Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chris Paukert drove the 2009 Hyundai Genesis 3.8

Even (or perhaps especially) in V-6 form, the Hyundai Genesis is one of those cars whose value proposition is so strong that it simply cannot be ignored. Like Lexus' first LS400, the Genesis convincingly elevates its parent company into the luxury sedan market. Similarly, like the original LS, the Genesis surprises with its generously cut, high-quality interior and silent operation, but aesthetically it's rather underwhelming.

Around our Ann Arbor offices, we still see cladded-up old Genesis test mules circulating, and some of them feature the prototype grille that was passed on in favor of the anonymous sternum-like assembly that reminds of those badgeless surrogates used in commercials when companies don't want automobiles' identities highlighted. Neither are particularly attractive, but at least the stillborn grille featured a company emblem--as it is, there are exactly zero badges to inform passers-by that the Genesis is a Hyundai. As good as it is, you'd think that the Koreans would want to take credit.

Banal styling aside, there's plenty to like here, especially at our modestly-specc'd example's MSRP of $36k. It offers the room and performance of mid-level luxury cars like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class at a fraction of the price. Furthermore, by being priced so reasonably, Hyundai ought to avoid the Icarus trap that Volkswagen's Phaeton fell into (if nothing else, the Genesis doesn't have a sister brand like Audi to compete with), as its value proposition remains clear.

I drove our tester home to (and around) the Cleveland area for the Thanksgiving holiday, and everyone was shocked and by the fact that this was a Hyundai (even current brand owners were bowled over--they apparently didn't get the memo). Further, for the company's first stab at a modern rear-drive sedan, the balance and power distribution is impressive stuff--even in slushy, icy conditions--and the 3.8-liter V-6 provided adequate thrust while returning a respectable 24 miles per gallon during what was primarily highway driving.

Any performance issues we experienced with the Genesis can largely be classified as "niggles," as this is a fine automobile at an exceptional price. If we have a primary complaint, it's that Hyundai has yet to grasp the concept of premium interior lighting. The gauge cluster's white backlighting is pleasing to the eye, but it clashes with the buttons and audio system's blue illumination. Similarly, our optional Lexicon fourteen-speaker stereo (part of the $3000 Premium Plus package) sounded good, but the display's text and blue backlighting looks downmarket and out-of-place (we turned it off most of the time, especially at night when it was too bright). Worse still are the reading lights, which are incredibly bright LED units--not a bad thing in and of themselves, but they are aimed poorly and blind the driver at night. A bit of attention would go a long way here.

For those who care more about value and less about badge snobbery, the Genesis is a whale of a car for the money. By massaging just a few minor areas (styling, lighting, etc.), who knows... we might even be able to remove the financial qualifier.

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