Hyundai takes on luxury market with new Azera

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Hyundai Motor Company has shifted from its traditional focus on compact cars for European markets. The new Azera shows that the Koreans are now capable of delivering powerful, full-size luxury saloons, built to extremely high standards, at very competitive prices.

Designed to take on European competitors in the medium luxury sedan segment of the market, the Azera has received rave reviews everywhere it’s been sold since its world launch in December 2005.

The new car’s styling is classically European blue-blood, and the ride quality and extremely low noise-levels have earned it accolades worldwide, while the car’s high specification level puts the Hyundai on a par with competitors costing over R100 000 more.

The new Azera is considerably larger than the similarly styled Hyundai Sonata, and it offers more cabin space than the BMW 5 Series.

The car’s interior is deliberately understated, with just enough wood trim showing to provide an impression of classiness, without becoming flashy. All controls fall easily to hand, and the instrumentation provides all the information you need at a glance. An elegant wood-rimmed steering wheel houses satellite controls for the radio/CD/MP3 player and the standard cruise control.

The Hyundai Azera comes standard with just about everything you could possibly wish for in a luxury car, bar a chauffeur. Dual-zone climate control allows the driver and passenger to each select their own personal preference when it comes to temperature settings, and ducting to the rear of the cabin lets the back seat occupants each control their own environment.

Six Infinity speakers deliver incredible sound quality from the entertainment system, but sound levels in the cockpit are so low that you’re unlikely to need to turn the volume up to maximum, even at high speed.

The electrically powered leather seats are mounted on magnesium frames, and are ten-way adjustable for the driver, and four-way adjustable on the passenger’s side. Once you’ve set the seat and electrically adjustable steering wheel and mirrors to the positions that suit you best, you can use one of the two IMS memory switches to record your preferences and get things set exactly as you like them each time you slide behind the wheel.

Other handy features include rear park-distance sensors, headlights and windscreen wipers that activate themselves when driving conditions demand, a plethora of interior lights for front and back seat occupants, auxiliary power sockets front and rear, a sunglasses holder, an electro-chromatic interior rear-view mirror, safety power windows, door and glove-box courtesy lamps, and a luggage net for the massive boot.

Hyundai’s engineers took the three devils of noise, vibration, and harshness VERY seriously when designing the Azera, and the result is a car that must rank amongst the quietest ever built, irrespective of price.

Thicker-than-usual glass has been used in the side windows, and strategic components were strengthened to prevent resonance. Jointing and sealing methods were optimised for noise reduction, and attention to the interior fans, air ducting and streamlining of the car’s under body all reduced obtrusive noise levels significantly.

Safety levels are high, with ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) being standard.

A state-of-the-art Electronic Stability Program (ESP) uses real-time electronic input from various sensors to coordinate the ABS and traction-control systems and keep the car on the road, even when the driver places unreasonable demands on its cornering ability. The computer’s input is unobtrusive but safe, lowering stress and effort levels, and considerably decreasing the chances of an accident.

Should things go wrong and an accident occurs, the Azera is one of the safest cars around to be in. Hyundai destroyed more than 300 of their cars in pre-production crash testing, and the Azera consequently boasts reinforcing where necessary and crumple zones in all the appropriate locations.

The Azera is fitted with front and side airbags for the driver and passenger, and front and rear curtain airbags take the total to eight. Active headrests help prevent head and neck injuries.

Despite its luxurious persona, the Azera is a very serious high-speed cruiser that can trade punches with virtually anything in its price range and come out tops, thanks to its 173 kW 3,3 litre all-aluminium quad-cam V6 engine.

While the power peaks at 6 000 rpm, the Azera uses continuous variable valve timing control and a variable air intake tract to produce a very useful torque curve, with 303 Nm being available from just 3 500 rpm. Top speed is 230 km/h, and the big Hyundai can gallop up to 100 km/h in just 7,8 seconds.

Mated to this engine is Hyundai’s own five-speed H-Matic auto transmission. This silky-smooth gearbox can be shifted into manual sequential mode when the driver feels frisky, and, unlike many similar offerings, actually takes notice of driver input when used as a manual transmission.

With a target of 2,68 million sales worldwide for 2006, Hyundai, with manufacturing plants in Korea, Turkey, China, and the United States, is now firmly entrenched as a major league player.

Hyundai products are selling extremely well in South Africa, and the timing of the Azera’s arrival here couldn’t have been better. With the financial implications of the revised taxation on car allowances looming large in many corporate minds, the Azera will allow taxpayers to lower their sights in terms of the money they want to spend on a luxury car, without settling for less in terms of comfort, convenience, performance, or safety.

The Azera will come standard with a 5 year/150 000km warranty and 5 year/100 000km maintenance plan.

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