2009 Hyundai Genesis: Does Upmarket Work Here?

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As you may have gathered when we covered this car’s concept (click here) and then production (click here) introductions, Hyundai has just begun offering their U.S. rear-wheel-drive sedan with their first in-house-developed V8 under the hood. Just as the first cars were arriving at dealerships, the company invited media out for a spin, including some track time at Buttonwillow Raceway Park and the chance to drag race Genesis against a V8 BMW 7-Series.

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Supporting the Genesis launch, which has the mission of improving Hyundai’s overall image as much as it does of selling strongly, is an $80 million dollar budget that includes everything from the SuperBowl ads in January (click here), to national customer experience events in Discover Genesis, to training 6250 dealer personnel, to a website, to traditional and non-traditional advertising campaigns. Hyundai is serious about this car and its ability to prove that the accolades and increased placement in more recent third-party awards from the likes of AutoPacific and JD Powers is deserved and repeatable.
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Genesis launches with a price ladder from $33,000 to $42,000, pricing that brings you a car worth each dollar. Hyundai sees it up against the Chrysler 300, Lexus ES, Pontiac G8, and Cadillac CTS, but the dynamic and style targets are the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, and Infiniti M. Hyundai’s brand does not have the panache to go up against those brands, but the company worked against those targets for performance, style, amenities, and quality. They have a car that can surprise and delight buyers, though a $42,000 Genesis won’t ever feel like a $60,000 5-Series.

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Hyundai clearly took the basic formulas and executed them well, but there’s nothing new here. Given the element of risk, attacking an expensive and demanding market, proving they can successfully execute the basics before challenging the status quo can be a sound approach. Hyundai does not yet have credibility among consumers for stepping out of the box, though efforts like the Genesis further prove the brand’s seriousness and capability.
Trouble is, at $40,000, buyers start checking off anything they know they can get for that money. In the $35,000 to $42,000 range, the available field has plenty of entries that offer power, style, and amenities similar to the Genesis. As VW learned with Phaeton, the market will decide how far upmarket a brand can go. But the Genesis is a solid base to work from. Should Hyundai remain dedicated to the car, buyer perceptions can change. They change over time and with continued improvement, and can’t be advertised into truth. Hyundai also has a larger market for this vehicle at home, where the brand is accepted for executive, luxury transportation.
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From the Inside Out
Since the pictures show us that the car is nicely styled and has a solid road presence, let’s go inside. The interior is solid and well executed. Contrast stitching in the nicely tailored standard leather seats, especially with the optional leather-wrapped dash and door trim, looks rich. The V8’s seats are a better cut of leather than the V6’s, but the feel of the base leather is respectable. Interior colors are also upscale, rich and deep. The basic dash layout is elegant. Brightwork surrounds and accents are subtle rather than overwhelming. Most buyers aren’t likely to be putting the car out on the track, but I’d have liked more support in this self-proclaimed sport sedan’s seats. Another, admittedly niggling, element was the turn-signal indicator. It simply doesn’t feel good, and Hyundai neglected to give it the one-touch, three-blink feature that is increasingly common on cars at many price points. The gauge cluster is modern and easy to read, audio and HVAC controls logical and easy to use with or without the navigation system, and the steering-wheel-mounted controls are effective in placement, look, and operation.
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Genesis offers a reasonable technology and convenience feature list, but missed out optional hard-drive navigation and music storage system or rear-seat entertainment. The V6 standard equipment list is thorough, from Bluetooth to a smart key; a nicely priced $2000 premium package brings it to where all but the most value-conscious buyers will be most happy; stepping up to the V8 gets you the V6’s premium package as standard. The technology package adds HD radio, adaptive cornering system, rear backup camera, XM and NavTraffic, DVD-based navigation, front and rear parking sensors, and a cooled driver’s seat. The nicely done navigation system can be voice-controlled and there is a touch screen. HD radio is a nice feature for this level, and standard electronic active front headrests are found only at higher price points.
Though a compelling equipment list, Hyundai’s technology arsenal doesn’t equal that of luxury or even some near-luxury brands. The Cadillac CTS and Chrysler 300 offer optional all-wheel-drive. Genesis has more features than the G8, but slightly behind the 300 and CTS. Inside, the overall look and feel is bested by the Cadillac, but beats 300 and G8. G8’s interior is solid and strong, but the Genesis is more elegant.
Stable, Predictable Road Performance
Driving the Genesis is mostly what one would expect. Either the 290HP V6 or 375HP V8 can satisfy most drivers, depending on the amount of pretension involved. Both use a six-speed automatic transmission. Engine-development cards in Hyundai’s hands yet to be played include direct injection and cylinder deactivation. Without these systems, the expected fuel economy (19/27 for the V6 and 17/25 for the V8) is passable, but not outstanding. When they are implemented, they should up the game notably. These engines do turn these numbers using regular fuel.
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We drove the V6 first, and it was solid and predictable. The transmission is aggressive when pushing the car, holding gears a little longer than expected. The V8 boosts up the power game, but doesn’t make noise quite as good as either the 300 or the G8. It is responsive and quick, but as much as Hyundai calls this a sports sedan, the G8 is more effective at allowing you to feel hard acceleration and road response. Hyundai’s given the Genesis independent five-link suspensions front and rear, but it seemed softer in the twisties and on the track than I would have liked, while also not absorbing potholes and rough pavement as well as I expected.
And to the Track!
The Genesis consistently and significantly outran the BMW 740i in a quarter-mile drag, just one of the image competitors Hyundai brought along for playtime. For on-track comparison, they offered us a Mercedes E320. I took the opportunity to get to know Buttonwillow, alternating laps among the available cars. The Mercedes offered better steering feedback and less body roll, though the Genesis was not shamed back to pit lane. The V8 Genesis was the fastest of the three track cars, with more power, torque, and an aggressive nature. But on the track, the Genesis V6 was more fun. The V6 was a bit more nimble and responsive when putting it through the paces at the track or on the twisty portion of our route, but the V8 a stately cruiser with grunt to back up its substantial presence. The V8 is the more modern and responsive engine, it gives this entry credibility, but the V6 can be equally rewarding and offers enough power for daily life.
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This article has 1 comment

  1. TOM 10/11/2008, 2:18 pm:

    Purchaced new Genesis 4.6 last week and have put 800+/- miles on it. This is an exceptional car with features, comfort, and ride that are as good or better than any luxury car out there. At 130 MPH the cabin is quite and ride is true and secure. Fit and finish are as good as I have seen and placement of controls are where you want them. I am amazed how well the total package comes togather. The engine is exciting, to put it lightly, it gives you a feeling of real power when behing the wheel. I have been in BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes and this car fully measures up if not exceeded my expections of any of the above mentioned. There isn’t any American car that comes close to quality and preformce unfortunatly b/c I would love to buy from the good old USA but they are so far from this type of product. The price is the nail in the coffen, there is nothing that is even close when you add up the package. Buy on you won’t regit it you’ll be in heven. PS milage highway 25 city 17 (driving easy).

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