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Hyundai Azera Slides Into Luxury Territory for $37,000

SAN DIEGO (MainStreet) -- Heated front and rear seats. Dual-zone climate control. Touchscreen navigation -- just a few of the standard features in the 2013 Hyundai Azera.

While Hyundai is not necessarily the first automaker that springs to mind when considering a luxury car purchase, by many accounts the Korean automaker's 2013 Azera is loaded with enough luxury features to make it a viable player in the upscale car market -- comparable to the Lexus ES.

But whether the car-buying public realizes the leaps the car has made over the past few years and will pay the increased sticker price remains to be seen, say some automotive industry experts.

"If you took a look at the Azera with no predisposition, you'd think it was a luxury car," says Bengt Halvorson, deputy editor of High Gear Media, a company that specializes in providing information for new car shoppers. "It certainly compares with the Lexus ES in terms of ride and handling and performance."

Azera, one of six sedans offered by the Korean automaker, benefits in its most recent model year not only from more luxury bells and whistles, but also from a completely different architecture -- a more fluid styling and design approach that Hyundai began implementing in 2011 on its Sonata, Halvorson says. It made for a wildly successful relaunch of the Sonata two years ago.

"They put a lot of effort into design, and for first time Hyundai had its own design -- that didn't look derivative from other Japanese cars. It set its own style, and that was really important," Halvorson continues.

That new, very distinct, very stylish approach doubled sales of the Sonata within a year or two, Halvorson says.

Last year that design approach was applied to the Azera. And this year even more features were added.

"The Azera, in previous iterations, was basically a pretty boring, soft riding, traditional car -- quite simply a great bargain. It offered a lot of features for the money viewed in the same segment as a Buick -- stodgy but a great deal. You could pick one up for under $30,000 with everything," Halvorson says. "The heated and cooled seats, the heated steering wheel -- those are quickly becoming differentiators. The heated rear seats used to be a feature only the creme de la creme had -- the large expensive luxury cars that you would be chauffeured around in."