The Hyundai Azera has always billed itself as a good rival to the Toyota Camry, the Subaru Legacy, the Nissan Teana and the recently launched Honda Accord and Mazda 6, but what can make it stand out in a potentially crowded market?

The exterior looks like a mix between the current Audi A6 and the 97-01 Toyota Camry. The bubble top roof may seem a bit tall compared to those on the A6 and the aforementioned Teana, but the overall design still looks like it could cheat the wind.

Inside, a crisp character line runs from the dash through to the door panels, encircling the driver and front occupant. It's an elegant ribbon of textured vinyl, really good faux wood and metallic piping. Just a subtle design cue, but along with the cabin's tight construction, it's enough to make the car feel like a BMW 5-Series.

Ergonomics in general are well organized, but many of the buttons are of like shape, size and texture, so using them isn't terribly intuitive. Much like the Teana, the front door bins are deceptively small, and the side mirrors can be folded at a button's touch. The front seats themselves are nicely shaped and cushioned, while there's also plenty of legroom in back, and the liberally cushioned seat-bottom and back cushions are perfectly angled to support adult occupants. The cargo hold is spacious, and the rear seats fold flat in 60/40 sections for bigger items.

Three negatives pop up inside-wise - 1) The location of the aircon blower and mode buttons, which can be confusing at first usage; 2) The sunroof's location, which is directly above front occupants' crowns; and 3) The interior trunk release. Although conveniently mounted on the driver door rather than the floor, it's a bit hard to use, and popping the fuel door instead of the trunk lid happens a lot.

Up to par with the car's classy digs is the driving experience. Hyundai saw fit to throw in its own take on variable intake valve timing inside the P 1.758 million Azera's 3.3L DOHC V6; the result is more than enough thrust for passing, with the five-speed a/t upshifting smoothly under full throttle. Downshifts are prompt, but there's slight hesitation if you jump on the gas abruptly in traffic. However, on mountain passes the a/t often went down to second gear for decent forward motion. The results are pleasing - a 239 kph top speed and 10.88 km/l on five days of mixed driving.

The Azera's suspension provides a relaxing yet controlled ride. Generally there was little noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), but there was slight road noise inside the cabin at 120 kph and the rear started to wiggle at 220-plus kph. The test car's tires (Hankook Optimo K400 235/55R17 99Vs) were to blame, which were over-inflated and had little grip. The fully independent double-wishbone front, multilink rear suspension had to work overtime just to cover for the tire problems, with the car pussyfooting its way on twisty roads, gently transitioning to understeer at 80-plus kph with the traction control off.

The Azera's safety features are excellent. Brake pedal feel is progressive during normal driving, but the ABS wakes up at three fourths pedal effort and the car's front end droops during hard braking. Exterior lighting is bright due to the use of xenon headlamps, and the foot activated parking brake has strong grip. However, the small rear windshield makes long backing and parallel parking a chore, exacerbated by the lack of backup sensors.

The Hyundai Azera has features common in other executive cars, but given its price tag, money-conscious top brass might get turned off. Arguably it's the equivalent of excess for the executive miser.
  • Make:Hyundai
  • Model:Azera GLS A/T
  • Engine:3.3-liter DOHC 24-valve Lambda V6 with Continuous Valve Timing Control and Variable Intake System
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  • Transmission:5-Speed A/T with manual mode
  • Price as Tested: