Just Car Blog
|The 2012 Hyundai Azera And Equus: Bookends Of Luxury||
When Hyundai entered the U.S. market 25 years ago, few critics took the upstart Korean automaker seriously. Back then, Hyundai was a value brand that offered new cars for less money than the competition, and in 1986 the automaker claimed just 1.1 percent of the new car market. Fast forward to 2011, and Hyundai is now a full-line automaker that produces everything from legitimate sport coupes through luxury cars. It’s shifted from a value brand to a valuable brand, and now accounts for 5.1 percent of new car sales in the United States.
That makes Hyundai the sixth best-selling automaker in the U.S., and the brand currently enjoys a 64 percent retention ranking, the highest in the industry. Last year, its cars sold at an average of 96 percent of sticker price, and the company moved from seventh in residual value to third. Put another way, with modest marketing and very little fanfare, Hyundai has moved from an ancillary brand in the industry to one of its key players.
Part of Hyundai’s success comes from building both gateway vehicles (like the Veloster, Elantra and Sonata) and aspirational vehicles (like the Azera, Genesis and Equus). In fact, the original Azera was the first Hyundai model sold in the U.S. to top the $30k price point, paving the way for Hyundai to launch additional upscale models like the Genesis and Equus sedans.
As significant as the Azera was, the original version never sold particularly well. It may have offered luxury amenities at a near-luxury price, but interior and exterior styling was best described as “uninspired.” Worse, the model was never actively marketed by Hyundai, who wisely imported only a handful of Azeras each year.
Despite this, Hyundai believes the market has room for a luxury sedan in the Azera’s price bracket, so it’s introducing an all-new Azera for the 2012 model year. It’s also borrowing a page from Honda’s playbook: rather than launching multiple models with confusing option packages, the Azera will come in just two variants: Base, and with Hyundai’s Tech Package.
Even base models come surprisingly well equipped. Leather upholstery is standard, as are heated seats for both front and outboard rear passengers. There’s a segment-first standard nav system with back-up camera, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, cooled glove box and manual rear side window sunshades, too. Opt for the Tech Package, and the content list includes 19-inch alloy wheels (up from 18-inch on base models), a panoramic sunroof, HID headlights, a power rear sunshade, and Infinity premium audio system, power adjustable steering wheel, driver’s seat memory, driver’s seat cushion extension, ventilated front seats, parking sensors and ambient interior lighting.
Under the hood, all Azera models get a new Lambda II 3.3-liter V-6 engine, good for 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, mated to a Hyundai-designed six-speed automatic transmission. At 88.8 horsepower per liter, the engine’s output is best-in-class, yet its combined fuel economy of 23 mpg ties for best-in-class with the Toyota Avalon and Acura TL. According the EPA, the Azera will deliver fuel economy of 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, thanks in part to its Active ECO system that smoothes throttle response and boosts fuel efficiency by up to 7 percent.
All Azera models use a MacPherson strut front suspension and in independent, multi-link rear setup. Sachs “Amplitude Selective” dampers are used to smooth out the ride over rough surfaces, while still delivering crisp turn-in and minimal body roll in corners. We’d stop short of calling the Azera a sport sedan, but it definitely delivers a sporty-but-comfortable ride.
The Azera’s exterior styling now uses Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” language, and we say that’s a good thing. Designers incorporated wing styling elements in the front grille, while strong character lines and a rising beltline give the Azera a distinct presence in profile. Out back, wrap-around taillights and exhaust outlets embedded in the rear fascia give the car a modern and upscale appearance.
Inside, the wing theme carries over to the center stack and dashboard, and the driver’s space is designed to have a cockpit-like feel to it. Interior attention to detail is impressive, with a sculpted crash pad of soft-touch vinyl, metallic trim surrounding the instruments and driver information display, and premium carbon-fiber-look trim. Buyers get a choice of three interior colors as well, including camel, graphite black and chestnut brown.
On the road, the new Azera accelerates with reasonable authority, turns in quickly with minimal body roll and provides good feel from both steering and brakes. Noise isolation is impressive, and we’d definitely call the Azera luxury-car-quiet at highway speeds. The Sachs dampers are more than just marketing hype as well, delivering a remarkably smooth ride over broken pavement.
