Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Genesis The Size Of A Buick

Most of our review cars manage to travel about greater Hartford unnoticed. They blend in, like a single tree in a forest.

There are exceptions, of course. Sporty models, performance vehicles and those with an extravagant price tag attract attention from enthusiasts. Four-door sedans, however, are generally ignored.

The Genesis, Hyundai's new luxury flagship sedan, turned out to be a notable exception. It is neither sporty nor extravagantly priced, yet it drew a surprising amount of attention.

There was the Buick driver at the self service pump who thought the Genesis looked "like a BMW" and wondered about various aspects of its performance, starting with fuel economy. The answer, which I did not know then, since the car was getting its first refueling during our review period, turned out to be 22 miles per gallon on regular gas.

The owner of a Mercury Grand Marquis was more probing. How did it ride, what is the handling like and did the interior, which looks very good, cost any extra? The answers follow, but first some background.

The Genesis is Hyundai's first attempt to break into the so-called near-luxury and luxury markets. It is also Hyundai's first rear-wheel drive sedan offered here and the first model from this maker that can be had with a V-8, though a refined and potent V-6 engine comes in the base version, which Hyundai loaned us for this review.

"Base version," unfortunately, has a negative connotation that does not apply here. It conjures up images of stripped down vehicles with plastic upholstery and a shocking lack of comfort and convenience features.

The base Hyundai Genesis is lavishly equipped. Think of an item you would not motor without and the chances are good that it will be on the standard equipment list. Air conditioning? The Genesis features automatic, dual zone climate control. Power assists? Standard are power windows, power heated mirrors, power remote control locks and power front bucket seats. Hyundai also includes an AM/FM/CD/MP3 playing audio system, keyless starting and, for the safety conscious among us, eight standard air bags (front, front side, rear side and side curtain), anti-lock disc brakes, traction and stability control.

"Hyundai has done a great job," said Steve Katuzney, sales manager at Lia Hyundai in Hartford. "We're taking BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes in trade."

The interior in the Genesis is beautifully done. Heated front seats and leather upholstery throughout are standard. Every surface that a driver or passenger can see or touch is probably padded and definitely highly attractive. The car is beautifully assembled and the body has a solidity that was once the exclusive hallmark of German luxury car makers. In short, there is nothing basic about the base version of the Genesis, except its $33,000 price tag.

For an additional $5,000, buyers can opt for the V-8 version. In addition to this expenditure delivering 85 additional horses, the V-8 version also adds a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, a power sunroof, memory for the driver√Ęs seat, mirrors and steering wheel settings, an audio upgrade and rain sensing wipers. All of these items are offered in a $2,000 option package for base Genesis customers, suggesting that the V-8 is actually a $3,000 upgrade.

"The 3.8 [liter V-6] is the most popular," Katuzney said.

Regardless of the engine, a six-speed automatic transmission that shifts with near perfection is standard. Performance with the V-6 is impressive. Our review car made it to 60 miles per hour in just 6.7 seconds. The V-8, tried on the track at Pocono two months ago, is faster yet. Both drivetrains offer world-class refinement.

The ride is generally smooth, if firm. Comfort is enhanced over bumps by the taut body structure and the complete absence of squeaks, buzzes or rattles. Cruising is especially quiet with the windows closed. Handling is predictable and reassuring, though the Genesis is not particularly sporty.

The front seats offer all-day comfort and ample room for six-footers. In the rear, two more six footers will fit, even with the front seats moved back on their tracks. The Genesis is officially a five-passenger car, but the center rear seat passenger will find a large hump in the floor that ruins leg room. The hump is there for the driveshaft; remember that this is a rear-wheel drive car.

The trunk is large and easily accessed through a nicely sized lid. The rear seat back is fixed, however, so what you see once the trunk is opened is what you get. There is no expansion option here, though there is an arm-rest pass through for skis.

On the road, the Genesis easily earns its luxury car stripes. It is placid yet responsive, luxurious and comfortable. It may not be a sports sedan, but it delivers just what buyers who prize comfort, silence and style want. And it does so at a surprisingly low price.

"People who come to look at it love it," Katuzney said. "Those who just read about it and who don't come in to look at it and drive it are losing out."

Paula Says...

As a passenger, I loved the Genesis. It was quiet, comfortable and serene. The back seat was accommodating and, for me, limousine-like, thanks to its comfort and room. Interior treatments, materials, design and assembly are all top notch.

Driving the Genesis, however, was not quite as thrilling as I expected. Granted, the V-6 engine has lots of pep. It is so lively that I would have to question the need for the V-8, which while more powerful is less economical and calls for premium fuel. (The V-6 happily consumes regular.)

The vehicle's steering response is perfectly okay, but not exceptional. Of greater concern, the view ahead for a shorter driver is marred at intersections and in parking lots by the left outside mirror. Piloting the car through a busy mall calls for lots of head movement to overcome this. It also calls for a careful touch on the accelerator pedal, which I found a little sensitive at first.

On the plus side, the gauges are clear and the controls are easy to use thanks to a layout that has everything just where you think it should be. Getting in and out is a breeze, too.

By JIM MACPHERSON

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