Review: 2009 Hyundai Genesis

2009 Genesis Sedan – Click above for high-res image gallery

The all-new 2009 Hyundai Genesis sedan has been capturing more than its share of the spotlight this year. The luxury-oriented four-door sedan was launched with much ballyhoo over the summer. With a long list of standard features, a choice of six- or eight-cylinder power, and its sights pointed directly at some heavy-hitting established competition, the sedan rolled into showrooms with high expectations. After a few short introductory drives, Hyundai put both models in the Autoblog Garage so we could spend some time getting a bit more intimate with its new players. How solid is the chassis, engine and powertrain? How does the sedan hold up to the daily grind? How does the late-arrival fare against its status-laden competition? Find out after the jump.

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Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog has driven the Hyundai Genesis sedan on more than one occasion. We sampled it in May, and then flogged it on the track in June during its introduction. While both of our "first drives" were but a quick taste, this time we were generously able to spend ten full days split between the V6 (silver) and V8 (burgundy) models. We commuted to work, drove carpools, took friends out to dinner and embarked on a one-day 250-plus mile road trip. Our goal was to subject the Genesis to a bit of everything and see how we felt about it at the end of the week.

The rear-wheel-drive Hyundai Genesis sedan is available in two models: Genesis 3.8 and Genesis 4.6. As is common in this segment, the chassis is shared with both models but the engine/powertrain is different. The Genesis 3.8 features a 290-hp 3.8-liter V6 mated to an Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission (MSRP starting at $32,250). The Genesis 4.6 rides with a 375-hp 4.6-liter V8 and a ZF 6-speed automatic (MSRP starting at $37,250). The exactly $5,000 price jump between the two models delivers the big engine, electro-hydraulic power steering, premium leather, a wood/leather steering wheel, painted bodyside molding (the easy way to tell the models apart), plus all of the equipment found in the V6's optional $3,000 "Premium Package Plus." Option to option, the 375-hp engine is a $2,000 cash upgrade and you still end up with more than a few exclusive bits and pieces. It's not nearly the model price jump found on some near competitors (BMW charges $50,800 for the 300-hp 535i and $60,000 for the 360-hp 550i – before option packages). Hyundai appears to be paving its own road when it comes to an aggressive pricing model. (It is also interesting to note that the base MSRP hasn't raised a penny since May of this year.)

At first glance, the exterior styling of the Genesis sedan isn't polarizing. In fact, it's rather benign. Hyundai studied its competitors, stole their favorite non-offensive styling cues, and then sculpted the Genesis. What emerged from their design team looks more like a sporty Lexus LS460 than anything else, but it hints at BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Nissan. Without a double-take, most passers-by think it's just another Lexus before they continue on their way. If they happen to glance a second look, the bright "Klingon" grille and lack of any front-mounted identifying badge draws confusion for another few seconds... then they move on. We received exactly two "thumbs-up" while driving the Genesis for ten days – both were from Infiniti owners. Mercedes owners refused to be caught staring, while Lexus drivers seemed perplexed at the look-alike when we drove alongside. The sleek styling of the Genesis reeks of luxury and quality... and that seems to concern the competition as they hide behind their badges.

The interior of the Genesis is very inviting and roomy. We fit four adults in with ease. As a testament to the generous second-row leg room, small child-seat riding children couldn't kick the seatbacks even with a 6-plus footer in the driver's seat. Although it isn't quite up to the opulent Lexus standard (sorry, no yards of rippled leather), anyone would be hard-pressed to complain about comfort. The dash sweeps across the cabin with a thick band of chocolate leather, while the wood-grained accents are tastefully applied. The dash instrumentation is white on black, and the cockpit buttons glow with a modern blue hue at night. When the doors are opened in the dark, the cabin itself is bathed in LED illumination – it's a bright white light that is immediately noticed (Hyundai calls it a "room" light, not a "dome" light, by the way). The pseudo-iDrive joystick control that comes with the optional Navigation System (it was on our V8 model) works very well. After a short acclimation period, we found it simple to use. The 8-inch display is one of the clearest we've seen, and the graphics are exceedingly clear with excellent contrast. Unlike other automakers in this segment that seem to think complexity equals sophistication, it didn't take us long to familiarize ourselves with the cabin or its logical controls.

The Genesis sedan really doesn't have any quirks to preclude it from family duty. It's easy to climb in and out. Outward visibility is good, and it offers decent cargo capacity. The chassis is solid and the cabin squeak-free. In fact, the sedan effortlessly fell into our daily routine of commuting, errands, carpools and entertaining. We put strollers in the trunk and cleated soccer players in the back seats. After 240 hours of scrutiny, the new Korean flagship emerged mostly unscathed. We were, however, left with several strong impressions.

