Last week, Hyundai scored big at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The all-new Genesis premium sedan drove away with top honors when it was named 2009 North American Car of the Year. A jury of 50 independent automotive journalists evaluated each new car introduced last year and selected the 2009 Hyundai Genesis as the best new model.
But Hyundai wasn't done making news as they were also fielding questions on their Hyundai Assurance program. Buy a new Hyundai, lose your job or the ability to pay due to a covered life changing event, and Hyundai will allow you to return the car and walk away from your loan obligation. This new program is for new vehicles financed or leased through participating dealers for up to 12 months. At the show, rival manufacturers couldn't write down the details fast enough. Look for similar programs to pop up at a non-Hyundai dealer near you soon.
So, Hyundai has an award-winning luxury sedan and a program to help convince you to buy it... but do you want to? Actually, yes, you do. That is unless you have a hang up about the Hyundai logo on the hood. Apparently some do as I noticed the change in some friends' and co-workers' reception to the car when they found out who made it. Prior to my reveal, some thought it was a Lexus, and others thought it was an Acura or even a Mercedes-Benz. In this writer's opinion, the styling borrows a little from all three of those manufacturers, but it's the right blend. There is just enough chrome, the wheel/tire package looks good, and the proportions are just about spot on.
Genesis is based on a new rear-wheel-drive platform being introduced to this country. Hyundai engineers gave Genesis a balanced 52/48 front-to-rear weight distribution to even out the handling. The rear-wheel-drive layout allowed engineers to move the car's front wheels further upstream with the goal being class-leading handling and steering performance. However, I didn't like the steering as it felt somewhat numb and slow, but I've experienced this before in competitive cars so Genesis keeps up with some of the Joneses. The same can be said for the pillow-like boulevard ride that has very little "sport" in the handling department and opts for the full luxury treatment. Nothing wrong with the ride, just don't expect BMW levels of precision handling and road feel. It was nice to see that Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and traction control are standard issue, and this is especially useful in the slop we've experienced this winter. The ABS performed well, and the car kept its head up during hard braking.
The 235/50R18 tires on the V-8 model release some squeal while cornering, and I did not push this big car that hard. A multilink suspension featuring coil springs and anti-roll bars fore and aft consists of numerous aluminum pieces to help lower the car's unsprung mass, and as I stated earlier the ride drifts to the softer side on smooth pavement. The shocks are able to adjust the ride on rough surfaces to keep the transition less jarring.
A premium sedan should be supported by a premium engine, and Genesis does not disappoint. Hyundai's all-new Tau 4.6-liter V-8 engine produces 375 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque. Hyundai saddles its high horse with a ZF six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control. Hyundai claims that this powertrain combination will launch Genesis to 60 mph in less than six seconds. The Genesis' V-8 horsepower hand stacks comparable standard engines found in the Lexus GS460, BMW 750i, Audi A8 and Infiniti M45, and it has more horsepower per liter than any of its V-8 competitors. For a 3,800-pound large sedan the EPA city/highway fuel economy is a very respectable 17/25 mpg. During testing the engine was quiet, smooth and provided instant response. No lack of power or coarseness detected. Premium fuel is recommended.
The second chapter of the Genesis story is the interior/luxury amenities, and once again, this is a good read. Hyundai carved out a spacious interior led by a very rich looking (and feeling) dash. The dash design spreads out the controls and luxury features nicely and logically. The Driver Information System is accessed via multifunction knob that works various functions including the nav system, Voice Recognition, Bluetooth, the optional backup camera screen and the standard satellite/HD stereo. Auxiliary USB and iPod inputs allow you to fully control and charge iPods directly from the head unit.
In addition to the leather-wrapped dash, soft cow hides surround you on the door panels and console lid. The heated and cooled driver's seat is a real plus from Hyundai. The seats were extremely adjustable and comfortable for long and short drives. Bonus points are awarded for the power glass sunroof with tilt and slide, power tilt-and-telescopic steering column, integrated memory system, Lexicon 14-speaker surround sound audio system, six-disc CD changer, illuminated scuff plates, wood-trimmed leather steering wheel, electrochromic auto-dimming interior rearview mirror with Homelink and compass, power rear sunshade, standard proximity key and gimmicky push-button starter. An automatic windshield defogger with humidity sensor and rain-sensing wipers spring into action as needed.
Rear seat stretch-out room and headroom was limolike for three passengers. Cargo space is big with nearly 16 cubic-feet of space. I was also impressed by how quiet and solid Genesis felt. I've never experienced a Hyundai that was this silent, rattle-free and well-textured.
The key to this car is value. The V-6 model starts right around $33,000 including destination. The V-8 test car had a starting price of around $38,000 with destination. Add the technology package, and you've got a very well-equipped luxury sedan for around $42,000. This is thousands less than the established luxury leaders, and you have Hyundai's powertrain warranty and the new Assurance program to help sweeten the deal.
Hyundai's new flagship sedan has the capabilities and luxury features that elevate it to premium status without the premium price. In today's economy, that's a pretty competitive advantage.
BY JEFF TAYLOR
Chicago Sun Times