First Drive: 2009 Hyundai GenesisLuxury by Numbers: On paper, the Genesis is all the luxury car you need
Numbers. It's all about the numbers. Longer and wider, with a longer wheelbase and shorter turning radius than BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, and Lexus ES. Lower coefficient of drag, 0.27, and better fuel economy than most. A stiffer body than those of the Bimmer, Benz, and the Lexus LS 430 (Hyundai sees much of the Lexus range as its competition). Its optional Tau V-8 is "best-in-class," making more horses (375) than V-8s in the 550i, E550, GS 460, or Infiniti M45 and does 0-to-60 mph in well under six seconds. It's built in the world's largest auto factory, Hyundai's 1.62-million unit-per-year Ulsan plant.
7 Series size, 5 Series performance, 3 Series price, Hyundai says.
Hyundai's first indigenous rear-drive sedan and in-house-developed V-8 comes 41 years after the company began assembling knock-down Ford Cortinas, 34 years after it built its own first car, 17 years after it began building its own engine design. And at least four years before Ford can return to the rear-drive sedan business in North America. Impressive, by those numbers.
Words paint a different picture, however. When Hyundai confirmed it was working on a rear-drive sedan a couple years ago, the motoring press leapt to the words "sport sedan." Hyundai subsequently toned down the hyperbole, saying the Genesis (developed under codename "BH") would offer Infiniti/Lexus-like luxury and performance at a typically cut-rate Hyundai price.
The Genesis is no sport sedan. It is luxurious, yes, and the V-8 is strong. Heck, the base 290-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 is really good in this car, and it's coupled, as is the Tau V-8, to a ZF six-speed automatic transmission that ticks off smooth up- and downshifts. It also provides better balance, 52/48 front/rear versus 54/46 for the V-8, an engine that makes good, if overly muffled, sounds under full throttle.
A limited first drive at the Namyang Research & Development Center revealed Hyundai hasn't strayed from its cushy car roots. You may have read about the Korean journalists who criticized the car as too soft when it launched in its home market last January. Hyundai's American engineering team, led by ex-GM guy Wendell Collins Jr., reworked the sedan's multilink front and rear suspension for our market, with stiffer springs, shocks, and damping. It's worked, to the extent that extracting cushiness out of a suspension inherently designed for comfort can work. It's no 1960s American floatmobile, having been stiffened up about as much as possible without sending the ride/handling equation off-kilter. Damping is especially good, reminiscent of a Honda Accord's.
On Namyang's tight handling course, the Genesis's suspension handles transitions reasonably well. Push it hard, though, and the front tires scrub into the pavement. It's not the kind of treatment you expect a large luxury sedan to take, but you do expect to try it on a sport sedan. The car is biased considerably toward understeer, and there's no steering with the throttle, electronic stability control on or off. As with most any Lexus or Mercedes, you can't turn ESP off completely.
The speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering is a bit numb and on the light side, offering less feedback than an Infiniti M35 provided for comparison, and requiring small corrections on the banks of Namyang's high-speed oval. The Genesis V-6 tops out at a tire-limited 130 mph on the oval, and the V-8 will do an autobahn-friendly 155. Germany's autobahn will not be the Genesis's natural habitat, however. While smaller Hyundais and Kias have successfully attacked European rivals on their turf, Hyundai says it won't export the Genesis to Western Europe as long as Lexus flounders there. The Genesis will be available in North America and much of Asia, Africa, and Russia.
It'll be a hit with drivers who value maximum comfort and a modicum of prestige over handling dynamics. The Genesis is nicely trimmed, with the right amount of chrome and a two-tone interior featuring a leather-wrapped dash (which serves to minimize the unconvincing fake wood appliques), door panels, console lid, and seats. Its long list of features includes high-fidelity Lexicon Logic 7 audio (only the second car with that brand, after the Rolls-Royce Phantom) and a navigation system with backup camera. You control the HD radio, navigation, climate, and iPod with the Driver Information System, which looks like BMW's iDrive button. Fortunately, it works much better, with controls duplicated elsewhere on the dash.
Fit and finish is generally good, with consistent stitching for the leather dash along the panel breaks. Hyundai didn't sweat the details, though, because elsewhere they're less impressive. The hood gap is a bit too wide. The Genesis has plastic-finished gooseneck hinges (not bad, but they're not gas-filled shocks) and parcel shelf speaker and subwoofer bottoms of that high-end Lexicon system are left exposed. A $21k Chevy Malibu's trunk is finished better.
Hyundai has big plans for its rear-drive platform, including the upcoming BK sport coupe. And it has big plans for its somewhat ill-timed V-8. Dong-Jin Kim, Hyundai's vice chairman and CEO, says 4.6 liters is the small end; the engine can be bored and stroked up to 5.5 liters, which will serve nicely in the not-for-U.S. long-wheelbase Genesis, eight inches longer than the standard sedan and two inches longer than the front-drive Equus V-8 it replaces. The 4.6 will get gas direct-injection in a couple of years, pushing horsepower past 400, Kim says. Hyundai would have to raise the BK coupe's hood to fit the Tau, "and why would we?" he asks. The BK V-6 "leaves a lot of room for the tuning guys."
Finally, Hyundai has added the Chrysler 300C and Pontiac G8 GT to the Genesis V-8's competitive set. This makes infinitely more sense than comparing the car with Mercedes and Lexus-the American cars are scratching and clawing for respect in their own country, where German icons and Japanese perfectionists rule the big luxury-car segment. The Hyundai Genesis will do well in a new, little sub-segment heretofore to be called "value-priced luxury cars." Next to the Yank tanks, though, its bigger numbers don't feel big enough to propel the car past your expectations of the Hyundai brand.
|BASE PRICE RANGE||$26,000-$30,000 (MT est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINES||3.8L/290-hp/264-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6;
4.6L/375-hp/333-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
|CURB WEIGHT||3750-4000 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||195.9 x 73.4 x 58.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.6-6.8 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||17-19/25-27 mpg|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.88-0.98 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Summer 2008|
By Todd Lassa