First Drive Review: 2009 Hyundai Genesis
By Andrew Bornhop of Road & Track
Seoul, South Korea — Can a large rear-drive Hyundai sedan compete with the likes of BMW, Lexus and Mercedes?
That's the million-dollar question.
And that's precisely what Hyundai has set out to answer with its new Genesis sedan, which is arriving at U.S. dealerships this summer.
The Koreans are off to a good start, building an exceptionally quiet luxury car with a rigid unit-body platform boasting lots of high-strength steel and structural adhesives. The Genesis is also big, only 2.5 in. shorter than a 7 Series BMW. But it doesn't look that large, with styling that's taut and trim and clearly derivative of European marques. Who can't see a 5 Series BMW in the Genesis taillights? Or an S-Class Mercedes in its face?
The Genesis clearly looks the part, a luxury sedan offered with two good powerplants. The base car is powered by the Azera's 3.8-liter Lambda V-6, modified for its new longitudinal mounting and sending 290 bhp to the rear wheels via a smooth-shifting 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission. More impressive is Hyundai's first proprietary V-8, a dohc 32-valve powerplant dubbed the Tau that puts out 375 bhp at 6500 rpm and 333 lb.-ft. of torque at 3500 rpm on premium gasoline.
A thoroughly modern engine four years in development, the Tau is smoothly powerful, though not as silky as the Lexus 4.6-liter V-8, especially near its 6500-rpm redline. But it's sophisticated, with a die-cast aluminum block capped by a 2-stage intake manifold and cylinder heads with continuously variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust sides.
Mated to a ZF 6-speed automatic, the Tau V-8 propels the 4005-lb. sedan to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. Shifts are torque-managed smooth, and although manual shifting is allowed via nudging the gear lever, we wish the car rev-matched on downshifts for a sportier feel. On a positive note, EPA fuel economy for the V-8 Genesis is 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
The multilink suspension (coil springs and anti-roll bars front and rear) incorporates lots of aluminum for reduced unsprung mass, and although U.S. models are roughly 10-percent stiffer than their Korean counterparts, the ride is not too firm. Sachs shock absorbers are valved for a plush ride on smooth roads, then increase their damping for better wheel control on rough roads and in cornering. The system works well, but when pushed hard, the Genesis — even with good 54/46 weight balance — tends to understeer, evidenced by an outside front tire (size 235/50R-18) that howled on many of the test track's tight corners. On the high-speed oval, the Genesis remained quite stable at triple digits, though not quite as composed as the BMW 530i on hand for comparison purposes.
That Hyundai even had a 5 Series on hand for comparison speaks volumes. Clearly, Hyundai is proud of the Genesis, and this shows inside, where there are gobs of space and a gently curving dash that looks especially rich, dare I say European, covered with attractively stitched leather. Most people would never guess this is a Hyundai. The ambience is heightened by Hyundai's Driver Information System, controlled through a multifunction knob that commands the HDD navigation, Voice Recognition, Bluetooth and XM/HD radio with a 30-gig hard drive.
Strangely, in Korea, the Genesis doesn't have Hyundai badges. It's fitted with winged Genesis labels, making us think that Hyundai is considering launching a premium brand of its own, along the lines of Lexus or Infiniti. Well, the company has considered doing just that, only to put the kibosh on the notion (for now), citing the incredible cost.
So, back to what matters: Can the Genesis compete with the Germans and Japanese? In content, luxury and style, it can. Dynamically, however, we'd like it to be sportier. And in quality, well, it's in the ballpark, although we need more time with the car.
It boils down to this: The Genesis is a lot of car for the money, with the V-6 starting at around $30,000 and the V-8 at $40,000. That's significantly cheaper than the competition — a strategy that has worked for Hyundai since it entered the U.S. in 1986.