LOS ANGELES--If you've ever criticized Hyundai for derivative design, you'll want to have your torches and pitchforks at the ready for this one.
The first thing I thought when Hyundai pulled the wraps off of its new 2012 Azera here at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show was that it looked just like a Toyota Camry. Perhaps that's not totally fair, because as the large sedan spun slowly on its turntable, I also saw hints of Mazda6, Nissan Altima, and BMW 6-Series. For a brand like Hyundai that's been building a ton of steam over the last few years with its distinctive Sonata, Elantra, and Accent models, looking just like the competition is not a good thing.
Interestingly, the Azera was referred to as "the most dramatic example of the Fluidic Sculpture design language" during its unveiling. Whoever wrote that line on the prompter clearly hasn't seen the Veloster or the newly unveiled Genesis Coupe.
Quibbles about design aside, the Azera does check many of the right boxes where specs and tech are concerned. Under its hood spins a 3.3-liter V-6 engine that uses gasoline direct-injection technology to send 293 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission (yes, there is a manual shift mode) and out through the front 18- or 19-inch wheels. Fuel economy is estimated at 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. Looking at the numbers, the Azera seems to be able to go blow for blow with the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, and non-SHO Ford Taurus with which it competes.
The Azera is nicely equipped where cabin comfort is concerned. Leather heated seats are standard for the front and rear rows. If the Sonata and Genesis sedans that sandwich the new sedan in Hyundai's lineup are any indicator, fit and finish should be good.
One area where Hyundai has been consistently winning our favor has been cabin tech, and the Azera looks to be no exception. Hyundai's new Blue Link telematics system that debuted on the Veloster will be standard on the Azera with a similar tiered system (Assurance, Essentials, and Guidance) of available functionality. Navigation is also standard, as are satellite radio, traffic, weather, and stock data from XM Satellite Radio. Owners are also given a choice between a seven-speaker Dimension audio system or a 550-watt, 12-speaker Infinity premium audio rig. Regardless of which you chose, Bluetooth calling and audio streaming and USB/iPod connectivity are standard.
Whether you love or hate the sheet metal, the Azera has our interest based on what's happening underneath its skin.