Monday, June 30, 2008
From Genesis to Revelations: The Korean upstart tries to pull a luxury rabbit out of the Lexus top hat. And pretty much does.
Hyundai established a beachhead in the U.S. market with affordable economy cars in 1985. Over the years, the number of models offered increased, and steady improvements in quality resulted in steady gains in the market. Now Hyundai is headed upmarket, and the full-size Genesis sedan is its first entry. It has rear-wheel drive, an optional V-8 engine, and all the indulgences one finds in a big luxury car but at a price significantly lower than the Germans or Japanese charge.
Sounds like a remake of the Toyota story line of 1989, when that Japanese automaker launched the Lexus luxury brand with the big LS400 sedan. At least Hyundai wants us to think it's the same story. That Lexus changed the automotive landscape, and we've seen plenty of imitators try to repeat that feat, but none with the Lexus effect. Moreover, the price range the Genesis plays in--base price is $33,000 for the V-6 and $38,000 for the V-8--is both more crowded and more competitive than it was in 1989. And the Genesis doesn't enjoy a new brand and dealer network as Lexus did. So, is the Genesis the second coming of the LS400 or just another heroic but failed attempt at redefining luxury?
The LS400 earned its fame not just for offering its luxury for two-thirds the price of Mercedes or BMW equivalents, but for refinement, attention to detail, and a superb dealer experience. All of these qualities persist throughout the Lexus lineup and have been adopted by the German competition as well. From an engineering standpoint, the Genesis makes a strong case for being considered an equal in that crowd. Take, for example, what Hyundai has done to cancel out cabin noise. More than 275 feet of structural adhesive (that's glue) is applied to the body shell to damp vibrations and improve stiffness. The roof panel alone has six anti-vibration pads, and the floor is covered with them, too. Even some of the open space inside the body pillars is stuffed with insulation. The windshield and door use double-paned glass for more sound insulation. If the Genesis isn't quiet, it's not for a lack of trying.
The suspension, as well, is as sophisticated as they come. The four main links on the two front corners are each attached to the hub with a ball joint. This arrangement locates the steering axis much closer to the center of the tire's contact patch than it would with a conventional unequal-length control-arm suspension, which should improve steering feel and reduce bump steer. It's an expensive setup, made more so by the use of lightweight aluminum for the links, knuckles, and brackets, and further evidence that Hyundai is making a serious effort here. That front suspension setup also hints at a yet-unannounced four-wheel-drive version because that arrangement reduces torque steer. The rear suspension knuckles are aluminum as well, connected to the chassis with five links. The power steering is hydraulically assisted, but an electric pump supplies the fluid pressure, which Hyundai says increases fuel economy by 2.7 percent.
The centerpiece of the Genesis is the all-new, Hyundai-designed 4.6-liter V-8, codenamed "Tau". The output of 375 horsepower on premium gas (a fill-up of regular reduces power to 368 hp) puts this engine in a fairly exclusive crowd, more so when you consider its specific output of 81.0 horsepower per liter. The base 3.8-liter V-6 is rated at a competitive 290 horsepower. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic; the V-8 version's is supplied by ZF.
In contrast to the advanced engineering in the Genesis, the styling is more cautious. Hyundai went for a mainstream look, convinced that bold designs tend to age quickly. So there's a bit of S-class in the headlights, a hint of Lexus GS in the hood, some 5-series in the taillights, and a BMW- or Nissan-like kink in the C-pillars. At least the grille is unique, and it manages to elevate the looks of the Genesis from well proportioned and anonymous to well proportioned and handsome. Speaking of proportions, the 195.9-inch overall length of the Genesis makes it just about the same size as a Pontiac G8 or Chrysler 300C, a few inches longer than a 5-series, and a few inches shorter than a short-wheelbase 7-series.
