Hyundai’s Azera near-luxury sedan represents a significant milestone in the brand’s history, as it was the very first Hyundai model to creep above the $30,000 price barrier. The Azera proved that Hyundai could compete on more than just a low price, and paved the way for later luxury models like the Hyundai Genesis sedan and the Hyundai Equus.  

Despite the car’s significance, the current design dates back to 2006, and sales in the United States reflect the model’s age. In 2006, Hyundai sold some 26,833 Azeras in the U.S., but by 2010 that number had plummeted to just 3,051 units.

Enter the new-for-2012 Hyundai Azera, which the Korean automaker believes will do for the full-size, near luxury segment what the redesigned Sonata, Elantra and Accent have done for their respective segments.

The 2012 Azera represents the final model in Hyundai’s “24/7” strategy, which called for the release of seven new models in just 24 months. Like Hyundai’s other new designs, the Azera now features the brand’s “fluidic sculpture” design, which has helped the automaker sell a significant number of cars since it was launched on the 2010 Hyundai Sonata.

Since the Genesis and Equus go their own way for styling, the new Azera becomes the flagship of the fluidic-sculpture-family, and Hyundai has equipped the car well to compete in the near luxury class.

Power comes from a new 3.3-liter Lambda II engine, now with high-pressure direct fuel injection, which produces 293 horsepower and delivers a best-in-class combined fuel economy of 23 mpg. It’s mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission that includes “Shiftronic” manual control, but also gives the driver an Active Eco mode, which optimizes engine and transmission settings for maximum fuel economy.

Like Hyundai’s other recent models, Hyundai did what it could to reduce weight wherever possible. As a result, the new Azera weighs in at just over 3,600 pounds, making it 200 pounds lighter than the Buick LaCrosse and over 400 pounds lighter than a Ford Taurus.

The automaker redesigned the suspension of the Azera for 2012 as well, and the car now rides on Sachs Amplitude Selective Dampers for increased ride comfort and better handling than the outgoing car. Neither falls in the “sport sedan” category, but we expect the new Azera’s ride to be on par with other competitors in the near-luxury segment.

2012 Hyundai Azera

2012 Hyundai Azera

Climb inside, and you’ll see that Hyundai has carried on its tradition of offering more standard content for less money than the competition. Leather seating is standard, as is a navigation system with a seven-inch touch-screen and a back-up camera. Buyers get XM satellite radio, HD radio, Bluetooth phone integration and Hyundai’s Blue Link telematics system, too.

Safety is a big selling point in this segment, and the Azera won’t disappoint here, either. All Azera models come with impact-reducing seats, Vehicle Stability Management (which blends Electronic Stability Control with Motor Driven Power Steering to counter torque-steer), nine airbags and ABS with integrated Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution.

From what we can tell, Hyundai will offer the 2012 Azera in base and Premium models. Base models are expected to start at $32,000, with Premium models selling for $36,000 (although Hyundai hasn’t set the final price just yet).

In addition to the standard content already referenced, Premium models include 19-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, HID headlights, a power rear sunshade, manual side-window shades, an Infinity audio system, power tilt & telescoping steering wheel, driver’s seat memory, ventilated front seats, rear parking sensors and interior ambient lighting.

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