Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – After going on sale earlier this year in South Korea, the second generation of Hyundai’s largest front-wheel-drive sedan debuts today at the 2011 Los Angeles auto show.

The Azera, known in Korea as Grandeur, undergoes a metamorphosis not unlike that of the midsize Sonata sedan, and wears the same fluidic sculpture design, the fifth U.S. Hyundai model to do so.

“We feel like we have a very competitive package,” Mike O’Brien, vice president-U.S. product planning, tells media at an earlier L.A. show preview at Hyundai’s Superior Twp., MI, tech center.

Azera designers worked under a “grand glide” directive inspired by the wingspan of a Boeing 747 and a bald eagle, resulting in the car’s “long, light and low” exterior shape, Hyundai says.

In profile the 4-door Azera has a slight hatchback shape, with a roofline that slopes down from the C-pillar, above the third window, and flows into the trunk.

The car’s beltline undulates, taking a downward slope from above the rear passenger-door handle to the front wheel well and mimicking the line where the window glass and sheet metal meet.

Hyundai describes the Azera’s face as “masculine” thanks to a large chrome grille and trapezoidal headlamps.

In the rear, the Azera’s taillight spans the width of the trunk and wraps the corners, using light-emitting diodes for illumination.

The interior is a key differentiator from other large FWD sedans, the Korean brand says, citing greater use of upscale materials.

WardsAuto observed a velvet-type headliner and interior pillar trim in a pre-production Azera shown at the L.A. show preview. Hyundai describes ’12 Azera interior trim as having a “3D Carbon” look.

There’s also ambient interior lighting, as well as an optional panoramic sunroof.

Like the outgoing Azera, a power rear sunshade is available. New to the segment are manual side-window shades extending from the door panel upward.

Leather seating surfaces are standard on Azera, as is a 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front and rear seats, a cooled glovebox and dual automatic climate control.

The previous-generation Azera’s 3.3L V-6, like Hyundai’s small- and middle-displacement four cylinders and V-8 family before it, adds gasoline direct injection.

Hyundai is calling for an Environmental Protection Agency-estimated 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km), matching the ’11 Azera’s GLS grade and improving by 1 mpg over that car’s Limited grade. The ’11 Toyota Avalon and ’12 Acura TL also achieve 23 mpg combined, or 20/29 mpg (11.8-8.1 L/100 km ) city/highway.

In the competitive set, the auto maker places the Azera among the ’12 Nissan Maxima, Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus and Lexus ES350. Those models, barring the 3.6L LaCrosse, all have 3.5L V-6s.

While Hyundai’s overall horsepower of 293 in the Azera lags the segment-leading 303 hp churned out by the LaCrosse, the auto maker claims a best specific output of 88.8 hp/L to the LaCrosse’s 84.2 hp/L.

The Azera falls mid-pack on torque: 255 lb.-ft. (346 Nm). The 3.3L GDI V-6 features all-aluminum construction, an 11.5 compression ratio, roller timing chain and dual continuously variable valve timing. There’s also a 3-stage Variable Intake System which improves acceleration off the line and in passing, Hyundai says.

Dimensionally, the Azera is as long as the outgoing model but with a 3-in. (8-cm) bigger wheelbase and is 0.4 ins. (1 cm) wider than before. In a group that includes the Maxima, Taurus, Avalon and LaCrosse, the Azera’s front headroom and legroom is best-in-class, Hyundai says.

Hyundai claims the Azera is 200 lbs. (91 kg) lighter than the LaCrosse and weighs 400 lbs. (181 kg) less than the Taurus.

By using Sachs Amplitude Selective Dampers, the auto maker says the car’s MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear suspensions’ capabilities are improved by allowing for more body and wheel control and optimization of road-surface contact.

The Azera rides on standard 18-in. wheels and tires, with 19-in. wheels and tires optional.

A touchscreen navigation system with a backup camera is standard on all ’12 Azeras.

Hyundai’s new voice-centric BlueLink telematics system, accessible through rear-view mirror-mounted buttons, also is standard on the Azera but is complimentary only for the first 90 days of ownership.

Hyundai hopes to play in the retail portion of the large-sedan segment, as the majority of big sedans sold in the U.S. go to fleets, brand CEO John Krafcik told WardsAuto in September.

“When you pull (rental cars) out, the true retail volume is pretty small,” he said of the group.

And despite already having a plethora of sedans, Hyundai believes it has a good addition in the FWD, V-6 Azera, as the Genesis and Equus models are rear-wheel drive and the FWD Sonata now is 4-cyl.-only.

Azera sales through October were down 45.2% to 1,448 units, according to WardsAuto data. Hyundai stopped producing the ’11 model earlier this year.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com