by Jason Allan, editor

Inside and out, the all-new 2012 Hyundai Azera is arguably the best-looking car in the large sedan class. It's also among the most powerful and most fuel-efficient, offers the best features (many of them standard), and still qualifies as a terrific value. If only it drove better. Moving Azera toward the sportier side of the category highlights suspension and steering shortcomings not uncommon in the Hyundai lineup. Nevertheless, the rest of the new Azera is so compelling that it's a definite must-drive for most large sedan shoppers.

Instant Assessment
Class Leading: Style, features
Above Average: Value, power, fuel economy
Below Average: Highway ride, steering feel

Quick Comparison
2012 Toyota Avalon - Softer, simpler than Azera
2012 Buick Lacrosse - Softer, available high-mpg four-cylinder engine
2012 Ford Taurus - Available all-wheel drive, huge trunk
2012 Chrysler 300 - Rear- or all-wheel drive, really quiet
2012 Dodge Charger - Rear- or all-wheel drive, muscle-car style
2012 Nissan Maxima - More fun, much smaller rear seat
2012 Lexus ES 350 - Softer, pricier, older, offers better dealership experience

Especially when upgraded with the Technology Package, the 2012 Hyundai Azera's passenger cabin isn't just the most appealing in the category, it puts some luxury cars to shame. It offers more convenience and infotainment technologies than any of its competitors, good front seats (not a Hyundai trademark) and nine airbags including a driver's knee airbag that helps keep the driver seated upright and properly positioned in case of impact.

Stylish sheet metal, integrated exhaust outlets and crisp LED lighting all around - daytime running lights, tail lights and side mirror-integrated turn indicators - all contribute to the Azera's sporty, class-above charisma.

On the Road
The least impressive thing about the 2012 Hyundai Azera - at least when fitted with the larger 19-inch wheels -- is how it drives. The engine and transmission combination is smooth, responsive and powerful, but the Azera's ride, handling and steering all leave something to be desired. The large sedan manages road imperfections with less poise than its competitors, and the fuel-saving electric power steering system makes for a palpably inorganic connection between car and driver. The Azera can leave you feeling exposed where you want cover, and out of touch when you want a direct connection. Do these shortcomings amount to deal breakers? Not for most buyers. But be sure to take a good test drive, and consider the 18-inch wheels.

Starting Price: $32,875
The 2012 Hyundai Azera has one of the category's higher starting prices, but boasts the most impressive list of standard equipment. As long as you're into all the features it comes with - and won't be paying for features you don't want - the Azera offers excellent value.
Standard equipment highlights:

* Navigation system with 7-inch screen
* Backup camera
* Keyless entry and push-button start
* Front and rear heated leather seats
* BlueLink telematics with OnStar-like safety and convenience services
* Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity
* iPod/USB and auxiliary audio ports

If you're not interested in all this equipment, the 2012 Ford Taurus is available with fewer features starting at $26,350.

Loaded Price: $36,875
We're fans of simplified pricing setups, and the 2012 Hyundai Azera's is particularly uncomplicated. Either you go with the base model outlined above, or you spend another $4,000 for this appealing group of upgrades:

* Panoramic moonroof
* Ventilated (cooling) front seats
* Infinity premium sound system
* Xenon headlights
* Sun shades for all three rear windows
* Power driver's seat cushion extension (added thigh support for longer legs)
* Seat position memory with power adjustable steering wheel
* Rear parking sensors
* 19-inch wheels

Note: The 19-inch wheels look great, but the standard 18-inch setup will likely mitigate some of the highway harshness we experienced on our first drive of the new Azera.

KBB Value Analysis
Even when Hyundai started making good cars, lagging resale values tainted their appeal to smart car shoppers. Those days are almost completely in the rearview mirror, and Hyundai's most recent entries are enjoying above-average resale values. Along with one of the best warranties out there and a long list of appealing features, those improved resale expectations help qualify the 2012 Hyundai Azera as an exceptional value.

Under the Hood
The 2012 Hyundai Azera features a powerful and efficient 3.3-liter V6 engine that sends power to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode.

Horsepower Comparison
2012 Buick LaCrosse V6: 303 horsepower (Highest)
2012 Hyundai Azera: 293 horsepower
2012 Ford Taurus V6: 263 horsepower (Lowest)

Fuel Economy Comparison
2012 Chrysler 300 V6: 23 mpg combined, 19 city/31 highway (Highest)
2012 Hyundai Azera: 23 mpg combined, 20 city/29 highway
2012 Buick LaCrosse V6: 21 mpg combined, 17 city/27 highway (Lowest)

If fuel economy is your number one concern, you should know that the 2012 Buick LaCrosse is available with a battery-enhanced four-cylinder engine that produces just 182 horsepower but returns an impressive 36 mpg on the highway.

Final Thought
Hyundai is tearing up the sales charts with standout styling, appealing features, and excellent powertrains, all while delivering the same kind of value that was once the only reason Hyundai sold any cars at all. The fact that many of its models trail the competition in driving dynamics doesn't seem to be cooling the hot streak, and we don't hear many complaints from the proud, happy new Hyundai owners we encounter with increasing frequency.

So definitely check out the Azera, just be sure to take a long test drive and log as many highway miles as you can manage. Even if you don't love the way it drives, there's a good chance you'll find the rest of the 2012 Hyundai Azera convincing enough to make a compromise.

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