If the exterior sets modest expectations, the interior exceeds them. The Genesis isn't just the best-appointed Hyundai, it's good enough to be judged against established luxury marques. High-gloss wood accents are plentiful, and every version except the base V-6-equipped car comes with a leather-wrapped dash. Standard items include keyless entry and ignition, heated seats, XM satellite radio, iPod and USB audio integration, and Bluetooth phone connectivity. A fully loaded Genesis with the Technology package includes navigation with live traffic information, adaptive HID headlights, a 17-speaker audio system, a cooled driver's seat, a reverse backup camera, a power tilting and telescoping steering wheel, automatic wipers, an automatically defrosting windshield, a rear power sunshade, and a multifunction knob similar to the ones found in BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Adaptive cruise control will be an option in late 2009.
On paper, the Genesis looks like it's everything it aspires to be, and our test numbers for the V-8, gleaned at Hyundai's R&D center in Korea, support that. The results include a 0-to-60-mph time of 5.6 seconds, a quarter-mile performance of 14.1 seconds at 103 mph, a skidpad figure of 0.86 g, and a 70-mph-to-standstill braking distance of 169 feet. That puts the Genesis in with the lofty company it aspires to compare with. Hyundai claims the V-6 should be about a half-second slower to 60 mph. Our brief driving impression revealed well-controlled drive motions, predictable handling, and an excellent powertrain. We'll need more time behind the wheel to be sure, but all signs point toward a well-tuned chassis. We're not suggesting banishing that 5-series just yet, as the Genesis is tuned more for Lexus-like isolation than BMW-like involvement. And that, at least ideologically, is one of the few minor shortcomings of the Genesis. Lexus makes fine cars, to be sure, but the Germans and Infiniti have more to offer in the fun-to-drive category.
Then there's the price. A top-of-the-line Genesis V-8 costs $42,000, or about $10,000 less than a base 2008 Lexus GS460 (a loaded Genesis V-6 tops out at 40 large). That's also significantly cheaper than the mid-size offerings from Audi, BMW, Infiniti, and Mercedes-Benz, and the Genesis comes with full-size dimensions. But 1989 was a long time ago, and a Lexus-like upset of the luxury-car order is unlikely if not impossible in this era. Plus, the Genesis is expensive for a Hyundai, and it is pricier than the less luxurious 300C and G8. That said, the Genesis stands poised to make drivers reevaluate their perceptions of the Hyundai brand, which is good for Hyundai and bad for the competition. In that respect, then, it looks like 1989 all over again.
BY MICHAEL AUSTIN
Car and Driver
Thursday, June 26, 2008
DEARBORN, Mich., June 24, 2008 - Hyundai received the 2008 "Production Preview Vehicle of the Year" award for its Concept Genesis Coupe at the seventh annual North American Concept Vehicle of the Year Awards today. Concept Genesis Coupe closely resembles the production model which will join Hyundai's lineup in the spring of 2009. The awards, organized by the South East Automotive Media Organization (SEAMO), recognize those vehicles most likely to shape the future of the automobile industry. Winners were honored in a ceremony at the Automotive Hall of Fame.
According to juror Kevin Kelly of Automotive Design & Production, the Concept Genesis Coupe is "sporty, aggressive and modern - not words you commonly associate with Hyundai design, with the exception of this car. The Concept Genesis Coupe doesn't try to be a muscle car in the vein of the American concept, it busts through those doors to create something that's a combination of sport and a bit of luxury that will still appeal to those who want power."
"It's rewarding that SEAMO recognized how closely Concept Genesis Coupe foreshadowed the production model's breakthrough design," said Joel Piaskowski, chief designer, Hyundai Design, North American Design Center. "Our design objective for the concept was to create a 'Tuner' version of the production car. This allowed us to exaggerate the front and rear fascia designs as well as introduce more aftermarket design details in keeping with a tuner image."
Some of these items include the carbon fiber hood, roof panels and lower valence panels to the larger, more aggressive front air intake and dual exhaust ports in the rear.
"The production Genesis Coupe will be another excellent example of Hyundai's commitment to outstanding quality, value, safety and forward-looking design" Piaskowski added.
A jury of more than two dozen professional automotive journalists from throughout North America selected the concept award winners from the 40 concept vehicles and 12 production preview vehicles that made a North American debut during the 2008 auto show season. The Concept Award panel is assembled by peer selection, and the jurors do not pay or get paid to participate.
