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Good News, Bad News

RUMBLE SEAT DAN NEIL

Sales and quality are way up at Hyundai. Nevermind that the boss is in jail.

June 14, 2006|DAN NEIL

Under the beveled hood is the smooth, purling V6 with variable valve-timing heads and overhead cams, from which 255 pound-feet of torque are sluiced through a five-speed automatic. What's notable here is not the car's off-the-line performance -- though the front wheels pull the 3,629-pounder to 60 mph in an outstanding 6.1 seconds -- but the tenor of it all. The powertrain, carefully isolated from the chassis, has the creamy thrum we have come to associate with Lexus and Infiniti.

Meanwhile, cabin noise from other sources -- wind, tire noise -- approaches that of the whispering Buick Lucerne. This is a very serene cabin and this is important. Just about any manufacturer can cut their margins on subsystems purchased from suppliers (rain-sensing wipers, for instance), but engineering noise-vibration-harshness (NVH) out of a car, well, that's expensive.

There is one exception, however. Whenever the car crossed rough pavement or railroad tracks, there was a disconcerting booming sound coming from the rear multi-link suspension. I would wish for more isolation between the body and the heavy, oscillating parts of the suspension.

Actually, the Azera reminds me in lots of ways of Lexus and Infiniti cars of a few years ago. For example, the quality of leather and the look of the glossy faux wood wrapped around the cabin, on the steering wheel and gearshift (this may be the best fake-tree trim I've seen in a car). The stippled aluminum finish on the gearshift console is very like an Infiniti. The Azera Limited has the same electroluminescent dials that dazzled us in Lexus only a few years ago. As Stravinsky said, good composers borrow, great composers steal.

The single, disappointing omission is the fact that the Limited isn't available with a navigation system. Somehow, amid the leather and wood-esque surfaces, the interior seems unfinished.

Whatever malfeasance he committed, Chung told the judge at a hearing June 1, he did because he was obsessed with building his company into something great. He might have cut ethical corners, in other words, but only to take the long way 'round toward quality.

As a \o7mea culpa \f7in the car business, that gains my sympathy. One of the ironies of Chung's being busted is that Hyundai's success, the industrial pride of South Korea, might not have been possible without the creative efficiencies of the \o7chaebol \f7system, which refers to the interlocking family-business oligarchies. The Korean government has good reason to want to take down the \o7chaebol \f7oligarchs but doesn't want to throw a wrench in the Korean economy.

It leaves open the question: Can you sell a car as good as the Azera honestly?

Automotive critic Dan Neil can be reached at dan.neil@latimes.com.

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2006 Hyundai Azera Limited

Base price: $26,835

Price, as tested: $29,415

Powertrain: 3.8-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V6 with variable valve timing; five-speed automatic with manual shift mode; front wheel drive

Horsepower: 263 at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 255 pound-feet at 4,500 rpm

Curb weight: 3,629 pounds

0-60 mph: 6.1 seconds

Wheelbase: 109.4 inches

Overall length: 192.7 inches

EPA fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway

Final thoughts: Smooth, powerful and well built. Nevermind how.

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