Friday, October 24, 2008

Hyundai Genesis offers prestige, value

A billboard near a Hudson Valley enclave urges people to "drive prestige." It is an unabashed pitch to egos in pursuit of sales of expensive European and Japanese automobiles -- BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Lexus. But times are tough. Prestige no longer gets an automatic nod. Prestige without value, or encumbered by suspect worth, nowadays gets the boot. Into that environment comes Hyundai Motor America with its most expensive automobile to date, the rear-wheel-drive 2009 Hyundai Genesis sedan. It's aimed at what the car industry calls the "near-luxury segment" -- that part of the market priced from about $30,000 to $50,000.

Going for the gold

Conventional wisdom suggests that Hyundai is making a mistake. It is a Korean-owned company that made its mark in America, a poorly formed scratch that eventually became a strong product signature, selling economy automobiles and wagons. What is Hyundai doing trying to sell cars priced from $33,000 to $42,000?

The short answer is that Hyundai, like its competitors, is going for the gold. If successful, Hyundai could reshape popular notions of prestige. In the process, it could elevate the meaning of "value."

Style without sticker shock

Its styling is attractive inside and out. And the car is loaded with amenities, including touches such as a power rear sunshade.

What the Genesis lacks is an astronomically high price. Depending on the model, the Genesis can cost from $200 to $22,000 less than competitive European and Asian automobiles.

In that regard, the Genesis is a celebration of luxury without hyperbole, luxury with a deal, including one of the best automobile warranties in the business -- five years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper protection and a 10-year/100,000-mile limited warranty on engine and transmission.

Complaints: The steering in the Genesis 4.6 takes some getting used to. Initially, it feels a bit heavy and off-center, as if it wants to move slightly opposite of your intended turn. But you soon learn to let it do its thing, which turns out to be wonderfully precise. By comparison, the steering in the Genesis 3.8 is remarkably compliant to driver input.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Both the Genesis 4.6 and 3.8 move with agility, speed, power. My favorite is the Genesis 3.8, which feels lighter and quicker and gets 27 miles per gallon on the highway vs. 25 mpg for the Genesis 4.6.

Head-turning quotient: To all of you who asked: Yes, Hyundai designed, developed and manufactured the Genesis, which rolls out of a Hyundai assembly plant in Ulsan, Korea. It's an attractive piece of work that proves no one has a corner on automotive talent.

Body style/layout: The Genesis is a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, full-size, entry-level luxury sedan. It is offered in two basic formats, 4.6 and 3.8, with three trim levels -- "premium," "premium plus" and "technology."

Engines/transmission: There is a 4.6-liter V-8 that, using premium gasoline, develops 375 horsepower at 6,500 revolutions per minute and 333 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm. The available V-6, which produces 290 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 264 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm, runs on regular gasoline. Both engines are mated to a six-speed transmission that can be shifted automatically or manually.

Capacities: There are seats for five people. Luggage capacity is 15.9 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 19.3 gallons and takes unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 16 mpg in urban traffic and 24 mpg on the highway with the V-8. In the V-6, I did two to three mpg better all around.

Safety: There are eight air bags, including head and side bags front and rear. Body construction is rigid. Electronic head restraints, stability and traction control are standard along with anti-lock brakes.

Price: Start at $33,000 for the 3.8, including a $750 shipping charge. The Genesis 3.8 can be optioned out to about $40,000. Prices for the Genesis 4.6 start at $38,000, including the $750 transportation charge. The 4.6 can be optioned out to $42,000. Prices are sourced from Hyundai.

By Warren Brown, Washington Post

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