The "Production Preview" category is for those vehicles based on a model that has already been announced or planned for production. As a "reality check" between the design and production stages of development, production preview concepts continue to grow in importance.
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe, which debuted at the 2007 Los Angeles International Auto Show, is a new benchmark for affordable 300-horsepower sports coupes. The Genesis Coupe is a purpose-built rear-wheel drive sports coupe featuring two performance-focused engines - a 212-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a range-topping all-aluminum 306-horsepower, DOHC 3.8-liter V6 engine.
Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif., is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Company of Korea. Hyundai vehicles are distributed throughout the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced by almost 800 Hyundai dealerships nationwide.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Autoblog recently spent time in Korea driving pre-production versions of the new Hyundai Genesis. This is the car that, according to Hyundai, will usher in a new era of luxury. Them's big words, and we only got a limited amount of time to figure out how true -- or not -- they were. But the main thing you need to know about the Genesis is this: unless they pull a bait and switch on the price range they mentioned, the car will be worth every penny Hyundai charges.
The parking lot statistics are these: the Genesis is a big car with a fair bit of horsepower. The car is longer, wider, and has a longer wheelbase than the BMW 530i, Mercedes E350, and Lexus ES350. It's also good looking -- massive and curved without being bulbous -- although it's not designed to be controversial or, frankly, beyond the grille, that memorable. All you'll be left with a few hours later is, probably, "It was a good looking car." That is not a bad thing, since most people wouldn't remember exactly what an ES350 looks like, either, and this slice of the mass-market segment is not where you're trying to compete with Gaudi or Scaglietti... or Bangle. But if you're really worried about the price of gas, you'll be happy to know it also has a better Cd than any of those other cars, too.
Under the hood you get your choice of a 4.6-liter V8 or 3.8-liter V6. The bigger lump corrals 375 horses when sipping premium, and 368 with regular gas. Torque numbers are 333 lb.-ft. and 324 with premium and regular, respectively. Those numbers put it in the mix of luxury offerings from Infiniti, BMW, and Mercedes, the Lexus GS460, along with the Chrysler 300C, and Pontiac G8, with slightly more horsepower than all but the E550, and slightly less torque than any of them. Hyundai's first in-house V8 also gets high-zoot tech like a two-step variable induction system and dual continuously variable valve timing. The 3.8-liter Lambda V6 gets 270 hp and twists 233 lb.-ft., which keeps it in good company as well. It also provided quite the surprise when we got behind the wheel, but we'll get to that in a moment. Through the six-speed automatic transmission, your mileage will be 17/25 in the V8, and 18/27 in the V6.
Inside, the Genesis is nice. No, we mean nice. We admit that we're suckers for a cockpit that looks like mission control, but that's until we're actually driving at speed and have to figure out where the button is to stop cold air from blowing in our face. Then we hate it. Credit goes to Hyundai for creating an IP interface that we like almost as much as the Jaguar XF's, which has just the right amount of buttons to get crucial functions handled quickly. The difference is that the Hyundai doesn't have a touchscreen, which would have been wonderful, but hey, this is only round one, and that Jag screen will cost you quite a few Korean won more...
Seating, driving position adjustability, and the view from inside are all top notch. The back seat, however, was our favorite place. That had nothing to do with not wanting to drive the car -- it's simply an enormous back seat area. With the cars exceptional length and wheelbase, there is enough room for people in front and back to stretch out at the same time. If you don't get too rowdy, you could probably even have a game of ring-around-the-rosie back there. And swing a few cats. It's that roomy.
Fit and finish, stitching, touch, materials, and integration are all very good. Now, before anyone goes scanning pictures through an electron microscope and saying "Well, it kinda looks like...", remember, we're talking about a car that will probably come in well under $40K -- and that's for the V8. And while we don't want to hit the price refrain too often, this isn't about making excuses, it's about keeping in mind what the competition is. Is it as nice as a BMW interior? In absolute terms, no -- if the BMW is a 10, the Hyundai is 9-and-change. But for practical purposes, yes, because that extra percent will cost you at least $7K more to access, and it's not that much nicer. Sit in a Genesis and see what you think. In fact, sit in a BMW 530, sit in a Genesis, and then sit in a fully kitted out V6 Honda Accord, and you'll see where the Genesis is playing.
