Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A new chapter in Hyundai's history

South Korean automaker rolls out upscale Genesis

Rolled out in the 1980s as the South Korean automaker's first foray into the U.S. market, the Excel offered decent transportation at rock-bottom prices.

But two decades after entering the U.S. market, Hyundai is working hard to reposition itself as more than just a low-cost brand.

Enter the 2009 Hyundai Genesis: The South Korean automaker's fanciest (and most expensive) car to date.

With a $32,250 base price and lots of posh accoutrements, the Genesis aims to compete with upscale sedans like the Acura TL and Lexus ES 350 - but costs some $2,000 less.

Motor Mouth recently tested the Genesis 3.8, which comes with a 3.8-liter V-6 engine. (Hyundai also offers a $37,250 Genesis 4.6, which upgrades the engine to a 4.6-liter V-8.)

On the outside, the Korean-built Genesis features a classic "Japanese-sedan" look.

Diamond-shaped headlights and an aerodynamic hood and grille sweep back toward 14-spoke alloy wheels and large doors outfitted with folding side mirrors.

All the way back, a keyless-entry trunk sits above dual chrome exhaust pipes.

Inside, the Genesis has standard perforated stitched-leather upholstery along the seats, door interiors and steering wheel. This material looks pretty nice, but a tad on the cheap side.

Still, the model's driver's and front passenger's heated seats both offered excellent hiproom, along with good headroom and legroom - all thanks to standard electric seat adjusters.

The Genesis also comes standard with a seven-speaker AM/FM/MP3/XM/6CD audio system that's fairly easy to use, with 16 well-marked knobs and buttons. The model's standard dual-zone climate system likewise relies on 12 clearly marked buttons.

Other nice standard Genesis features include a built-in iPod port, as well as special plastic coverings under the hood to keep all of the car's engine components clean.

In back, the model's rear seats provide excellent headroom, legroom and hiproom for two. However, a third person in the center seat might find things a little bit tight after 15 minutes or so.

All the way back, the Genesis' 15.9-cubic-foot trunk can accommodate two big suitcases and perhaps three knapsacks.

On the road, the Genesis 3.8's 290-horsepower engine teams up with a standard rear-wheel-drive system - a first for a U.S. Hyundai model - to provide a generally good ride.

The sedan comes standard with keyless start-up, meaning you just push a button to turn on the car on. (There's no need to insert a car key.)

The Genesis' braking capabilities are good, while parking and backing up are easy given the model's modest size.

Acceleration is fairly solid, although a tad jerky and uneven at times. My test model revved up noisily to 5,000 rpm to go from 0 mph to just 50 mph.

As for fuel economy, the EPA rates the Genesis 3.8 at 18 city and 27/mpg highway. During a week of test drives, Motor Mouth logged a combined 22.2 mpg city/highway.

But pricing is where the Genesis really excels.

As noted above, the model's $32,250 base price easily beats that of the $34,995 Acura TL, $34,320 Lexus ES and other Japanese rivals. The Genesis likewise costs less than the $35,905 Cadillac CTS and other domestic competitors.

The bottom line: Watch your step, Acura, Lexus and Cadillac. With the 2009 Genesis, Hyundai is pulling out all stops to make an exodus out of the auto world's bargain basement.

By Jerry Kronenberg / Motor Mouth

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