SAN DIEGO -- Hyundai Motor America sees opportunity in the domestic automakers' loss of dominance in full-sized sedans.
Buick is no longer the sedan of choice for anyone but retirees. Ford's Five Hundred has been greeted with a collective yawn. Toyota's Avalon is the benchmark. Into this environment, Hyundai is launching the Azera, an Avalon look-alike for thousands of dollars less. The big question, executives admit, is whether anyone will pay 25 grand or more for a Hyundai. The automaker introduced the car at a press event here.
The basics: The Azera replaces the XG350 in more than just name. The car is larger in every dimension. But the biggest change is in the engine, which gains 69 hp and 39 pounds-feet of torque.
The 3.8-liter Lambda engine is a new addition to the Hyundai lineup, with an aluminum block and head. The V-6 is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, with a gated gearbox and Shiftronic manual gear selection. Hyundai claims the Azera can reach 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, with a top speed of 146 mph.
The Azera shares a version of the Sonata platform, similar to how Toyota stretches the Camry platform to create the Avalon. In Hyundai's case, the Azera has a unique floorpan. The suspension consists of double wishbones in the front and a multilink in the back.
Notable features: Hyundai claims the Azera has more interior volume than the Avalon, BMW 760i and Mercedes S class. Hyundai also claims the Azera blocks more wind noise at freeway speeds than the Lexus ES 330.
Standard features include: eight airbags, fog lamps, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, dual automatic climate control, rear seat ventilation, rain-sensing wipers, power adjustable foot pedals, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, six-CD changer, auto up and down front windows, remote locks with engine immobilizer and a power rear sunshade that retracts when the car is in reverse gear. Headlights are projector-style halogens; the brake lights feature LED illumination.
What Hyundai says: "The Azera is a smart purchase for people who don't need a well-established brand, to which they are saying, 'I'm not sure I'm getting my money's worth,'" said John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America vice president of product development and strategic planning.
Compromises and shortcomings: Some of the interior design and materials are still not at Avalon standards. The ride has improved mightily over the floaty XG350, but the suspension and steering still waffle when pressed.
Nuts and bolts: Hyundai wants to market the Azera to those who also would choose Samsung instead of Sony for their home electronic devices. The marketing plan will be along the lines of "luxury without guilt."
Hyundai wants to price the Azera below $25,000 for the base model and less than $30,000 for the loaded version. That might put it in the price zone of people shopping for V-6 versions of the Honda Accord and Camry, rather than Avalon. Hyundai hopes to sell between 30,000 and 40,000 units annually. The Azera goes on sale next month.
The skinny: Hyundai is asking Azera to double the XG350's peak volume, an ambitious task. Although Hyundai's brand is rising, it's a tough marketing task to ask someone to forgo loyalty to Ford or Toyota for a Hyundai. Then again, Hyundai expects the Azera to sell only one-third of Avalon's volume.
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