BMW can take credit, however, for Hyundai's Driver Information System (and COMAND, and MMI, and so on...). BMW, having pioneered that type of interface, has had to watch as other companies got it (more) right. And the DIS is a pretty straightforward and simple to use, incorporating HDD nav, voice recognition, Bluetooth handsfree, multimedia, climate control, and vehicle dynamics.
But let's get to the driving. We only had a day with the Genesis, and that was on a proving ground, so we can't really talk about the finer points of long distance driving and handling. Things like day-long comfort and suspension capabilities will have to wait until we can spend a week with the car next month. For now, know that the V8 car has a weight balance of 54:46, the V6 posts a 52:48. We were told there was about a 400-pound weight difference up front between the V6 and V8, factoring in both the engine and associated components.
The car gets a five-line suspension front and rear with some aluminum components like knuckles, links, and brackets. The shocks have amplitude selective damping. The power steering motor and pump unit have been isolated from the engine to improve steering feel, and that feature also improves fuel economy. The body is 74-percent high-tensile steel, with an ultra-high-strength steel cage around the cabin that is laser welded to form a continuous seam and provide appreciably more stiffness and rigidity and less flexing than the luxury competitors.
We tried increasing speeds through the slalom, and the car handles admirably, with almost no wallow. Irretrievable pendulum action didn't occur until we got to toward the end of the six cones at speeds a little higher than those we were advised to drive at, having accelerated through. Let off the throttle in the middle of a screeching tire turn, and the car settles right down. The car isn't begging to be driven like that -- you won't race through a slalom and be itching to turn around and do it again -- but the car's capabilities are more than enough when emergencies dictate sawing at the wheel.
Take the car up to 70 mph and hit the brakes, and you'll find yourself back at zero in just over 160 feet. Among its luxury competitors, that beats everything but the BMW 535i by almost ten feet or more.
On the handling course, the V8 has a rewarding, linear curve. Again, it's not the kind of car that you're going to throw into Eau Rouge at top speed -- and that's not the point. But you know what the car is doing, and you can walk it toward its limit without worrying that you'll go beyond it first. It's a big car, so there's quite a bit of weight, so while the car is taut, you're going to feel it shifting and settling when you're blazing through sweepers. But the Genesis didn't need a few moments to decide what it was going to do around the corner, and didn't complain. You set your speed, turn the wheel, and the Genesis sorts it out.
Get frisky through hairpins and the sedan -- specifically its integrated ESC system -- will have something to say about it. Throttle control kicks in first, and if matters out back are still too loose, the rear outside brake clamps down for a fraction of a moment. However, none of the intrusions are abrupt, there are no shrieking chimes or strobing lights, you're not suddenly out of power in the middle of a turn, and you know where the car is the entire time.
It was on the high speed oval that we began to wonder about the V6 versus V8 question. The V6 at top speed, (130 mph) in the highest lane, was rock solid, while the V8 at about 145-MPH suffered some suspension squash and wandering. In the middle lane, at 100 mph, the V8 was solid as granite, with the V6 just a fraction behind it in solidity. All of this is mainly due to heft of the engine. The important things to take from this are: 1. We drove a Hyundai at 145 mph and didn't have any concerns about it; 2. we drove a Hyundai at 130 mph and 100 mph and described the experience as rock solid; 3. Nearly all Genesis drivers will never have to worry about how the Genesis handles on a high-speed oval; 4. Nearly all Genesis drivers will be pleasantly shocked that a Hyundai handles superbly past the century mark.
And the final thing to take away is this: we couldn't understand why we should buy the V6 over the V8. They perform nearly identically. The V6 is almost as fast. The interiors are the same. They look almost identical, with nothing other than a small badge on the rear valance to differentiate the two. Even the tailpipes are identical. And the V6 gets better gas mileage. We're a high-horsepower guys... but if we were going to buy a Genesis, we'd buy the V6.
