June 11 (Bloomberg) -- So you've been window-shopping on Porsche's Web site, eyeing a new 911. The Carrera S starts at $87,000 and you want it with the seven-speed double-clutch transmission, an additional $4,000. And how could you buy your dream car without the full interior leather package for $2,100?
Then you notice that unopened 401(k) statement on your desk and are reminded that, despite Porsche tastes, you're on a Hyundai budget. That's the sound of brakes screeching.
The good news is that, even if the financial markets aren't cooperating, some carmakers are. For those yearning for a recession-priced plaything, a certain South Korean carmaker would like you to take note of its sub-$30,000 Genesis Coupe.
Hyundai's new coupe, an offshoot of the $32,250 Genesis sedan (which won the 2009 North American Car of the Year award), promises attainable fun in lousy times.
This is Hyundai's first attempt at a true-blue, rear-wheel- drive sports car, especially notable considering the carmaker once served as an automotive punch line along with Yugo and Lada. (The ugly, front-wheel-drive Tiburon/Tuscani impressed no one.)
The new coupe comes in two distinct varieties: the punchy 2.0T and the more powerful 3.8. The 210 horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder version has a basement price of $22,750. The 306-hp, 3.8-liter, V-6 tops out with extras around $31,000.
On a sun-flooded day in upstate New York, I took out a king-of-the-hill 3.8 Track model to see what the Koreans have wrought. Road-racing extras include a stiffer suspension, better-stopping Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential, a rear spoiler and 19-inch alloy wheels fitted with summer performance tires.
While available with a ZF six-speed automatic gearbox and paddle-shifters, I opted for a six-speed manual.
In the early 1990s, Hyundai hired outspoken basketball star Charles Barkley as its celebrity spokesman, but it's clear from my first highway off-ramp that the cars can now speak for themselves.
The Genesis tips into the turn easily, feeling stable and well planted. Its inherent understeer is manageable even as the curve gradually tightens. Better, the tires lend plenty of grip and I never feel like the Genesis is going to suddenly spring an unpleasant surprise -- the limits of its performance are easily identifiable.
While certainly not lazy, neither is it too sharp nor tightly wound -- a good sports car for beginners. (Don't buy into the word "Track" in the name. I doubt you'll be taking it to the local road course to frolic with the Porsche GT3s and Dodge Vipers.)
Steering is tight and smartly responsive. The Genesis's relatively light weight of fewer than 3,400 pounds helps it handle a series of S-turns with finesse.
I slam on the brakes in a straightaway, seeing how it would handle a panic-style stop. The pedal has a bit of extra give, yet a rubber-burning moment later, I'm at a full halt. Nice.
Next up, I rev the motor, dump the clutch and the car suddenly goes sluggish as a rear wheel slips. The car lurches down the road like a father-and-son team in a three-legged race.
Ah well, there's a reason it's not yet a Porsche contender.
The major fault seems to be an over-involved traction- control system, which gets awfully intrusive when it senses wheels not hooking up with the asphalt. I turned the system off by punching a button and achieved a better run, though the operation is still less than supple, as if the transmission and engine torque aren't quite in agreement.
Hyundai says the Genesis will make zero to 60 miles per hour in a rather lackadaisical 5.5 seconds, but I don't think I managed even that in my attempts.
The short-throw manual is okay, but set too far back on the center console to shift naturally. Those who like to stretch out in the black leather seats will also note the lack of a telescoping steering wheel.
The standard amenities are generous for the price, and include automatic windows, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls and USB ports for digital music players.
Which brings us to styling: The Genesis is definitely a product of the East. Similar to its competitor the Nissan 370Z, the swooping headlights look vaguely weapon-like, like something you'd find on the belt of a ninja.
Yet whereas the Nissan's sloping roofline and various folds look purposeful, the Hyundai's mix of globular curves and sharp creases read like a designer's desperate search for an identity. It's not a travesty, but it isn't super cool either.
While Hyundai says it benchmarked the car against the Infiniti G37 and Mazda RX-8, the Nissan 370Z seems its most obvious head-to-head challenger. In that case, the Nissan is faster, has more horsepower and looks much hotter.
The most basic 370Z, however, is more than $30,000 before you've added a single option, right where the fastest Genesis Coupe tops out.
So, while it's neither Carrera beautiful nor blistering fast, Hyundai's latest is a pretty painless way to get into the sports-car game.
The 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track at a Glance
Engine: 3.8-liter V-6 with 306 hp and 266 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic with paddle-shifters.
Speed: 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 17 city; 27 highway.
Price as tested: $30,250.
Best features: Capable handling with lots of standard features.
Worst feature: Off-kilter styling.
Target buyer: The driver who wants Brembo brakes and 300- plus horsepower on a budget.
Jason H. Harper