You are a recently promoted executive in a large global business. You’ve put a few years in, working your way up from graduate level over a couple of decades and you’re earning three times what you did as a junior. Your reputation matters to you. You understand the importance of making a good impression. And now it’s time for a new company car.
Your budget is generous; mid-size BMWs, Audis, Mercedes and Lexuses are all options. You want a car that commands respect, but also speaks of depth and discernment. So what’ll it be: 5-series, A6, E-class? Lexus or Infiniti, perhaps?
What about a Hyundai? If you’re even considering it then give yourself credit for uncommon open-mindedness; most status-driven high-fliers wouldn’t. But the ascendant Korean car maker has banked on the notion that a few will, and has launched a V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive executive four-door anyway.
This car is designed to go head to head with some of the most accomplished sedans in the world. It is a statement of what you could quite aptly call biblical ambition from Hyundai. It is
the new Genesis.IN THE BEGINNING
Those who have been following Hyundai’s tentative first footsteps into the premium market will know how interesting this car is.
It’s no major criticism of this car to observe that, from the curbside, the Genesis looks a bit forgettable. That’s not to say it isn’t smart and contemporary, but you do have to make an effort to look at it; the aesthetic does absolutely nothing to attract your attention.
Hyundai’s styling borrows from BMW in some areas (have a look at the 5-series-inspired C-pillar and tail-lights), from Mercedes and Lexus in others. That jutting radiator grille is the car’s most interesting visual feature; it’s similar to those of Hyundai’s XG sedans.
Nevertheless, this still looks like a car that could have been created by almost any premium brand. And that’s probably exactly as Hyundai intended; it must want nothing more than for this car to be accepted as “one of the crowd.” If you look carefully, you’ll notice that they didn’t even bother to put an “H” badge on the front of it.
But, slide aboard and the driver’s door thunks shut behind you with an expensive-sounding and unexpected air of authority. The white-on-black instruments look clear, simple, uncluttered. A large leather and veneer-clad steering wheel juts towards you in front of a two-tone gray and cream dashboard wrapped in leather and soft-touch plastics. Every surface has an expensive-looking grain; every stalk and button moves with tactile impressiveness. So far, so very good indeed.
All the major stereo and heater/air-con controls sit around the center stack, and there’s a large chrome rotary controller just aft of the lever for the auto gearbox that’s surrounded by audio, navigation and telephone buttons. It works intuitively, more like Audi’s MMI system than BMW’s revised iDrive; it works well.
Thumb the starter button just to the right of the steering column and the car’s 4.6-liter “Tau” V8 starts to spin away distantly. Drag the gearlever down into D, release the footbrake and ease off the mark. The wheel feels slow, heavy and inert at low speeds, but it’s precise and consistent in weight and effectively reminds you of the size of the 16ft hulk you’re steering.
There’s remarkably little noise from either the chassis or the engine while you’re bumbling around town; little more when you’re on the highway. Levels of both mechanical and rolling refinement are excellent.
At both urban and cross-country cruising speeds, in fact, the Genesis produces the same vault-like feel as a Lexus LS or Mercedes S-class. Ninety-nine percent of the time you simply can’t hear either its motor or its suspension in action; there’s a little road and tire roar and the faintest suggestion of wind noise, but that’s all. Considering how difficult and expensive refinement is to engineer into a car, it’s a hell of an achievement for Hyundai.
We head off the multi-lane stuff and seek out some curves and bumps to challenge this car’s dynamic repertoire. Our test car isn’t happy to be hustled along a back road. Still, it turns in well and has decent balance for such a big car. The powertrain is commendable too, with plenty of power high in the rev range and the same excellent six-speed ZF automatic gearbox that you’ll find in so many other premium sedans.
But the steering’s consistency disintegrates without too much provocation, kicking back nastily over surface disturbances. The stability control system intervenes before it allows you to learn too much about the car’s on-the-limit handling behavior – which, you suspect, wouldn’t be brilliant.GREAT PRETENDER
So, surprise, surprise, the Hyundai Genesis is no driver’s car; the high-ups at Jaguar and BMW can sleep soundly in their beds. Others, however, may have a little more to worry about.
That’s because, in terms of the quality, the fit and the finish of its materials, in terms of equipment levels and interior ambience, in terms of cabin accommodation and outright performance, and especially in terms of refinement, Hyundai has either matched or exceeded every class standard with this car. It has created a product that demands to be considered next to a V8-powered mid-size Mercedes and yet, it costs a clear $20,000 less.
On the flip side of the equation, there’s no doubting also that the Genesis is about as unoriginal as cars get. The brief that fathered it may as well have been, “Copy Lexus’s LS460 – shrink it a bit, undercut it, don’t get us sued.” But you can appreciate why the big Lexus would be the model to copy; it’s the modern iteration of the car that launched the Lexus brand in 1989. Twenty years later, Lexus is selling 400,000 cars a year.
Perhaps it’s just an amusing irony that Toyota, which spent so long in bygone decades copying other car makers, has become the reluctant poacher-turned-gamekeeper. What’s certain is that both Toyota and Lexus will have to be even more mindful of Hyundai in years to come. The Koreans have achieved something remarkable with this car; the rest of the world simply has to take note.Matt Saunders/Autocar