Is there anything wrong with the Genesis? Sure, there are certain luxury trimmings they didn't include: the turn signals don't click three times (and even Volkswagens have that). You need to use the key or the button inside to open the trunk-- there's no release on the lid. And there are some places, such as the trunk, where the trim isn't quite finished. But again, this is round one.
The real question: who will this car compete with? It's being pitched as a competitor for the 5-series et al. Let's not look at this as a luxury lifestyle proposition yet, where brand-brand-brand rules the day. Let's look at this as a financial proposition, because, really, that's what it is for the time being. We all know that Hyundai doesn't have the brand equity to stand toe-to-toe with BMW. Yet. And we're not saying they will -- that's up to them. But remember, at one time, even BMW didn't have the brand equity to compete with today's BMW.
If the Genesis is reliable and Hyundai stands behind it until can make an impact with the brand-conscious, it is going to sell. That is not in question. Based on what we know of the Genesis so far, anyone in the market to spend $35K on a luxury sedan must at least give the car a chance. After that, the question any potential buyer should ask is: Do I want to score a 9.5 out of ten on the European luxury scale and save myself $10,000 or more while doing it? We can only believe there are a lot of people out there who will answer "Yes" to that question.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Midsize SUV a Highly Recommended Hyundai
I don't know why I'm continually surprised by the quality of Hyundai vehicles. I know I'm not the only one; maybe we have some prehistoric tendency to revert to things that were etched in our brains during our formative teenage years. Whatever the cause, for some reason I am pleasantly surprised every time I drive a new Hyundai, and the 2008 Santa Fe was no exception. In fact, I liked the Santa Fe so much I want to kick that teenage, snarky me to the curb right now and recommend this midsize SUV go to the top of the list for two of my friends who are shopping for cars.
The array of features in the Hyundai Santa Fe Limited was so complete that the only thing my kids mildly complained about was the lack of an entertainment system. As far as I'm concerned, that's like complaining about having no dessert -- talk to the hand. The kids were thrilled with things like a little drawer in the back of the center console that fit exactly two iPods and two sets of headphones. They also took advantage of the reclining seats for proper snoozing on a late-night return from Grandma's house. My 8-year-old daughter even asked me to snap photos of the interior door handles because she found them really easy to operate. Now that is meat and potatoes, people, not fluff.
Even better than all the great features, I so enjoyed driving the Santa Fe. My seating position was really easy to adjust, and the adjustable steering wheel made me even more comfortable and confident. I liked the blue glow of the instruments and controls at night -- it was really sporty. The controls were very simple and functional, and the navigation system was easy to operate. I especially liked the 3D view option on the navigation system that looked like an on-the-street perspective (complete with horizon) rather than a bird's-eye view. I think that was my dessert, because I can't be sure it served any practical purpose.
Other nice features include heated seats, steering-wheel audio controls, an excellent safety rating, decent gas mileage and plenty of storage. I did find myself wishing for a backup camera (which I would like to see come standard with any navigation system) or even some backup sensors.
The cargo space in the Santa Fe was plentiful, and the center console offered several options for my regular mom-coutrements, like a pack of gum, garage door opener, toll pass, etc. My test vehicle did not have a third row, but it did include a huge lined storage bin in its place. I'm sure I could line that sucker with ice packs and stash enough snacks for my son's entire baseball team. Heck, I could even throw in a picnic lunch for my family of five and still have room for some umbrellas and galoshes (because you KNOW it'll rain) thanks to the convenient built-in separator.
I think one of the most impressive things about the Hyundai Santa Fe is the extensive warranty that comes with it. Just about everything on the car is covered for five years or 60,000 miles, and most of the driving parts (the powertrain) are further protected to 100 months or 100,000 miles. Teenage-me thinks of that as a necessary safety net when buying a Hyundai, but adult-me just sees a quality car that's nice to drive, has just about everything my family needs and comes at a decent price. The great warranty is just dessert.
