Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Burgeoning Beauty vs. Proven Performer

The list of six-cylinder sport coupes that actually matter is a short one. Let's face it, until now it's been BMW 335i and Infiniti G37. And then, about two weeks ago, Hyundai dropped a bomb. A big one.

It's called the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe.

And all of a sudden, the Korean carmaker -- whose previous attempts at "sporty" included machines like the unenviable Scoupe and the forgettable first-generation Tiburon -- has thrust itself into the spotlight with a car that at once looks good and has the specs to do the deed. Three hundred horsepower. Six-speed manual transmission. Rear-wheel drive. Limited-slip differential. So put that in your Scoupe pipe and smoke it. Here comes a real car.

Sounds remarkably like the territory of the 2009 Infiniti G37, doesn't it? And it is. In every way except price. So there's your comparison test.

It'll Run Ya
If you've read our full test of the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8, then you know it's a solid machine with ample power, gorgeous styling and a low price. A really low price.

For $29,500 you can have yours with a 3.8-liter V6 and the Track package, which adds a stiffer suspension, a Torsen limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes and 19-inch wheels. A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment and our test car has one. Complete with its floor mats, iPod connector and destination fee, it costs $30,375. This number, by the way, is $6,625 less than the base price of the Infiniti G37.

But let's not rule the G37 out of the game just yet. It has proven itself to be a sufficiently bad-ass machine by winning multiple comparison tests in sedan form and remaining a favorite among editors here at IL.

Our G37 test car piled on the options: a $3,200 Premium package added a Bose audio system, memory driver seat, Bluetooth and other amenities. The Navigation package added $2,200, the rear spoiler $550 and illuminated door-sill plates another $330.

The grand total for the 2009 Infiniti G37, which also had a six-speed manual, totaled $44,095 with destination. Cha-ching.

Specs Face Off
Let's not mess around; the price of entry for both of these machines is considerable. The G37's is just far more considerable, that's all. But the Infiniti also has the more impressive specs of the two. Its 3.7-liter V6 is rated at 330 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. It has huge 19-inch wheels and sticky Bridgestone Potenza summer tires, plus fixed four-piston brake calipers are matched with 14-inch front rotors.

But the Genesis holds its own on paper with 306 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque from its own 3.8-liter V6. It, too, comes with 19-inch wheels and the same Bridgestone summer tires, and four-piston Brembo calipers are up front with 13.4-inch rotors.

So are G37's extra amenities, power and proven platform enough to better a competitor which both in-person and on paper appears to have it covered in most critical arenas?

That's what we pondered as we drove both cars for two weeks. We slid them around wet roads, spun dyno rollers and sliced through slalom cones -- we even squeezed into their cramped backseats. Before it all began, we decided price and performance would weigh equally on the outcome of this test (25 percent each). The rest would be down to feature content (15 percent), our subjective evaluation score (15 percent), fuel economy (15 percent) and editors' picks (5 percent).

On the Road
If this contest were boiled down to the driving experience alone, the win would go to the 2009 Infiniti G37. It is the better driving car. Its suspension offers a better compromise between a comfortable ride and crisp handling, its engine is better suited to the character of a sport coupe, and all its controls provide better feel and response. Even its steering, which at first seems to be artificially cursed with too much effort, comes alive at speed to inform its driver precisely how much cornering grip remains at the front tires. It's a well-refined formula that Nissan has nailed on all its FM-platform cars.

The Infiniti's VQ-Series engine is the big selling point here. With a ripping 7,600-rpm redline, it's living large at high speed rather than just surviving (an impression we'd verify later at the dyno). This kind of power delivery is better suited for hard driving than the grunty mill in the Genesis. Start singing up a mountain road with the G-machine and you'll find yourself at high rpm early and often. And you'll want an engine that's comfortable there.

Perhaps the only area where the 2009 Infiniti G37 falls short relative to the Genesis is in the use of a viscous limited-slip differential. Slower reacting and therefore less predictable than the Torsen LSD in the Genesis, the G's viscous unit simply isn't as effective as it should be in a platform this capable. Yet there's no denying that the Genesis is very, very good. Enough so, in fact, that most drivers wouldn't miss the G37's added dimension of communication unless they'd had a back-to-back run with the Hyundai. The steering and brakes of the Genesis coupe lack the G37's immediacy, but nonetheless offer ample confidence. Its shifter isn't as bolt-action precise, but we never missed a shift.

And its 3.8-liter engine, well, there's the heart of a minivan under the coupe's sloping hood and we can't pretend otherwise. We swear there's still a little Kia Sedona in its otherwise throaty intake note, which sounds far better than the G's raspy howl. But let's not forget, this Korean engine is fractionally bigger than the Infiniti's mill. The Genesis' V6 makes ample yank right off idle and equals or exceeds the G's engine in power and torque production until 4,800 rpm according to the Dynojet chassis dyno at MD Automotive in Westminster, California.

Where the BS Stops
At the test track the 2010 Hyundai Genesis proves itself a worthy entry into the sport coupe segment by giving the pricier Infiniti a run in several categories. First, the Genesis tips the scales at just 3,488 pounds -- 221 pounds lighter than the G37. Porkiness has long been a valid gripe about any car built on Nissan's FM platform and the G is no exception.