At a starting price of $32,000 for the base Azera ($36,000 for the Azera with the Tech Package), Hyundai’s entry-level-luxury sedan delivers solid value, and will likely give the Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon a run for their money. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the Azera pull in a few Acura, Lexus and Infiniti shoppers as well, and we’re sure that Hyundai will have no trouble selling all the Azeras it imports.
At the opposite end of Hyundai’s luxury lineup is the 2012 Equus, which is a legitimate competitor to cars like the Lexus LS 460 and the Mercedes Benz S550. New for 2012 is Hyundai’s 5.0-liter Tau V-8, rated at 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, now mated to a Hyundai-developed eight speed automatic transmission.
The Equus’ new drivetrain solves the only issue we had with the original car, which came with a 4.6-liter V-8, good for just 385 horsepower. The original Equus felt down on power compared to rivals from Japan and Germany, while the new version pulls equally hard when you step on the gas. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that fuel economy really hasn’t suffered: the previous Equus was rated at 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined, while the 5.0-liter V-8 Equus gets a rating of 15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.
As with the Azera, Hyundai’s Equus will be a value-leader in the segment, Base models, called “Signature” in Hyundai-speak, will start at just under $60,000, with Equus Ultimate models priced around $66,000. If you’re in the market for a large, premium-luxury sedan, we’d seriously recommend you give the 2012 Hyundai Equus a look.
|2011 Hyundai Elantra GLS – Compromise or Contender?||
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I am not a typical automotive journalist. I don’t test new press fleet vehicles, don’t evaluate a new interior every week, and the majority of my knowledge comes from my own extensive research and a bit of real-world experience. Call me an armchair journo, like I would imagine many enthusiasts to be. I don’t often get to see the shiny new toys up close and personal, let alone get my hands on them. Being naturally skeptical, I often wonder just how close to MY reality many car reviews are.
You see, at the end of the day I’m a working mom who happens to love cars, with issues of practicality to consider for my next vehicle. I’m not yet at the point where I can pick what I WANT, but rather need to pick what best fits life’s demands at the moment. Budget, space, and maintenance costs all trump the “fun to drive” factor even though I’d rather it be the other way around. And so, I’ve often felt I will have to compromise on my next set of wheels.
A few weeks ago, my family and I returned to my husband’s shiny new (like, 800 miles on the odo new) Mazdaspeed3 in a parking garage to find that some jackwagon had scraped the back bumper as they reversed (we’re guessing). The Mazda went into the shop and he was given a 2011 Elantra GLS as a rental. I’ve been itching to test one out since seeing all the positive buzz, and have been waffling back and forth with putting the E on my shopping list. One hundred and forty-eight horsepower sure does look puny next to the Speed3′s two hundred and sixty-three. Unfortunately, the Speed3 doesn’t meet the “space” requirement as above, so it’s not a contender for me but I digress.
Coming from my own ride, a Mazda6, the Elantra looks petite and low to the ground. The paint is beautiful, or would have been if the rental agency had slapped a decent coat of wax on the thing (this one was Phantom Black, but I have also seen the Indigo Blue Pearl in person and it’s outstanding). Getting in, I noticed the seats were nicely bolstered and supportive and everything seemed to fit around me just right. It had a weird “fossilized french fry” smell but I’ll chalk that up to rental car funk. This was the base model with auto transmission and no other packages but still well-equipped. I ended up driving it for its three-day tenure with us. I had pretty low expectations – after all, this thing has less power than my ’03 base model 6 and is geared to achieve up to 40mpg on the highway.
Consider my expectations surpassed, to say the least. I often wonder if some automotive writers have become jaded over the years, after having driven so many wonderful machines. What, I wondered, would someone in the “real world” think of it? What’s it like in everyday driving, not on a closed track? The first thing I noticed was the brakes were rather touchy and it didn’t take much gas to get the car to move. I pulled into traffic expecting to floor it and was pleasantly greeted with a burst of speed. The next thing was to take it on the highway where I had no trouble merging with those doing 80mph, and the E happily downshifted when I needed to pass some crawlers.
