EDITOR WES RAYNAL: For a tick under 40K, this is a hell of a car -- a rare bird I guessed cost substantially more. It could be the best large-ish almost-luxury car in the business. Anyone who still thinks Hyundai is about cheap wheels needs to drive this.

It’s a nice-looking car and I love the V6 and trans interaction. You have to rev it a wee bit to get the car moving (it ain’t exactly light) but there is plenty of power and it’s, dare I say it, Honda smooth. The car is so quiet and level cruising down the road, quite a bit above my expectations. The steering might be the biggest letdown: it’s a bit numb, and feels artificial.

The cabin is fantastic, though -- comfortable, well built, good materials, and huge, especially out back. Love the glass roof, too and the light blue ambient lighting peeking from under the dash/door panels is sweet. The center stack is intuitive and took about five seconds to figure out. Clearly Hyundai sweated the details in there.

If you’re in the market for an Avalon or Impala (or Chrysler 300 or Buick LaCrosse, I suppose) you’re cheating yourself if you don’t at least try the Azera. I submit Hyundai’s credibility is rising -- and fast. 

WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: I put over 1,000 miles on this stylin’ sedan during the week I had it. That ranged from the flat, boring I5 highway up the Central Valley to 50 miles of twisting mountain two-lanes and maybe a hundred miles of less-twisting semi-mountainous two- and four-lanes, all done with four people and a dog inside. So I’m intimately familiar with this car -- not to mention the other three people and the dog. I can say, thank goodness I had this car scheduled during what I’ll call “The week of so much driving.”

The Azera is the poster child for the near-luxury segment, the Toyota Avalon of Korea, the Buick Regal of the Gangnam District. You’ll only really miss two things in the Azera that you would get by moving up a few classes to bigger, stronger, more serious luxury cars: you might want some V8 power when passing; and, if you really, really pushed it, which no buyer is ever going to do, you might want some of the improved handling characteristics inherent with rear-wheel drive sedans, especially those fully sorted-out for handling. But if you can live without those, you’ll consider this luxury.

The ride is as quiet as The Tomb of the Rear-Drive Buick (or Cressida), with no noticeable wind or road noise. Since it’s made for comfort, the suspension and ride was smooth over almost all the highway it was put on, except maybe the worst bumps when construction pushed us onto what had previously been the emergency parking lane. There it whooped and thrashed a little more than perhaps a Mercedes might whoop and thrash into and out of potholes and over bumps.

I used the trans-hump-mounted sport shifter in the mountains and found it simple and efficient -- you knock it over to the left then push it up or back to shift up or down. You don’t need more than that in a car like this and you certainly don’t need or want paddle shifters. This setup worked just fine. I didn’t go particularly fast on any of those mountain roads because I didn’t want the passengers (or the dog) to hurl. I’m considerate like that. But the car did well through the hills and didn’t wallow or float any, despite leaning like the 3,871-pound beast it is, which, with our full load of people and dogs could have been 4,500 pounds.

The 3.3-liter dual CVVT V6 did almost everything asked of it. Only once in a while did I find myself noticing that it wasn’t a V8. Published zero-to-60 figures are in the low sixes, so it’s quick enough. The smaller displacement did account for the car’s 19 city/28 highway/22-mpg EPA combined. On my road trips, I got 24.9 mpg on one tankful and 27.7 on another, despite sustained higher speeds. In general, it’s well-matched with the six-speed automatic but on some up- and downshifts, you notice more lunge than you would on a car a class above it. Hyundai is making great strides in engines and transmissions, in general. I visited Hyundai’s engineering R&D center a couple years ago and was impressed by all the engine dynos. The visit previous to that, maybe 15 years ago, we weren’t shown any. Engines and transmissions should only get better.

As will design. The outside is refreshed for 2015, but remains just as subtly appealing as the previous skin. It was a good move by the Hyundai board to promote Peter Schreyer to head design for both Kia and Hyundai. The Toyota Avalon design team could take a few cues from their Korean counterparts when penning the next Avalon. Maybe Buick could, too, judging by the back end of that Avenir concept.

The subtly cool look carried over to the inside of my Limited-trim-level Azera, with barely noticeable carbon fiber inserts in the doors and dash. The whole thing manages to balance attractive with sensible without being bland.

During long hours in the car, we were able to connect various phones and iPods fairly painlessly. There was both a USB and an iPod jack, along with two 12-volt outlets. I found myself using the handy little touches like the remote trunk and gas flap release all the time, too. Add-on features that I didn’t like included the lane departure warning that doesn’t steer the car but instead just bings when you cross a lane divider, and a proximity parking beeper. But I don’t like those features on anything, so it’s not just Hyundai’s fault. I will say that I hate the little piano sonata (pun intended) that plays every time you get in, but that can be programmed out by those more willing to delve into the system electronics than I was. And why does the seat have to automatically slide way the hell back every time you stop the engine? Why crush the legs of your rear-seat passenger just because the front-seater is too fat to otherwise get out of the car? But that same seat had really nice lumbar support. The rear seats had a lot of room, except when that front one retracts, as did the trunk.

Quality? The little panel covering the fuses and OBD access port kept falling off and I finally just put it in the door pocket. Has Hyundai mastered quality the way others in the class have?

I’m not in this demographic (yet) but I rather enjoyed my visit to it.

ROAD TEST EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: I was looking at the last Azera I drove and I feel about the same way with this. It’s good looking, has decent power, a decent interior but no soul. Thankfully, that’s what buyers in this segment want.

The interior looks upscale, but it doesn’t exactly feel it. There are several competing materials, none of which feel great to the touch. I don’t mind the interior styling though. I like the two carbon fiber blades coming from the doors, and the recessed screen looks good and is easy to use. I hate the seat adjusters on the door panels; I wish Hyundai would put them on the seats like everyone else except Mercedes and Jaguar. There’s plenty of room down there. The floating center console leaves cubby space for stuff you travel with, and I’m glad the USB port is right in the dash storage, not hidden in the armrest. There seems to be a decent amount of room in the back and in the trunk.

The 3.3-liter won’t blow any doors off. I wouldn’t even call it peppy. It moves this car around fine, you can floor it to pass people or get on the expressway. It gets a little louder than I expected at full tilt, though. Throttle tip in seems right and there’s a decent spring to the gas pedal, enough that you can almost rest your foot weight on it.

The six-speed is smooth and gentle. It doesn’t seem to hunt for gears unless you give it a three-quarter stab, in that case it might not know how many cogs to drop. The brakes are good and progressive, and stop well before the gas pedal level, which I think is the way it should be.

Like Wes said, the steering is mostly numb; it’s decently direct, though. I’d say it’s better than competing Hondas and Toyotas. The chassis is soft enough that you won’t have to worry about dodging road imperfections.

Hyundai made a ton of progress from even five years ago, going from a company that had almost nothing to offer, to making good, inexpensive cars in almost every segment. I think it’s slowing down a little now. That new Genesis is still great, but with such a big leap a half decade ago, it’s just harder to notice now. Still, if you’re looking for a midsizer, stop by the dealership.

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