EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 2, 2013

Hyundai Azera makes luxury more common

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — It’s hard to know what to think about Hyundai. The Azera only makes it harder.

All of the large and influential car companies sell luxury lines. But their luxury models are sold as separate brands, apart from their mass-consumer models. We have the Lexus brand of luxury autos from Toyota, the Infiniti brand from Nissan, the Cadillac brand from General Motors, and others.

The reasoning holds that a stately Lincoln MKS sedan, for example, will seem less stately if it wears the same Ford badge you see on every-day models like the little Ford Fiesta and Ford Escort. Therefore Ford operates its Lincoln unit as an entity wholly apart from the Ford brand. The separation gives Lincoln more luster.

Hyundai is a medium-sized auto company striving to get larger. It is rapidly gaining influence from some stunning models it produces. It sells luxury autos, too, just like the really big guns in the auto biz. But Hyundai does not separate its luxury line from its consumer models. They all wear a Hyundai badge, and are sold side by side at Hyundai dealerships. Hyundai is the only auto company doing that.

“They’re defying the industry,” said Mike Palmer, sales manager at Salem Ford Hyundai in Salem, N.H.

The Azera sedan is such an appealing and alluring luxury sedan that it makes Hyundai’s unique approach stand out all the more. The Hyundai Azera is a front-drive, four-door sedan that seats five and falls into the government’s large-car category because of its roomy interior.

Azera is the first of three high-level sedans from Hyundai. Azera starts at a list price of $33,145. Next up is the Hyundai Genesis four-door sedan, starting at $35,095. The Hyundai Equus sedan lists for $60,170 at the base level.

Azera is solidly built, showing the sheen and high gloss you expect from an upper-priced auto. It is seductively shaped, with a gracefully undulating body that sets it apart from other cars. The model’s interior is well-finished, showing high-grade materials tastefully arranged in a refined design that is aesthetically pleasing, comfortable and functionally useful.

Azera is also well-powered, with a V6 engine that puts out just under 300 horsepower, attached to a six-speed automatic transmission that steps through its gears with calm efficiency. The transmission’s six speeds, along with engine upgrades made to the 2013 model, help make the Azera notably efficient for a sedan its size. The car’s fuel-economy rating is 20 miles per gallon in city driving, and 30 mpg on the highway.

All told, Azera’s sophistication and stand-out design are so apparent that I felt distinguished driving the car through a one-week evaluation. In fact, I felt as distinctive in the Hyundai Azera as I feel when driving many models from recognized luxury brands. The car seemed to shine brightly on its merits alone, so that a common family name cannot dim it.

While its premium qualities are unmistakable, the Azera’s more-for-the-money price remains a primary selling point, observed Palmer, the sales manager at Salem Ford Hyundai. Many shoppers find that the features and equipment installed in the Azera top the starting-level features that come in other luxury models. To get many of them in competing cars, you pay extra, he said.

“For everything that you get in Azera, you’re looking at a $40,000 to $50,000 Infiniti,” Palmer illustrated.

Notable standard features in the Hyundai Azera are leather upholstery, a navigation system with touch screen, back-up camera, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, heated front and rear seats, automatic two-zone climate control, 10-way power driver seat and eight-way power front passenger seat, high-grade audio system, and large, 18-inch allow wheels. The only primary option you can purchase with Azera is a $4,000 “technology package,” which adds such features as power rear-window shade, panoramic sun roof, ventilated front seats, parking sensors, an upgraded audio system and larger alloy wheels.

Hyundai Motor America – the U.S. arm of Korea-based Hyundai Motor Co. – reports that nearly two-thirds of Azera buyers are new to the brand. They’re what the auto industry calls “conquests,” or buyers defecting from another car maker. Conquest sales are highly prized, because they indicate that a company is growing.

In Salem, Palmer sees the same pattern.

“We’re taking a lot of Toyotas and Hondas, and even Mercedes and BMWs as trade-ins,” he said.

Palmer recounted a recent sale to a lawyer who traded an Infiniti. “He told me that, bang for the buck, he couldn’t beat the Azera. He said it has a very nice ride. It has all the power. It’s better on gas mileage. And it has all the features.”

In another case, a couple with children visited Salem Ford Hyundai for service on a Ford Expedition, a big SUV with loads of space for family hauling. The couple happened to be sizing up sedans, and the wife was set on buying a Mercedes, Palmer said.

“I let them take an Azera out for the day. She loved the car and went and bought it,” he said.

Palmer summarized Hyundai’s approach to the car market with the motto “Defy, design and delight.”

“They’re defying the industry, they’re designing good cars, and they’re delighting a lot of people,” he stated. With its luxury cars, said Palmer, Hyundai is showing new thinking and exploring new possibilities.

It’s impossible to argue with that. It’s also impossible to predict where Hyundai’s bold and unique approach to mixed-luxury sales will bring it. But I think that a company so willing to think freshly and freely, to depart from the norm, take risks and innovate is headed toward big rewards.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2013 Hyundai Azera Sedan Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive full-size sedan Price: $33,145 (plus options) Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 7 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles roadside assistance Engine: 3.3-liter V6 Power: 293 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 255 lb.-ft. torque at 5,200 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Fuel economy: 20 mpg city; 30 mpg highway Wheelbase: 112 inches Length: 193 inches Width: 73 inches Height: 58 inches Weight: 3,605 pounds Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons Turning circle: 36.5 feet