By BJ Killeen.
While the Buick LaCrosse and Hyundai Azera are in the same large sedan category, it’s an interesting comparison because we’re not sure if customers cross-shop the two. Traditionally, those looking at domestic sedans don’t go over to the import side of the street, and vice versa. However, in the spirit of “why can’t we all just get along,” now it the time to do just that. These two sedans, with completely different lineage, are closer than you might think at first glance.
Just a side note, we tested the 2012 models of both vehicles, but the Azera had no changes for 2013 as it was all new in 2012, and the LaCrosse received minor updates, such as a passive entry chrome button on the door handle for keyless opening and locking, electric power steering instead of hydraulic, and a revised look to the OnStar buttons.
In the design category, no one will ever confuse the Azera with the LaCrosse. The Buick’s lines exude elegance, with a flowing shape and a crisp character line that sweeps from the hood through the rear tail lamps. It’s classy and almost timeless in its appeal. The Azera also looks good, albeit with a slight more sporty lean. The wheel arches are more pronounced, the kicks up at the rear haunches is more aggressive, and the exposed dual exhaust says, “pay attention to me” more than the LaCrosse. Because they are so different, yet look so good; I’m calling a tie here.
Both vehicles are swimming close to the luxury segment in price and interior materials. The Hyundai features a driver-oriented cockpit with exceptionally high-quality trim, from standard leather seating, standard power heated front seats, rear sunshade, and cooled glovebox. It also features the most room in the segment, with more front row leg and headroom than the LaCrosse. The Buick, however, beats Azera with four inches more rear-seat legroom. Surprisingly, the Azera beats the LaCrosse in cargo volume, at 16.3 versus 13.3 in the non eAssist model.
Inside the LaCrosse, you also will think you’re in a much more expensive vehicle. Lots of standard features as well: power front-row seats, power heated sideview mirrors, automatic climate control, floormats, and more. We’ve had plenty of seat time in both models, and while we really like the Buick’s extremely quiet ride (Quiet Tuning is a hallmark of the brand), there were a few things we didn’t like, such as the 12-volt outlet located in the center console storage area; when we needed to plug in our radar detector for a trip to Las Vegas, we had to stretch the cord across the console; not good. In addition, while the curved instrument panel looks great, we hit our knee every time we entered the vehicle. Based on those few nits, the Azera gets the small edge in this category.
Dealing with connectivity in this electronic age, The LaCrosse has everything you’d want: available OnStar, hands-free phone and audio connectivity, and IntelliLink, which is the Buick version of Chevrolet’s MyLink system, paired with Stitcher Radio, SIRIUSXM satellite radio, and Pandora to work through your phone and the vehicle’s head unit. We really like it.
Hyundai didn’t want to be left behind, so it offers a system close to OnStar, called blueLink. It has a lot of the same features, such as vehicle diagnostics, crash notification, remote locking, remote start and more, and it also costs about the same, so again these two tie when it comes to staying in touch with the driver.
The Hyundai Azera approaches the performance equation with a new Lambda 3.3-liter V6 engine as the sole choice, but it makes more power than its previous 3.8-liter V6 with just slightly less torque. We’re talking about a decent 293 horses and 255 lb-ft of torque. The Lambda’s broad powerplant is well matched with a smooth and well-spaced 6-speed automatic transmission that features an Active Eco setting designed to deliver up to a seven-percent improvement in fuel economy through more conservative shift points. EPA mpg estimates for the Azera are 20 city, 29 highway.
The Buick LaCrosse also is worried about how much you’re spending at the gas station, and is trying to help you save fuel using its eAssist feature on the Ecotec 1.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine. GM’s eAssist, also found on the Chevy Malibu, is a small electric motor designed to help when extra power is required, without using more gas to do so. The I4 makes considerably less power than the Azera, at 182 horses and 172 lb-ft of torque, but fuel economy numbers are listed at 25 city and 36 highway. We averaged about 27 mpg combined, which is just shy of the combined 30.5-mpg number. Unlike the Azera, however, the LaCrosse offers a bigger engine: GM’s venerable 3.6-liter V6, good for 303 horsepower and 264 lb-ft or torque, making it more compatible with the Hyundai engine. It does sacrifice in the fuel economy department though, with an EPA estimated rating of 17/27 city/highway. But it is a lot more fun to drive. Both engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission that’s smooth and quick. Speaking of fun to drive, both vehicles offer clutchless shifts for when you find yourself on a nice, open stretch of twisty roads. We have to admit this is one of our favorite inventions.
On the Road Again
On the highway, the Azera’s suspension felt controlled and exhibited minimal body roll. We also thought the steering was nicely weighted and responsive, helping to deliver a quality feel that owners will appreciate. And the cabin was well isolated from tire, wind and engine noise. The Azera features standard 18-inch alloy wheels and tires, an advantage over the Buick.
The Buick also has an impressive highway ride, but leans more toward the comfortable cruising side. However, for those looking to step it up a notch, the Buick offers a spicier version called the Touring Group, which includes real-time shock damping and Sport Mode Selectivity, so you can push it a little harder and it will maintain its composure. Handing out the trophy in this class is difficult. We liked the ride quality on both, but to get that extra handling on the Buick, you’re going to head seriously north on price, so the Azera wins by virtue of its combined more powerful standard engine and exceptional ride at a lower cost.
Both the LaCrosse and Azera fit solidly into the entry-level luxury segment, with a few toes testing the water in the full-luxury division price. The 2013 Buick LaCrosse comes in six trim levels and either front- or all-wheel-drive configurations. The least expensive setup starts at $32,555 out the door. If you go with the AWD Touring Group then check all the boxes (rear-seat thorax airbags, IntelliLink with navigation, oversized power sunroof, 3.6-liter engine, and more), you’re looking at a heart-pounding $47,700. Our test LaCrosse, with the Premium I Group, and a handful of options, which is probably going to be the volume vehicle, came in at $36,175.
The 2013 Hyundai Azera starts almost on top of the LaCrosse, at $32,250. There’s only one package, the Technology Package, and it adds $4,000 to the bottom line, as well as features like HID headlamps, 19-inch wheels and tires, rear parking sensors, ambient lighting, a panoramic sunroof, and more. Carpeted floormats and an iPod cable will add another $145 to the total. Add freight, and your total is $37,290. No AWD model is available. Our test model with the Tech Package came in at $37,145 (without the floormats and cable). It’s hard to argue with a $10,000 savings on the high end, but apples to apples when popularly equipped, they are almost tied here as well.
This was an extremely tough comparison test. It’s almost like asking which one of your children you like better. But since I have to choose, this site is called AutoComparison; after all, The Azera gets the win literally by a microfiber. However, if we were doing this years ago, the Buick would never have come close. Kudos to Buick for making an entire lineup of outstanding vehicles that you should definitely test drive to see if it fits your lifestyle.