But being lightweight didn't help the Genesis coupe accelerate as quickly as we had hoped. The Genesis hit 60 mph from a standstill in 6.4 seconds (6.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and went through the traps at the quarter-mile mark in 14.5 seconds at 97.9 mph. That's considerably slower than the G37's 5.7-second run to 60 mph (5.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and its quarter-mile performance of 13.9 seconds at 101.4 mph.

Accelerating the Genesis quickly can be tricky because of a drivetrain protection feature built into its engine calibration. Shift the Genesis coupe aggressively at redline and you'll occasionally experience a power cut in your target gear which lasts 3 seconds.

The problem is exacerbated by the car's tachometer, which doesn't keep up with the engine speed in the first few gears, so it's too easy to run the engine to its 6,800-rpm maximum speed (redline is 6,500 rpm). Hyundai says the drivetrain protection is triggered at 6,800 rpm, but once it intervened, we experienced a power reduction in the next gear at much lower engine speeds. Run this V6 to the rev limiter in any given gear and it will hang there comfortably. But if you shift hard and quickly at the indicated redline, you'll occasionally be punished with that cut in power.

Hyundai is considering a new calibration, but there are cars going on sale that incorporate this 3-second power intervention, a feature that can punish drivers at engine speeds well below redline. Some people won't notice it, but to others it could be a deal breaker in the purchase of a Genesis 3.8 coupe.

The Handling Story
Throttle inputs can be used to adjust the cornering attitude of both coupes around the skid pad, but the Torsen differential in the Genesis makes these adjustments quicker and inspires more confidence while doing so. The Torsen diff also gives the Hyundai better lateral grip than the G37, with a 0.88g performance on the skid pad versus 0.85g for the G37.

Through the slalom, the G37's heavier steering offers high-resolution feedback, which helps making prudent decisions at speed easy. But the Genesis has better body roll control and provides more than enough feedback to sense its limits. The Infiniti is quicker at 69.7 mph vs. the Genesis coupe's 68.2-mph run.

The real story here is bigger than the numbers. Drive these cars back-to-back over the same section of road and you'll find them similarly capable. You'll squeeze more speed out of one exiting a corner yet find the other more confident going in. You'll learn to love the G37's instant brake response and then fall for the Genesis' more relaxed but equally confident pedal action. Going quickly in the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe is a product of its guttural grunt, intuitive feel and textbook rear-drive balance. By comparison, the Infiniti is more anxious, more precise and more immediate.

In this case, both approaches work well. But if we were going to split hairs, we'd say that the 2009 Infiniti G37 makes a bigger sacrifice in daily driving where its heavy steering and immediate brake response seem unnecessary and, at times, awkward. But then we'd have to tell you that the Genesis coupe's engine mounts are too soft, so its big V6 flops around way too much during quick shifts or rapid throttle transitions, creating intrusive drivetrain lash. But we won't do that because we genuinely like the way both cars are tuned.

Living Inside and Out
Hyundai's interior quality and design are a step up from many comparably priced cars, but when compared to a machine as costly as the G37 it's sometimes clear where the corners were cut.

The G37's center stack offers two additional knobs that are universally more expensive and offer more expedient, rapid control than buttons. In this case, there's another knob for the G37's passenger temperature, because dual-zone climate control is standard on the Infiniti and not available on the Genesis. There's also another knob for radio tuning. The radio and ventilation controls for both cars operate with quality feel, but with few exceptions, the Infiniti offers a slightly improved level of precision and damping from its knobs.

The Infiniti's $2,200 Navigation package provides one of the best nav systems in the business as well as XM Nav Traffic, 9.3GB of hard-drive storage for music and a compact flash slot for MP3 playback. Navigation won't be available on the Hyundai until mid-model year.

Hyundai has cut no corners on the seats of the Genesis, however. In fact, the only way we can think to realistically improve them is to put a non-slip surface on the seat bottom. Otherwise, they are supportive, adjustable, even good-looking. And they're superior to the G37's seats in every way except there is no easy-entry release for either of the front seats, a feature the G offers.

Once in the backseat, passengers 5-foot-10 and taller will have to duck down in the Genesis but will still fit in the G37. Both cars make compromises in their rear seats, which is to say, don't plan on riding in the back of either one for very long.

And finally, the ability to make the Infiniti G37 look slab-sided and stodgy requires a car as aggressively styled as the Genesis coupe. This is truly a beautiful machine with lines and angles which literally stop traffic. If you're not a wuss, you'll get yours in Bathurst Black, which best shows off the coupe's gorgeous haunches and sculpted sides. Hyundai managed to knock off the G37's elegant proportions and then add some much-needed shape. And we love it.

The Rest of the Story
It's the undeniable value equation that tips this test in the favor of the 2010 Hyundai Genesis 3.8. You simply get more car for your dollar with the Genesis coupe. Sure, it's not as much car as the 2009 Infiniti G37, but at two-thirds the cost, it doesn't have to be.

Plus the Hyundai effectively opens up the sport coupe arena to a new buyer -- one who isn't prepared to drop the better part of $50 large on a car but wants the looks and most of the performance of the big players. And that, friends, earns the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 a spot on anybody's short list of possible purchases.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

By Josh Jacquot, Senior Road Test Editor

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