First, we stand by our original statement – the Genesis isn't going to fool anyone into thinking it is a BMW. The suspension on the big Asian four-door is soft and comfortable, while the Europeans tend to be firm and controlled. The Genesis doesn't challenge the driver to exit the off-ramp at double the posted speed limit like a BMW, or even Infiniti. It can handle it, trust us on that, but the tactile impressions the driver receives through the steering wheel and brakes beg civility, not anarchy. You won't see a Genesis being driven in anger (just like you don't see a Lexus LS diving hot into a corner during your daily commute).

Second, the Genesis is an effortless cruiser. We put 268 miles on the V6 model in one long day. Most of the driving was across the Los Angeles basin – a mix of mind-numbing traffic jumbled with periods of cars doing 75 mph merely feet apart. Then, we repeated the trip in reverse an hour later. Although our "seat time" must have exceeded seven hours, our derrières were pain free and our minds fresh. The cabin was hushed (a Cd of .27 and laminated acoustic glass help), the climate control non-intrusive and the seats accommodating. The optional adaptive HID headlamps keep the roadway well lit, and the self-dimming mirrors keep eye strain to a minimum.

Third, the Genesis 3.8 is the model of choice. Although the enthusiast in us subconsciously gravitated towards the V8, we actually found the smaller V6 more suited to our needs. The lighter six made the Genesis feel less resistant to directional changes resulting in a more enjoyable driving experience. Behind the wheel of a luxury sedan, we never found ourselves in a situation that warranted additional power, and the V6 was much more frugal at the gasoline pump when compared to its bigger and thirstier brother. If you must have a V8, go for it. However, Hyundai is betting most will opt for the 3.8 model – it's the right selection in our eyes.

Finally, this luxury sedan is one extraordinary value. Taken strictly as a luxury sedan, the chassis, powerplant, and driving dynamics are on par with the best from Europe and Japan. Throw in the variables such as luxury amenities and innovative technical features, and the Korean again closely matches them at their game. Then, look at price. A fully-optioned 290-hp Genesis 3.8 won't break $40,000 – that is nearly $5,000 less than the base price of the Lexus GS350. Optioned like the Genesis, the GS350 tops $52,000. The flagship Lexus LS460 starts at $63,675... nearly double the base price of the Genesis 3.8 sedan. Yes, the Hyundai Genesis is more than 90 percent the car of that award-winning Lexus flagship, yet at 60 percent of the price. Of course, the Hyundai isn't going to carry the cachet of the Lexus... but most of your friends won't know the difference until they are sitting inside the cabin, if then. We sample a lot of cars around here, and there is a "feeling" you get when you are behind the wheel of certain luxury marquees. The Hyundai Genesis has that same aura.

We are rightfully shoveling tons of praise on the Genesis, but there are still a few areas that could use some improvement – no, it is not perfect yet. If one is going to nit-pick the luxury sedan, the HVAC system could move a bit more air volume. On a blistering day when the car has been baking in the relentless Southern California sun for hours, the A/C seems to blow a summer storm when you really want an all-out hurricane. The LED interior lighting, some of the best we've seen, immediately goes full blast when the doors are open. At night, some unsuspecting passengers compared the abrupt cabin lighting to a flash bulb hitting their eyes (keep the LEDs, but give us progressive illumination). Then there is the sea of silver buttons under the navigation display. While the smooth and curvaceous dashboard may be aesthetically pleasing, it falls short ergonomically – it will never be intuitive. Drivers will have to pull their eyes from the road to adjust just about everything not found on the steering wheel.

It is only fair to also mention our complete exoneration of the 528-watt Lexicon sound system. In June, when forced to listen to satellite radio in the boondocks of Central California, we reported that "...we couldn't get the 17 speakers to vibrate in pleasant harmony." Back in Los Angeles and armed with an iPod, the upgraded sound package sounded great. We don't masquerade as audiophiles, but the music flowing from the digitally-amplified system is sure to please any Genesis customer. Oh, the satellite radio still sounded horrible when compared to the radio, CD or iPod input.

We've secured the enviable task of evaluating dozens of new cars each year. While some are as unforgettable as last Wednesday's fast food lunch, others (like the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 and Nissan GT-R) will have us reminiscing the experience for decades. The all-new Hyundai Genesis sets a unique tone among our garaged vehicles. It's not the fastest, smoothest, most comfortable or most luxurious. It's not the most aerodynamic, innovative or technically advanced. What makes the flagship Hyundai memorable is its accuracy. While automakers are constantly shooting arrows into new segments hoping they will stick, few are able to hit their intended mark with their first shot. Hyundai has done it. Now, the automaker just has to figure out how to get the consumers behind the wheel in today's shattered marketplace.

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Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

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