Hyundai aims to take on premium brands with Genesis


by By TOM VOELK / Special to

Posted on April 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving Northwest: The refined Hyundai Genesis

There's a style that writers use called "the reveal." It involves first sending the reader in a perceived direction only to pull a zinger out of thin air at the last moment for dramatic effect.  I've used this technique in my video reviews. Imagine close-ups of high-end luxury car features like rich wood, satellite navigation systems and supple leather, then snap zoom to a most unlikely logo - Hyundai's Flying H.  There will be people who can't accept it, but Hyundai has revealed a very good premium offering with the Genesis.

Related Content

The Genesis sedan is a number of things.  It's an excellent upscale four-door. Certainly it's a good value.  Most importantly though, Genesis is a shot across the bow to the rest of the car world.  Here is proof that this Korean brand will not be regulated to making only cheap and cheerful transportation. 

Movin' on up

Hyundai has dabbled in higher end offerings before but the XG and Azera have hardly been serious threats to the established players of Ritzville.  Motor Trend stirred up controversy by proclaiming Veracruz the winner of a shootout against the Lexus RX350.  Now Genesis arrives, eager to take on Mercedes E Class, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CTS and Lexus GS.  Winning the 2008 North American Car of the Year title is a good start. 

Let's start with one thing the Korean doesn't have - a premium badge.  The right one perched on a grille might impress the neighbors, Genesis' noggin will just confuse them.  There's no logo at all.  The grille, with a vague resemblance to a Klingon's forehead, is bare.  Genesis is in fact understated in almost every way.  The general consensus is that it looks like a larger Infiniti G37 with some BMW in the back loins and Mercedes up front.  Let's just call it conservatively attractive if not overly distinctive.  Remember, Lexus was pretty derivative before they got their confidence up.

Two different flavors

High end models get a velvety 4.6-liter 375-horsepower V8.   My tester has the 3.8-liter V6 that makes 290 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque.  Its thrust goes through a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual mode on its way to driving the rear wheels.

0-60 happens in 6.2 seconds according to the Dynolicious app installed on my iPhone.  According to Hyundai's specs this is just a half second off pace than the smoother V8.  Why choose the larger engine?  It's a buttery smooth piece of engineering and makes the car feel more spendy.  For $5,000 you not only get the big motor, there's a number of upgrades including things not available on the V6-special wheels, a wood trimmed steering wheel, oh-so-cool illuminated sill plates and ultra-super premium leather.  My words, not theirs.

On the road

True to its upscale aspirations, Genesis coddles everyone with a hushed cabin (thanks to laminated windshield and front side glass) and a comfortable but controlled ride.  Genesis is not as engaging in corners as BMW or as clinically isolated as a Lexus.  Still there's no wallowing around in the S turns; it seems like Hyundai tuned Genesis along the lines of a Mercedes.  In mixed driving I'm seeing 22 MPG.  The EPA rates it at 18 city, 27 highway.  The V8 scores 17/25. 

Once under way, electronic stability and traction control helps to keep Genesis on the road and out of harm's way.  Anti-lock disc brakes are at all corners (vented up front).   With Electronic Brake Force Distribution the binders are very well done with good modulation and excellent stopping power.

Priced to move

Starting at $33,000, my tester with the Premium Plus Package stickers for $36,000. Genesis is quite a value.  Leather seats and keyless ignition are standard.  They definitely didn't cheap out in the cabin to make a price point.  Everything touched -  the hand stitched instrument panel, the door handles and pulls - have a quality feel to them.  Even the smell is rich.  It's all very close to the established players.  Phone controls located up near the sunroof are a bit awkward to use; I'd like to see them on the wheel.  Everything else, like the Lexicon sound system with iPod integration and firmness of the heated leather chairs, is appropriate in class.

For an additional 4 large the Technology Package offers up HID adaptive headlights, satellite navigation with XM NavTraffic, a back-up cam, an even better Lexicon sound system with 7.1 surround and a 40-gig hard drive - plus the driver's seat chills your backside as well as toasts it.  Tempting, but even though Genesis undercuts the competition by a wide margin; it's tough to get your head around a $40,000 Hyundai.  

If the badge doesn't impress, the interior will

In back the outboard passengers will find the seats are especially comfortable.  Plenty of foot and legroom too. The center position has a drive shaft tunnel to deal with and the seat is raised.  Even an average guy like me will bonk their head on the roof here.  Keep it to kids in the middle.   There's no separate climate zone back here but vents on the door pillars are welcome.  A nice touch?  Rear passengers get side torso airbags to augment the full curtain units. 

Even people driving luxury cars need to haul stuff.  Genesis' trunk looks pretty big but the devil is in the details.  Hinge arms eat up space and the seat back doesn't fold, just a ski pass through.  In the end, (no pun intended) 7 packs of Kirkland brand 2-ply bath tissue is about average for a car this size.  With space-saving scissor hinges I'm sure I could get at least another bundle in.

A new genesis for Hyundai

Hyundai has been bucking the trend of lower sales partly due to the brilliant marketing of their Assurance + plan.  Lose your job and Hyundai makes the payments for three months.  After that Hyundai will let you bring the car back if things are still bad.  Keep in mind other brands have followed Hyundai's lead.

All things considered, Hyundai's Genesis is an exceptional car.  It's biggest drawback is not the engineers fault.  They can't change a buyer's emotional reaction to a badge on the trunk lid.  There was talk of Genesis becoming its own brand, like Acura or Infiniti, but that's a lot of heavy lifting for just one car.  The sedan's companion, the Genesis coupe, is built for performance not luxury.  It's poised to take on Camaro, Mustang and 370Z. 

Keep this in mind as you reevaluate your mind set:  Genesis may be Hyundai's flagship in the states but that's not the case in other parts of the world.  At the New York Auto showed they revealed the Equus, perhaps to tempt Americans and concern the competition.  It's meant to go up against Mercedes S Class, BMW 7 Series, and Lexus LS.  For now though Genesis will do fine.  Shoppers who seek refinement will find Genesis to be more than just a good deal, it's the real deal.