Road Test: 2009 Hyundai Genesis 4.6L V8
By Sam Mitani of Road & Track
When Hyundai entered the U.S. market with the Excel in 1985, the Korean company's cars had all the enthusiast appeal of sour kimchee. The early models were a fixture on the automotive value menu, catering to those who weren't looking for anything fancy, just something cheap to get the job done. But Hyundai's image has gradually improved with each passing year, and has taken a huge jump recently with the arrival of the Genesis, Hyundai's maiden venture into the full-size luxury-car segment.
As far as first attempts go — it's also the company's first crack at a rear-drive platform — let's just say it's right up there with my fellow Cal State Fullerton alum, Tim Wallach, who hit a home run in his first major league at bat. Hyundai cleared the fence with the Genesis. The high level of quality, refinement and performance of our top-of-the-line 4.6L V8 test car amazed everyone who has sat behind its wheel.
"Remarkable, really. You would never guess this thing was a Hyundai. It's definitely right up there with the Japanese and Europeans," one editor commented.
At first glance, the Genesis easily can be mistaken for one of its competitors. The logo-less grille is the same shape as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class', while the large canted headlights look eerily similar to those of an Infiniti M45. When seen from the side, there's little to differentiate the Hyundai from a Lexus GS 460. A similar pattern is revealed inside: The in-dash monitor smacks of an Infiniti G37, while the DIS multimedia controller knob on the center console is a carbon copy of the BMW iDrive's. All this isn't a bad thing because the amalgamation-of-various-luxury-sports-sedans theme continues to the car's driving dynamics. The Genesis puts power down like a BMW and rides like a Lexus.
Press the Start Engine button, and it's immediately obvious that Lexus was the primary target. The 32-valve V-8 comes to life with a discreet growl and virtually goes silent at idle. Ease your right foot onto the throttle pedal, and the ZF 6-speed automatic transmission smoothly works its way up the gears, as the car seamlessly gets to freeway speed. Even at 100 mph, things remain remarkably quiet in cabin; NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels are impressively low. Stomp on the gas, and the Genesis sheds its gentlemanly manners and takes off with gusto.
At the heart of the Genesis is Hyundai's all-new 4.6-liter V-8 (dubbed Tau) that features all the high-tech amenities of today's best luxury car engines, including an aluminum block and heads, a two-stage variable induction system and continuously variable valve timing. It produces a hearty 375 bhp at 6500 rpm and a heady 333 lb.-ft. of torque at 3500. At the track, our 4015-lb. test car ran to 60 mph in a scant 5.5 seconds, faster than a Porsche Boxster. Its quarter-mile dash of 13.9 sec. at 103.8 mph is on a par with a BMW 550i's.
Stopping power is also at the level of higher-priced competitors. The Genesis 4.6L V8 is equipped with 13.0-in. vented discs with 4-piston calipers up front and 12.4-in. solid discs in back. It also has ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution. We recorded stopping distances of 120 ft. and 218 ft. from 60 mph and 80 mph, respectively. And although we didn't punish these binders on a racetrack (as we normally do with a sports car), the brakes didn't exhibit any fade after an entire day running up and down the San Diego coastline.
The Genesis' handling is equally, if not more, impressive. Turn-in is crisp, thanks in part to its solid and communicative chassis. On the tight stuff, the car exhibits slight understeer, but the rear end will hang out if you're too assertive with the throttle. Some complained about the Genesis' ESC system (Electronic Stability Control), saying it kicked in too aggressively when either the front or rear tires lost traction.
The Genesis' suspension is the most sophisticated Hyundai has ever produced — a 5-link setup at both front and rear. The ASD (Amplitude Selective Damper) system adjusts damping force depending on road conditions, providing a smooth ride on the highway and excellent stability on rough roads and through corners. But as adept as the Genesis was on the test track (it registered 0.86g on the skidpad, and its slalom run of 63.8 mph is faster than the Infiniti M45's), its true home is on the open road.
"The cabin is well insulated from the outside world, and the handling and ride are more to the plush side than Euro-taut. While the basic road manners are competent, steering feel is somewhat muted by the power boost. It makes for great highway cruising, but the car lacks the sort of communicative dynamics that would urge you to seek out challenging roads," another editor commented.
Indeed, it's easy to get comfortable inside the Genesis. Leather is everywhere — wrapped around the seats, steering wheel, door panels and even the dashboard. The seats are snug and supportive, and feature both heating and cooling. Operating the DIS multimedia controller and navigation system takes a bit of getting used to, but those who are adept with computers will have little difficulty. Also, there's plenty of head and leg room for five occupants, with a cavernous trunk that'll swallow a couple of full-size golf bags.
Safety hasn't been ignored with the Genesis. Hyundai is aiming to be the best-in-class in terms of crashworthiness. The Genesis' structure has been reinforced with high tensile steel at key areas, and the side members have been designed to direct impact energy around the passenger compartment. What you get is a car that effectively absorbs and distributes impact energy in frontal offset, rear and side impact crashes. The Genesis comes with eight airbags as standard equipment.
It's obvious that Hyundai drew inspiration from across the Sea of Japan when creating the Genesis, but what makes this new luxury car stand out is that it's still Korean at heart. It comes with a class-leading 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a truly attractive base price of $38,000 (the V-6 model starts at $33,000) that undercuts comparable luxury models by a significant sum. It just goes to show that Hyundai is no longer content just churning out kimchee; it's now looking to grab a piece of the sushi market.