest release in Hyundai’s recently found reputation of greatness.

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