I assume he parks lots of "nice" cars at that tony location, but just what had he been doing with my Hyundai Azera test car to know how well it handles?
Maybe I didn't need to know, though he wasn't wrong in his speedy judgment. Even on a brief test drive, this car shows well.Azera is a complete makeover from the XG350 that it replaces. And as nice as the XG was in its list of features, the early model had the styling of a Russian staff car.
That's all gone now, along with that drab name.
The revitalized car is contemporary and agile. Functional, too, with headroom, lots of back seat legroom and a low shoulder line that gives the driver a commanding view over the hood and the fenders. It's a reassuring driving position.
The test car was the topline Limited with a starting price of $26,835, which was nicely plumped up with the Ultimate package for a total of $29,335.
Wow, a $30,000 Hyundai. But this one pulls it off with a touch of luxury.
Significant extras include a high-gloss wood and leather steering wheel, lighted gauges and needles, power rear sunshade, eight air bags and sport-mode five-speed automatic transmission.
The option package added a power steering wheel with tilt and telescopic adjustment and power adjustable pedals.
"Are you sure that's a Hyundai?" a colleague asked as I was listing the car's attributes.
Yep. Hyundai's moving up, and there will be bigger and better things to come.
Pricewise, the Azera competes with the Chevy Impala, Ford Five Hundred, Chrysler 300, Toyota Avalon and Nissan Maxima.
It shows up in the EPA's Large Car class and is a few ticks larger than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class in many ways.
The Azera wheelbase is 3 inches shorter than the E350, but it is 3 inches longer, an inch wider and about an inch and a half taller, with a slightly wider track front and rear.
Headroom is about the same, but the Azera has more leg and shoulder room - front and rear - and the trunk is bigger. And I considered the E-Class an ideal architecture in a recent review.
Azera styling is expressive, not revolutionary, inside and out.
The angled instrument panel and low glass line help create an open and flowing environment in the cabin.
Interior assembly has precise fit and alignment to seams and panels. The materials - plastics, woodlike trim, leather and fabric - all have first-rate finish and feel.
The textured matte-finish dashboard cover is more European in style than the glossy plastic used by many Asian manufacturers.
The rear doors open wide, and there is no shortage of conveniences, including adjustable headrests and a fold-down armrest. Ashtrays built into the door seem unnecessary, and many makers have done away with them to save 50 cents.
But few corners appear to have been cut in this car, or on any other Hyundai I've driven lately.
The trunk is wide and flat, with hinges that don't intrude into the storage area. The spare is full-size with a matching alloy wheel.
Fuel economy of 19 mpg city and 28 highway seems light when compared with the Avalon's 22/31, but with a bigger engine, all is forgiven, thanks to Azera's light touch.
There's a 263-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 under the hood, and acceleration, steering and braking all respond with balance and poise. The transmission gives well-timed shifts and has the function of manual shift when the spirit moves.
The suspension is set for comfort mode. It's not sloppy, but some might like it snugged up a bit to match the pull of the engine.
There's a little wind noise at highway speeds, kicked up mostly by the outside mirrors and tall roof.
Hyundai benchmarked the Avalon, Nissan Maxima and Audi A6 for Azera ability, then gave it a features list and price to undercut them.
For those not yet sold on Hyundai's resale value, the Automotive Lease Guide is forecasting a 42 percent residual for three years, which is fairly strong for Hyundai.
2006 Hyundai Azera Limited
Body style: large 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive sedan
Engine: aluminum, 3.8-liter, DOHC V-6 with continuously variable valve timing
Horsepower: 263 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 255 at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed Shiftronic automatic
Acceleration: 0 to 60 mph, not available
EPA fuel economy estimates: 19 mpg city, 28 highway
Fuel capacity: 19.8 gallons
Trunk space: 16.6 cubic feet
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 40.2/43.7/57.9 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 38.2/38.2/57.1 inches
Wheelbase/length: 109.4/192.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,629 pounds
Standard equipment: Remote locking, leather-trimmed seats, automatic air conditioning, electroluminescent gauges, power adjustable and heated front seats, split folding 60/40 rear seat, power rear sunshade, wood and leather trimmed steering wheel, AM-FM-CD-MP3 audio system, power windows and locks, cruise control, automatic headlights, full-size spare tire and alloy wheel, carpeted floor mats
Safety equipment: dual front air bags, front and rear side air bags, side curtain air bags, active head restraints, electronic stability control, traction control
Brakes: power-assisted 4-wheel discs with ABS and electronic brake force distribution
Steering: engine-RPM-sensing, power-assisted rack and pinion; turning circle, 37.4 feet
Suspension: 4-wheel independent with nitrogen gas-filled hydraulic shock absorbers and stabilizer bars
Tires and wheels: P235/55VR 17-inch on alloy wheel; full-size spare on alloy wheel
Base: $26,835; price as tested, $29,335
Options on test car: ultimate package, $2,500, includes power sunroof, infinity audio with 6-disc in-dash CD changer, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power foot pedals, seat memory presets, rain-sensing wipers, power folding side mirrors
Warranty: 5-years/60,000-miles basic coverage with roadside assistance; 10-year/100,000-miles powertrain
The competition: Chevy Impala, Ford Five Hundred, Buick LaCrosse, Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima and Kia Amanti
Where assembled: Asan, South Korea
PLUSES: size, style, sophistication and a positive driving experience
MINUSES: wind noise at highway speeds; suspension could be tightened to match the sportiness of the transmission and engine
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at [email protected]