At this point, I was trying the sport-shift but it’s set up backward from the 6 – up to upshift, down to downshift. Seems logical but not at all what I was used to. Something else I wasn’t used to was two more gears than I normally have. Slushbox or no, six speeds certainly helped make it more fun. I took the curving off-ramp cautiously not knowing how the tires would respond but they held their own. Not on-rails smooth like the Speed3 but definitely minimal body roll and I never felt out of control (the ESC may have been helping here…my 6 doesn’t have it and I’m not used to cars that do).
Inside, the base stereo provided plenty of enjoyment to my commute and I am curious how the 360-watt in the Limited sounds. My inner geek was thrilled with the option of plugging in a USB stick for music. The plastics were to my liking and I even pushed my finger into the dash – squishy – something I never would have even thought to do a few years ago before every car-related outlet started harping on it. The backseat was spacious and accommodating for my family’s needs and the trunk, cavernous. I was overjoyed to find how easily the Hyundai turned into parking spaces, although the very light steering at low speeds took some getting used to (sort of like the wheel in an arcade game). That being said, it did weight up nicely at speed. I am pretty sure the rental was out of alignment so my assessment of the suspension isn’t totally fair, but it did soak up the potholes of my daily trips easily. I’m used to harsher setups, and going over railroad tracks in the Elantra actually felt better than in the 6.
It doesn’t have the sweetest-sounding exhaust note and the horn elicits a polite “meep!” when pressed, but in the grand scheme of things those aren’t considerations I find important anyway. HIDs are the only option missing from my wish list. If I did buy one, it would likely be the Limited with nav (in Red Allure, please). I understand it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but for me it has come down to the Elantra and the 2012 Civic Si. I still plan to test an Si one day, of course, but I have been more than impressed with the E. I figure it’s got to be a good car when you’re sad to turn in a base model rental that smells like old cooking oil, right? If you’re looking for raw power and RWD then obviously this is not for you. But if you’re looking to replace your old Civic or Corolla (or even “downsize” from a bigger car if you don’t need the space), want something for decent gas mileage, and see your car as something more than an appliance, I definitely recommend the new Elantra. Now, if they would just throw a turbo in there, badge it an R-Spec, and sell it here I would be set for the next ten years.
|Consumer Reports Names New Cars That Are De-Evolving||
Ever since Henry Ford began cranking out Model Ts, the auto industry has followed one simple rule: improve or die. Sometimes these improvements come in style, other times they come in performance or handling. With the exception of government mandated pollution control devices of the early 1970s, I can’t think of many cases where a new car was a step backwards from the car it replaced. Consumer Reports would beg to differ, and they’ve recently named six cars that don’t score as well as the vehicles they’ve replaced. I’ve driven four of them, so I’ll tell you whether or not Consumer Reports is on the money.
Volkswagen Jetta SE: CR says it’s worse than the outgoing model for handling, steering, braking, noise and interior fit and finish. For possibly the first time in my life, I’d say that Consumer Reports is correct, but you need to remember that the new Jetta is built to a specific price point. It won’t appeal to everyone (especially former Jetta owners), but it does appeal to larger audience than the last car. Sales are up, so it’s hard to argue with success.
Toyota Sienna: CR pans it for steering, road noise and interior fit and finish. I’m not sure sure I’d agree, although I didn’t have the opportunity to compare both versions side by side. If anything, the new Sienna impressed me with interior fit and finish, so drive one and make up your own mind if you’re in the market.
Toyota 4Runner: CR didn’t like the ride control, handling, noise, driving position, front access or interior fit and finish. I, on the other hand, did, possibly because this 4Runner appears to be returning to its truck roots. I say that’s a good thing, since there are plenty of sissified crossovers with AWD to choose from. Want to go where the busses don’t run, with three friends and gear? The 4Runner remains one of the best choices for getting you there and back.
BMW X5 3.0: CR says the new one lacks visibility, has a balky shifter and unfriendly controls.
Mercedes-Benz E350: CR flagged the ride, steering and fuel economy. If you’re driving a new ‘Benz, chances are you’re not really concerned with how much you spend on gas.
Honda Odyssey: CR didn’t like the handling, braking or cargo area of the new Odyssey, while I found nothing wrong with any of those areas. I did object to the Odyssey’s ridiculously high price and hard plastic dash; cross the $40k barrier, and hard plastic has no place in a car’s dashboard.