By: Emily Hansen
Monday, June 23, 2008
FOUNTAIN VALLEY, CALIF., 05/29/2008 The 2008 Hyundai Veracruz ranked above the competition in the Large Crossover Sport Utility Vehicle category in AutoPacific's 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards (VSA). AutoPacific's VSA, based on owner survey results, is an industry benchmark for objectively measuring how satisfied owners are with their new car or light truck.
"Today there are more nameplates and fewer buyers than a decade ago and the 2008 calendar year is the most challenging year for the American auto industry since the mid-1990s," said George Peterson, president, AutoPacific, Inc. "This extremely competitive situation means that automakers need to use any advantage they have to get their vehicles considered and purchased."
"We are pleased and honored to have been recognized with such an influential industry award," said Scott Margason, national manager of Product Development at Hyundai Motor America. "Veracruz is an exceptionally well-equipped vehicle, boasting the latest safety technologies like Electronic Stability Control, convenience features like a proximity key, and a quiet, comfortable ride. Veracruz is a prime example of Hyundai's commitment to achieving maximum customer satisfaction."
AutoPacific's Vehicle Satisfaction Awards are driven by data collected from more than 34,000 buyers and lessees of new vehicles acquired during September through December 2007. Buyers and lessees rate 46 attributes related to a vehicle's operation, comfort, safety and overall purchase experience. The awards recognize vehicles in 28 different categories. A complete description of scoring methodology and a list of all winners can be found at www.autopacific.com.
Hyundai Motor America, headquartered in Fountain Valley, Calif., is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Company of Korea. Hyundai vehicles are distributed throughout the United States by Hyundai Motor America and are sold and serviced by more than 790 Hyundai dealerships nationwide.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
At a time when auto sales are struggling, Hyundai is introducing its Genesis luxury car. The timing is bad, but the car is surprisingly good
Hyundai Motor, a little Korean startup company just over 40 years ago, grew into a global brand by selling inexpensive vehicles. Now the company is entering the highly competitive luxury-import market to go toe-to-toe with such automakers as BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz. Hyundai is offering startling prices, too.
There could not be a worse time to introduce a new brand of luxury car. Oil costs more than $130 a barrel, the economy is in a shambles, unemployment is rising, salaries are stagnating, the housing market is a disaster, and most industries are suffering. As the "R" word circulates broadly, the new car business is sluggish. "Stinks" is the description I've heard from some dealers.
Despite the obstacles, Hyundai will start selling a new luxury car in just a few weeks! A new luxury car?
Do words like "nuts," "gutsy," and "crazy" come to mind? Obviously not to the Koreans. "It's just challenging," Dong Jin Kim, Hyundai's vice-chairman, said at a recent meeting in Seoul. "We have invested a significant amount in time, resources, and money to assure the Genesis is a successful marketing launch."
More Than a Word
"Luxury" is a disruptive, troubling term with significant socioeconomic resonance. The go-go 1980s and '90s firmly established the credo: "You are what you eat, drink, wear, think, read, and of course, drive."
Arguably, the most opulent automotive brands are Rolls-Royce and Bentley--now owned by BMW and Volkswagen (VOWG), respectively. With sticker prices ranging from $25,000 to $400,000 depending on the extras, these are the epitome of high-priced wheels. For most drivers, though, luxury begins north of $35,000.
Mike Jackson, president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale's AutoNation (AN), one of the nation's biggest sellers of luxury cars, detailed in a speech earlier this year the benchmark characteristics customers seek in a luxury automobile.
Starting with many of AutoNation's specifics, I've added a few details to capture the vagaries and subtleties that collectively contribute to a customer's appreciation of the luxury cars previously mentioned. There is no ranking order, merely a simple thumbs-up for yes, or a thumbs-down for no.
|Standard Luxury Features||Roll-Royce Bentley||Hyundai Genesis||BMW 5 Series||Lexus ES350||Mercedes E350|
|Comfortable steering wheel|
|Plush floor mats|
|Special purse place|
|Easy to drive|
|Easy to read dials day/night|
|Famous Brand Name|
|Price over $40,000|
It seems the Genesis stacks up pretty well. As it should: In creating the Genesis, Hyundai closely studied the competition's features and design cues. Many drivers may find the look derivative of more established luxury brands--but this charge has been aimed at automotive upstarts since the birth of the internal combustion engine.
