Thursday, July 09, 2009

Business Week Review: 2009 Hyundai Genesis

The sporty, well-designed Genesis is a reasonably priced, stylish, entry-level luxury car—and a big step up for Hyundai

Up Front
There's nothing on the market quite like the new Hyundai Genesis. The Korean carmaker's rear-wheel-drive Genesis Sedan, which is all new for '09, is an entry-level luxury car that competes with the likes of BMW, Lexus, and Infiniti. And for 2010, there's the new Genesis Coupe, a smaller, less expensive, sportier, two-door version of the car that's so different from the sedan it almost seems like a separate model. The Genesis Coupe competes with everything from General Motors' new 2010 Chevy Camaro Coupe to the Infiniti G37 and Nissan 370Z.

If you're thinking it's crazy that a Hyundai could challenge such varied and excellent rivals, think again. The Genesis is a sophisticated, well-engineered car with a tight feel, close tolerances around the doors and hood, and a co-efficient of drag of a mere 0.27, making the car's exterior slipperier than most more expensive competitors'. The Genesis Sedan is extremely quiet inside and gobbles up potholes, yet has plenty of verve. And it sells at a much lower price than most of its rivals.

The entry-level Genesis Sedan, which I test-drove, probably has the broadest appeal. It's powered by a fuel-efficient 3.8 liter, 290-hpV6. There's also a V8-powered Genesis Sedan, with a muscle-car-style 4.6-liter, 375 hp engine, but it doesn't seem worth the extra money. The V6-powered Genesis Sedan is as quick as a BMW 328i, which is plenty of get-up-and-go for me. However, the Genesis lacks an all-wheel-drive option, something that's available on rivals such as the Audi A5, Acura TL, and BMW 328xi.

The Genesis Sedan comes only with a six-speed automatic with a manual shifting function. A six-speed stick shift is standard on the Coupe, with a five-speed automatic available with the small engine and a six-speed automatic with the V6. The Coupe's automatics have steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

With V6 power, the Genesis Sedan starts out at $33,000 (compared with $38,000 for the V8-powered Genesis) and comes crammed with standard equipment, including leather upholstery, power accessories, a seven-CD sound system that includes satellite radio and an iPod hookup, dual-zone climate controls, and power-adjustable and heated front seats. The V8 Genesis has even more standard equipment, including rain-sensing wipers, leather dash and door trim, seat memory, and an upgraded sound system.

However, you can load up the V6 Genesis relatively inexpensively. A $2,000 package includes such options as a power sunroof, a better sound system with a six-CD changer, seat and mirror memory, stylish leather inserts on the doors and dash, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. A $3,000 package includes all that plus 18-inch alloy wheels. A $7,000 package adds such amenities as a backup camera, parking alerts, self-leveling headlights, a hard-drive-based sound system, a navigation system with traffic alerts, and Bluetooth capability.

Only one $4,000 option package is offered on the V8-powered Genesis. Among other things, it includes a navigation system with traffic alerts, a hard-drive-based 17-speaker sound system, self-leveling headlights, and Bluetooth.

The Genesis is very fuel-efficient. With the V6 engine, the Sedan is rated to get 18 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway (and in 382 miles of mixed driving, I averaged 22.6 mpg).

Among six-cylinder rivals, Toyota's Lexus ES 350 gets 19/27, Honda's Acura TL 18/26, the BMW 328i 18/38, and the Infiniti M35 to 17/25. The Genesis's mileage drops slightly, to 17/25, with the V8 engine.

The Genesis Coupe, which I also briefly test-drove, does even better. It gets as much as 21 mpg in the city and 30 on the highway with a stick shift and a 2.0-liter, 210-horsepower turbo-charged four-cylinder engine (neither of which is offered on the Sedan). The Coupe also is available with a 3.8-liter V6 rated at 306 hp. The V6 powered Coupe gets 17 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway.

Safety is another strong point. Standard gear on the Genesis includes antilock brakes and front, side, and head-protecting side-curtain airbags. The Genesis earned the U.S. government's top, five-star crash-test rating in all categories.

The Genesis isn't a big seller, but it's off to a decent start considering how weak the car market is. Sales totaled 8,100 units in the first five months of 2009.

Behind the Wheel
Composed, is how I would describe the Genesis Sedan's ride. It's tuned much more for comfort than sport. The ride remains smooth whether on bumpy back roads or on the Interstate, and the cabin is extremely quiet. Even the smaller engine is powerful enough to inspire confidence. If you need a burst of power, the Genesis performs with no apparent strain.

One of the surprising things about the Genesis is how quick it is. Hyundai says the Sedan will jump from 0 to 60 in 6.2 seconds with V6 power (a time I easily matched in my test car) and 5.7 seconds with the V8. The company rates the V6-powered Genesis Coupe at under six seconds. The Sedan's six-speed automatic has the usual manual mode. Unfortunately, there's no sport mode to quicken shifting response, a feature offered by many of the Hyundai's competitors.

The Genesis' cabin is tasteful and upscale. Designers took a risk by offering leather inserts on the doors and dash in the place of the usual wood veneer, but the two-tone leather (coffee on black in my test car) looks good and sets the Genesis apart from its many rivals. Touches of wood trim are available on the gearshift, center console and armrests, combining elegantly with the two-tone leather.

Everything in the Genesis seems sturdy and well-made. The glovebox is double-walled and closes solidly, and the sunroof door has a solid, heavy feel. Trunk space, at 15.9 cu. ft., is ample. But a significant negative is that the rear seats don't fold down, limiting the car's hauling capacity. There's only a small pass-through from the trunk to accommodate long objects.

As in other vehicles in this class, leg, head and shoulder space is adequate for most adults, but legroom may be cramped for long-legged drivers. I'm only 5 ft. 10 in. tall, and I could comfortably reach the pedals with the seat set all the way back. I also found the front seats surprisingly uncomfortable. They're too flat for my taste, with inadequate side-bolsters.

One design touch I like: You can crack the Genesis' rear windows a few inches without any of the horrible wind buffeting you get in most cars.

Buy it or Bag It?
For $40,000, a loaded V6-powered Genesis Sedan has almost every gee-gaw available on models in its class, and you can get the V8 engine for only $2,000 extra on a loaded-up model. Either version of the Genesis is a bargain if you factor in all the standard and optional equipment that's included.

The '09 Genesis Sedan sells for an average of $36,610, according to the Power Information Network (PIN), vs. $37,938 for the '09 BMW 328i sedan, $40,875 for Ford's Lincoln MKS, $47,566 for the Lexus GS 350, $48,260 for the Infiniti M35, and $49,356 for the Mercedes E350 sedan.

If you can get by with a smaller car, the Genesis Coupe is an incredible bargain. It's 14 inches shorter than the Sedan (and, obviously, lacks rear doors), so it's less practical. But it's even tighter and sportier than the Sedan, starts at only $22,750 with a stick shift and the four-cylinder engine, and sells for an average of just $27,170, according to PIN (which, like BusinessWeek, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies)

I know, I know. It's still a Hyundai. The Genesis doesn't have the cachet and history of a BMW, Lexus or Infiniti, and many shoppers will be reluctant to pay so much for a Korean car. But check it out. The Genesis is a big step up for Hyundai.

Business Week

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