By Bechara Aboul-Nasr
Luxury has to be exclusive. Right?
But to be exclusive, it has to be dearer, less reachable. Still right with us?
At least, that's classic luxury school.
But how about luxury in a global world, beyond the old slogans of passing cherished goods from father to son, because, 1, technology is moving fast, too fast anyway to keep products up-to-date for more than just a few months after their launch, and 2, because the most advanced technologies are growing cheaper and cheaper, or more and more approachable, thanks to better materials, production efficiencies, and growing market demands?
If cost is dropping, should luxury remain expensive for the sake of it then? Should exclusivity remain too closely tight to high prices?
Maybe yes, and maybe not, the latter argument being based especially on the fast advance of Japanese and now Korean brands into luxury land. Of course, the first "maybe yes" argument should hold too, since these same luxury Lexus, Infinity, and now Hyundai models have to remain dearer than their Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai brands siblings, to keep their image hovering somewhere above the "commoner's" car.
However, it is precisely between the "maybe yes, maybe no", that another luxury concept is unfolding, a concept of reasonably dearer luxury, but not necessarily an out-of-reach one, leaving the real expensive class to the Rolls Royce, Maybach, Bugatti... club.
What if more and more people are finding it more interesting to get more luxury for their money, like a large sedan plus a compact secondary hatch, for the price of one car from a traditional luxury brand... especially that when it comes to electronics glitches, all cars seem the same!
That is where the door seems wide open for new luxury entrants like the 2006 Hyundai Azera which comes to replace, with stronger size and equipment arguments, the previous generation known as Grandeur or XG 350.
So, what does the new Hyundai Azera offer now, for a price expected to start in the US market below the US$30,000 (The 2005 XG350 MSRP started at US$24,899).
As Hyundai puts it, the new 2006 Hyundai Azera is an "affordable premium sedan" destined to redefine the way people think about premium sedans... "because the terms "premium" and "attainable" have been exclusive until now".
With standard safety technology including Electronic Stability Control and upscale convenience features, the Azera aims to prove that riche content and affordability can coexist.
Hyundai admits that its new flagship sedan takes its inspiration from some of the biggest names in the upscale-car field, only to claim beating them at their own game in terms of interior roominess and standard safety features and equipment.
Says Robert Cosmai, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America. "The all-new Azera offers the roominess and luxury of cars costing far more and delivers on Hyundai's promise of superior safety and value. Azera will earn distinction for... content that is generally reserved for higher-priced luxury sedans."
The 2006 Azera is backed by standard Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with a Traction Control System (TCS). By continually analyzing road speed, steering input, throttle position, lateral yaw rate and other factors, an onboard microprocessor determines if the vehicle is starting to understeer or oversteer, and automatically engages one or more brakes, and reduces engine output to help the driver maintain the intended path.
In addition, Azera comes with other active-safety features including projector headlights and fog lamps, bright LED tail lamps with 132 individual fast-acting lighting elements for better visibility, double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, large four-wheel disc brakes, and Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD).
Azera's passive-safety features start with a total of eight airbags, including advanced dual front airbags, front and rear seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and roof-mounted side curtain airbags for both front and rear outboard seat occupants. Active front head restraints help prevent whiplash.
Security is further advanced with a HomeLink integrated transceiver, an engine immobilizer, and a remote keyless entry system with alarm.
Roominess - The new 2006 Azera offers standard dual front automatic climate controls, electrochromic auto-dimming mirror with HomeLink, power driver and passenger seats, and wood grain and metal grain interior accents.
Leather seating surfaces are standard in the Limited model, as are a power rear sunshade and electro luminescent instrument cluster. An Air Quality System (AQS) helps improve passenger comfort in urban environments.
For audiophiles, the available premium Infinity audio system includes a seven-channel, 315-watt digital amplifier with an in-dash six-disc CD auto-changer driving 10 speakers in eight locations, including a subwoofer. The system also includes speed-sensitive volume and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
Engine and performance - Azera comes with an all-new, all-aluminum 3.8-liter DOHC V6 engine that delivers a 263 horsepower and 255 lb-ft. (345 Nm) of torque.
To maximize the power spread, the engine utilizes Continuously Variable Valve Timing (CVVT) and a Variable Intake System, which helps cylinders breathe efficiently at both low and high RPM, as well as achieving ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) certification levels
The engine uses an alloy block and cylinder heads for lightweight and thermal efficiency, and features timing chains with no scheduled maintenance (instead of the belts found on many V6s, which must be replaced at set intervals).
Married to the modern V6 is an equally advanced five-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC manual control. It offers smooth shifts and a wide spread of ratios that ideally suit the engine's characteristics - including a tall overdrive fifth gear for quiet, efficient highway cruising.
Drivers can access the SHIFTRONIC feature by moving the gear selector into a separate gate. Pushing the selector forward or pulling it rearward will shift the transmission up or down sequentially, adding to driver control. A clear LCD readout on the instrument panel shows the gear that's in use.
Chassis & suspension - Hyundai engineers benchmarked some of the best cars in the category before designing the Azera's unibody and four-wheel independent suspension system. Utilizing high-tensile steel in critical areas in the unibody increases stiffness and ensures high resistance to flexing, enhancing ride and handling qualities and lowering noise levels inside the vehicle.
To this rigid structure is attached a double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension system complete with specially tuned twin-tube gas-charged dampers and front and rear stabilizer bars.
Together with the engine-speed-sensing rack-and-pinion power steering, the suspension is designed to provide unerring road feel while quietly isolating the passenger cabin from unwanted noise, vibration and harshness.
Two tires sizes are available. The Azera SE uses 16-inch five-spoke aluminum alloy wheels and 225/60HR16 tires, while the Limited gets 17-inch 10-spoke alloys and 235/55VR17 tires.
AZERA SE - The Azera SE is designed for those who are interested in a combination of spaciousness, performance, and safety technologies. It includes standard features such as the five-speed automatic transmission with SHIFTRONIC, the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) with Traction Control System (TCS), a six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3 capability, and eight airbags. Upscale features include LED tail and brake lamps, auto dimming inside rearview mirror with HomeLink, power driver and passenger seats, and active front head restraints.
Optionally available are a power sunroof, premium 10-speaker (in eight locations) Infinity audio system with an in-dash CD changer, and heated front seats.
AZERA LIMITED - The Azera Limited standard features include 17-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels with 235/55VR17 tires, leather-trimmed seating, heated front seats, and an electro luminescent gauge cluster.
The Limited also has steering-wheel wood trim, a power rear sunshade, and bumper moldings with chrome-inserts.
A 10-speaker (in eight locations) Infinity audio system with subwoofer and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer is optional, as are power adjustable tilt-and-telescopic steering column, integrated memory system, power-adjustable foot pedals, rain-sensing wipers and other upgrades.
The all-new 2006 Hyundai Azera is covered in the USA five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper protection, 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, five-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance and seven-year/unlimited mileage anti-perforation coverage.
In addition, Azera buyers receive 24-hour roadside assistance coverage at no extra charge for five years (no mileage limit) and that service includes emergency towing, lockout service and limited coverage for trip-interruption expenses (no deductible on any of these coverages).
*** Note: (Copyrights-free specifications and features tables are available for download from http://www.motiontrends.com/2005/m11eng/hyundai/azera.shtml)
About The Author
Automotive editor and publisher of Motion Trends online auto magazine and media services (English and Arabic), http://www.motiontrends.com since Oct. 2000.
Based in Toulouse, France.
Previously, automotive editor of Al Hayat daily newspaper in London (1988-2000).