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Hyundai’s Azera tops mileage list

For The Associated Press

(AP) – The 2012 Hyundai Azera isn’t a hybrid or a luxury-branded car. But it’s tops among 2012 non-diesel, non-hybrid large sedans in government fuel economy ratings with 20 miles a gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway.

The new Azera also has so many standard luxury features, including 293-horsepower V-6, light-emitting diode headlight accents, navigation system and rearview camera with large, 7-inch, in-dashboard screen display, that it might be confused with a high-tech, luxury sedan.

The roomy Azera four door now is attractively styled like the smaller and better known Hyundai Sonata mid-size sedan and has more front-seat legroom _ a total of 45.5 inches _ than a Cadillac Escalade or Ford Expedition.

To be sure, the Azera doesn’t have every luxury feature. The suspension doesn’t offer driver-selectable settings, the automatic transmission has six speeds, not eight, and the car is front-wheel drive, for example.

But the Azera’s starting retail price of $32,875 is more akin to prices for “premium” sedans, rather than big sedans from luxury brands that start upwards of $42,000.

In fact, the $32,875 Azera starting price includes luxury-like smooth leather-trimmed seats, sizable 18-inch alloy wheels, eight-way, power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated front and back seats, Bluetooth phone connectivity and driver seat adjustable lumbar, not to mention a cooled glovebox and nine air bags.

In comparison, the 2012 Toyota Avalon large sedan with a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $33,955 and 268-horsepower V-6 and 17-inch wheels, lists navigation system, heated front seats and driver lumbar adjustment as options.

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse, which is a mid-size sedan according to the federal government classification but has an exterior with similar dimensions to the Azera’s, has a starting retail price of $31,045 with 182-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.

This base LaCrosse has six air bags and no standard rearview camera, navigation system or power-adjustable front-passenger seat.

Though the Azera was introduced years ago as Hyundai’s U.S. flagship, production in South Korea stopped in November 2010, and last year’s sales of dealer inventories amounted to just 1,524.

The Azera also wasn’t a heavily advertised Hyundai.

While no longer the Hyundai flagship, the Azera is returning as a new, second-generation model that even starred in Hyundai TV ads aired during last month’s Oscars.

Slotted between Hyundai’s front-wheel drive Sonata sedan and the higher-priced, rear-wheel drive Genesis sedan, the Azera is intended for the current 1.25 million Sonata owners who, at some point, will be shopping for their next car.

Production for the United States is being metered at the South Korea assembly plant, though, because the Azera, known as the Grandeur in that country, is a strong seller in Hyundai’s home market.

The test Azera, with optional technology package that added panoramic roof, power rear sunshade and manual rear-door shades, 19-inch wheels, ambient interior lighting and upgraded Infinity audio system, soothed the driver.

The car rode subtly over road bumps, keeping good contact with the pavement without transferring shocks unduly to passengers.

The Azera’s suspension doesn’t have the firm, tie-down-the-car-body feel of a BMW, so it wasn’t a fatiguing ride over a nine-hour trip.

Yet, motions of the test car’s sizable, 16.4-foot-long body were well controlled in most maneuvers and gave the driver confidence, not alarm, on twisty mountain roads.

Hyundai uses selective dampers at the four corners that automatically adjust to weight transfer and load as the Azera moves along roads. The system also mutes what could be jarring heaviness from the large four wheels and makes the car feel well-balanced and composed.

There was little wind noise heard in the tester, and road noise was somewhat muted.

Steering was a bit on the light side, though.

The new Azera engine _ the only one offered _ is a 3.3-liter V-6 version of Hyundai’s Lambda II series. Gasoline is direct-injected at high pressure into the cylinders to help deliver strong power and spunk from a small-displacement powerplant. Meantime, the engine electronics manage variable valves, too, for efficient fuel use and proper emissions.

As a result, the test car “pulled” strongly up mountain roads and around other cars on city streets. Power came on with steady assurance, not an out-of-control surge, and traction control helped keep tires connected to the pavement.

The previous Azera, the 2011 model with a larger, 3.8-liter V-6, had 33 fewer horses than the 293 horsepower that’s in the 2012 car.

And torque peaks at 255 foot-pounds at 5,200 rpm, which is up 22 foot-pounds from the predecessor Azera.

It would be easy to be skeptical about that 29-mpg highway rating from the federal government.

But the test car delivered exactly that during a 560-mile trip on mostly highways when speed averaged 65 miles per hour and the driver wasn’t wholly concerned about fuel mileage.

Meantime, in city traffic, the test Azera ranged from 18 to 21 mpg, which is in the ballpark of the government’s 20-mpg city rating.

In comparison, the Avalon is rated by the federal government at 19/28-mpg, and the LaCrosse with V-6 has a 17/27-mpg rating.

The Azera’s front-seat legroom is notably accommodating, with seat tracks lengthy to provide comfortable seating for both a 5-foot-4 driver and a 6-footer. No need for adjustable pedals here.

The smooth, soft texture of the leather on the Azera seats meant no one mistook this leather for vinyl. Seat heaters and coolers worked fast, keeping riders refreshed and cozy.

Because Hyundai officials sought to keep the Azera sized about the same as the predecessor, back-seat legroom is just 36.8 inches, compared with 40.5 inches in the LaCrosse.

Back-seat headroom in the Azera is a competitive 37.6 inches, even with the sunroof.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)