But just because Hyundai wants to build a luxury car, that doesn't mean it can. It takes more than clever copyists to deliver the goods. To find out for myself if the Genesis is the real deal, I traveled to Hyundai's Namyang, South Korea, research and development center a few weeks ago to put the vehicle through its paces.
Here are my perceptions:
* Showroom stance: sleek and smooth. Stylish without being over the top. Looks distinctive, with vague reminders of something I can't quite name. Looks expensive. Ready for snobbish valet parking attendants' front row, but will probably start out in the second line.
* Interior on first glance: uncomplicated with nonglaring accents and accoutrements. Colors are quiet, but not boring. Appears spacious. Not ostentatious, but certainly distinctive.
* Amenities: technological playground. Big-sound HD audio with XM, iPod, and Bluetooth functions. Hands-free phone, nav system, rear camera, rain-sensing wipers, and lots more.
* Driver's-seat perspective: instrument panel uncluttered, with a clear typeface on dials. Wish I'd inspected the car at night. Not overly complex. Good viewing area. Several seat adjustments to accommodate drivers of varying height.
* Passenger's-seat perspective: similar to the driver's.
* Rear seating: a big surprise. These seats are not just for munchkins, but for adults, too. I suspect my 6'5" son would be unusually comfortable.
Driving was done in a sterile format on a variety of test tracks, with no urban challenges. There were a smooth surface for high-speed straightaways, cone courses, and sudden stops; a bumpy, rutted surface reminiscent of most bad roads in Michigan; a short, undulating surface designed to make the person in the rear seats sick; and not least, a high-speed oval. All of the benchmark competitors' vehicles were on-site for comparison testing. My comments are based on driving and/or riding the rear-wheel-drive Genesis models in both the 3.8-liter V6 and the new 4.6-liter V8 versions.
* Engine startup: literally turn the key and go, without noticeable engine startup noise. Barely a whisper.
* Acceleration: kicked it at once to test speed and noise. Moved out quickly and quietly but not especially memorable or exceptional. After all, this is not a sports car, but a sports sedan. The Genesis will accelerate as needed to merge at high speed with traffic.
* Steering: during the acceleration test, made a quick switch halfway down the track to drive through a tightly spaced series of cones. This required weaving in, out, and around. Handling was light, quick, and responsive. Felt comfortable and confident, even on a very tight (over 30°) left turn of the wheel, and at a higher speed. Balanced, without heavy swaying, or side-to-side tossing, in the driver's or rear seat.
* Handling: on a customized road course that included a variety of twists and turns--both right and left--and was several hundred yards long. Drove the course four times, first to get the general layout and then in three runs at ever-increasing speed. The electronic stability control on the tightest turns, at what seemed nearly unsafe speeds, straightened the vehicle out with little more than some tire squeal. That's all. Very nice.
* Sudden stopping: fast and faster halting! During my acceleration test, the ride-along engineer ordered "Stop!" I did, without swerving or feeling at all loose.
* High-speed track: Unlike Nascar's left-turn ovals, this was a banked, right-turn-only track, five lanes high and a mile long. This road's rule is simply the faster one goes, the higher the groove. While a couple of velocity-obsessed writers favored speeds in excess of 140 miles per hour, I opted for a prudent 100-110 mph, feeling comfortable and in control throughout.
Now for price: The Genesis will make its debut in a few weeks at several thousand dollars less than its rivals cost. The V6 will sell for $33,000, and the V8 for $38,000. In comparison, the BMW 535i commands just under $50,000, while the Mercedes-Benz E350 goes for a little more than $52,000.
Frankly, it will take time for Hyundai's name to become synonymous with luxury, privilege, and quality--if it ever does. But the team that designed the Genesis has taken a commendable leap into the luxury market. Assuming people are still buying luxury cars in 10 years, I'd love to see what Hyundai will be producing then. Some people once laughed at Lexus and Acura.
Marty Bernstein is a contributing editor at the American International Automobile Dealers Assn.
by Marty Bernstein