In the 23 years since Hyundai first entered the U.S. market, the Korean automaker has come a long away. What began as a budget-oriented brand for those who couldn't afford the higher-priced products from Japan has evolved into a credible contender in virtually every segment that it competes. In the early days, the primary emphasis was on affordable motoring, sometimes at the expense of long-term durability. Today, it's a different story. From the Accent to the Genesis sedan, Hyundai still offers some of the most affordable products, but the decades-old connotations of "cheap" have been largely laid to rest.
With the introduction of the Tiburon, Hyundai finally dipped its toe into the sports-car segment, but as nice as it was, it simply didn't have the chops to play with the big boys of the performance set. Enter the Genesis Coupe. Hyundai's rear-wheel-drive two-door is the second salvo in the automaker's bid to flesh-out its premium Genesis sub-brand, while at the same time taking direct aim at a field of established competitors ranging from the Ford Mustang to the Infiniti G37. Does the Genesis have what it takes to play the game? We spent a week with a 3.8-liter Track model to find out.
When the engineers at Hyundai decided to seriously tackle the performance coupe segment, they didn't mess around. Although the Genesis coupe shares no resemblance to the similarly named sedan, many of the mechanical bits underneath carry over – and that's a good start. The Coupe sports a fully independent suspension at each end, and in proper performance car form, the directional and tractive efforts are split between two axles. The front tires handle the steering duties while drive torque is transmitted to the rears. While our first opportunity to play with the coupe occurred at Spring Mountain this passed March, shortly thereafter, Hyundai dropped off the 3.8-liter Track variant for some more real-world evaluation.
The 3.8 Track sits at the top of the Genesis Coupe line-up and comes loaded with almost every available option. At this level, the only extras are carpeted floor mats, an iPod cable and the automatic transmission. Our Interlagos Yellow tester had everything but the self-shifting gearbox, and we were perfectly fine with that. The seats were covered in a surprisingly nice black leather, with the driver's side sporting multiple power adjustments. The front seats of the coupe are perfectly suited to a performance car with substantial bolsters on the sides and adequate thigh support. The cushioning is firm and well shaped, with no odd protrusions to inflict discomfort.
As for the rear compartment, that's another story. In typical sports coupe fashion, the back seats seem to be an afterthought. When we drove the Tiburon last year, the rear confines were totally inadequate for anyone over five-feet four-inches, requiring passengers relegated to the rear to crouch down in order to avoid bouncing their heads off the rear glass. While the Genesis is a substantially larger car, it threatens to inflict the same kind of head trauma. However, instead of the rear cushion sitting nearly flat with the floor like other coupes, the mounting position is quite high. If the roof wasn't there, the rear wouldn't be a bad place to be. But it is, and it is.
Regardless, given the Genesis Coupe's reason for existence, the front seats are the place to be. The working space for the driver is well laid out and reasonably attractive. In fact, it's quite upscale. The steering wheel features a thick rim that's easy to grip and wrapped in the same leather as the seats and shift knob. In recent years Hyundai has made a habit of benchmarking cars one class up when developing new models (the Veracruz was pitted against the Lexus RX330, as an example), while still keeping the price in check. In the Genesis, it shows. Hyundai set its sights on the Infiniti G37 coupe, while aiming for a price-point competitive with the Mustang and Camaro. The downside of this low cost of entry are materials that don't match their upscale appearance. Hard plastics dominate the dash, although the fit is tight and there are no noticeable squeaks or rattles on the pre-production sample we tested.
Of course, those materials don't necessarily affect functionality. Among other things, opting for the Track version of the Genesis means the car rides on a set of attractive 19-inch alloys with Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rubber. With the available grip, it's important for a driver to be able to sense what's happening at the pavement during cornering and here, the hydraulically assisted rack and pinion steering comes through, providing good feedback and adequate feel. The only flaw we found with the steering was during a comparatively low-speed slalom run at the track. Because the 3.8-liter V6 features decent low-end torque, sometimes there's no need to down-shift. However, the steering assist is engine-speed sensitive and if it's lower than expected, a series of quick left-right-left maneuvers could result in running out of boost and a sudden increase in effort. Fortunately, this isn't generally an issue out in the real world and it never manifested itself during our week with the Coupe.
The other major changes that come with the Track package are stiffer spring and damping rates, thicker anti-roll bars, a Torsen differential and the Brembo brake package. When we become King, all cars will come equipped from the factory with Brembos and the Genesis continues our lust for the throne. The four-piston mono-block calipers don't flex under braking, so the primary source of mushiness we've experienced with other coupes is thankfully missing from the Hyundai.
Out in California or Nevada, where the roads are smooth and relatively free of frost heaves and pot-holes, the track suspension works great. In the North-East, it's an issue. On neglected stretches of tarmac, the Track model will simply be too stiff for some as a comfortable daily driver. Every little (or enormous) imperfection is transmitted straight through to your body and even a simple run to the store can become tiresome. Unless you live somewhere with properly constructed roads, or plan to spend plenty of time driving at the track, opting for the base or grand touring models might be a better choice if the Genesis is going to be your only car. It's just too bad that the Brembos aren't available as a stand-alone option.
Aside from the Track edition's ride, the Genesis is a more than credible competitor to other coupes in the $20,000 price bracket. It has aggressive styling that sets it apart from the traditional American coupes. Rear-wheel drive means pesky issues like torque steer don't even enter into the discussion. The most glaring omission compared to the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger is a V8 engine. But from a performance perspective, the Genesis doesn't really need a V8. At 3,389 pounds, the Coupe has a 400-pound advantage over the six-cylinder Camaro and a 500-pound edge on the V8 model. The V6 Mustang weighs about the same as the Genesis, but the power is only comparable to the turbo-four, so performance is similar on the small-engined models. The comparatively light weight means the Genesis has a nimble feel that you won't find in the Camaro or Challenger, and the only downside is the Coupe's lack of a throaty rumble that only a big bent-eight can provide.
Our maxed out 3.8 Track model priced out at a very reasonable $30,375, including delivery. That puts it right in the heart of its American V8 competitors and several thousand dollars less than a G37. Those who don't need the full 306 hp provided by the V6 can opt for the 210-hp turbocharged four-cylinder and even less weight, and anyone who lives somewhere with questionable pavement might want to save $2,000 and skip the Track model. Put the extra cash towards an aftermarket set of Brembos or find a friendly Hyundai dealer to order the parts and you're nearing perfection. And "nearing perfection" is where Hyundai's first true effort in the segment lands. The Genesis Coupe delivers on nearly every conceivable level, blends an attractive exterior with a thoughtful interior, and does it all for a price that's still easy on the wallet. Hyundai's come a long way, and the Genesis coupe is the start of another great chapter.