If any street in America personifies luxury, it is the aptly named Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Fla. It's a shopping street for the elite, yet one of the oldest jewelry stores on this rarefied retail strip sells _ gasp! -- costume jewelry.
Hoping to mine a similar formula in the car market, Hyundai has introduced the latest in automotive cubic zirconia: the Hyundai Genesis.
This sedan has all the hallmarks of a car that costs twice as much, but is it the real deal or a good fake?
The Genesis, Hyundai's first rear-wheel-drive car, is the company's largest at more than 16 feet long. It boasts a roomy cabin for four; five if someone rides atop the rear seat's hard center section.
The interior decor is striking. The instrument panel and doors are wrapped in leather trim, a touch that costs Hyundai an extra $125 a car. The seats are soft and comfortable, yet prove supportive enough for long hauls.
Everything works well, except for the software that control s the radio and navigation. It seems that Hyundai used BMW's frustrating I-Drive system as a template, and the result is equally frustrating.
The Genesis has the usual standard luxury gear: heated front seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a push-button starter, a power rear sunshade and a 14-speaker Lexicon audio system.
The test vehicle had a single option, a $4,000 Technology Package that included an air-conditioned driver's seat, upgraded 17-speaker audio system, satellite radio, navigation system, rear back-up camera and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
But any automaker can dump a load of gear into a car. What separates the gems from the phonies is the experience behind the wheel.
The Genesis offers two engines: a 290-horsepower, 3.8-liter V6 or a new, velvety-smooth, 375-horsepower, 4.6-liter V8. Both hitch to a six-speed automatic transmission.
The 3.8-liter motor, which allows for 0-to-60-mph acceleration in 6.2 seconds, will provide more than enough power for most drivers. But true aficionados will want the sublime 4.6. Its effortless acceleration _ from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds _ and muted growl endow this car with the proper attitude for a luxury conveyance. Road, tire and wind noise are well- suppressed.
So far, so good. If the Genesis is a fake, it's hiding it well.
But the car's true colors are revealed when traveling the third-world road surface of most Interstates.
The suspension crashes firmly over bumps, recovering with a compliant motion that doesn't possess the unruffled smoothness of the finest in its class. It's almost as though the Genesis can't decide whether to be a German car or a Japanese car.
The car's styling plays it safe by pirating cues from so many makes that it ensures total anonymity.
Overall, the Genesis sparkles like a gem, and only those who recognize the "H" symbol on the trunk lid will know that it didn't come from Tokyo or Stuttgart.
Those who will cherish the Genesis are realists who will appreciate the value the car represents. For them, the calculated craft matters more than the resulting image. It's like buying a Louis Vuitton wallet for $40 from a Manhattan street vendor. Who can tell it's not real?
But for those automotive romantics who see value in heritage and the racing provenance that underlies such names as Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Jaguar, the Genesis will always be the poseur at the party.
What we say:
Automotive cubic zirconia
Pro: Boatloads of luxury
Con: The Hyundai badge
Engine: 4.6-liter DOHC V8
Wheelbase: 115.6 inches
Length: 195.9 inches
Weight: 4,012 pounds
Cargo space: 15.9 cubic feet
EPA rating (city/highway): 17/25 mpg
Fuel economy: 24.4 mpg
Fuel type: Premium recommended, regular acceptable
Base price: $37,250
As tested: $42,000
Larry Printz, The Virginian-Pilot