First Drive: 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe – Click above for high-res image gallery

Full throttle down the back straight, the speedometer sweeps past 100 mph. The approaching turn is a 90-degree right, but it looks like we can still put more asphalt behind us before letting off the gas. At the last possible moment, we lift and then lean hard on the brakes. Deceleration forces us against the shoulder belt as the four contact patches ferociously search the line for traction. As the orange cones begin to fill our front windshield, it's obvious that we're carrying too much speed. A turn now and we'd spin.

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Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

In a last-ditch attempt to save it, we lift off the brake, floor the accelerator, and hold our breath. As expected, the weight transfers off the front tires and balances the vehicle. Seizing the opportunity, we crank the wheel to the right, feather the throttle... and our Genesis Coupe makes it cleanly around the turn!

Last summer, Hyundai charged its heavy 16-inch guns and fired an air-burst salvo at the competition with the introduction of the 2009 Genesis Sedan. The explosive projectiles were aimed across the bow of BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, causing each to reconsider their course at the determination of their newest foe. Less than one year later, a new round of armor-piercing shells has been launched. This time, the company's sights have been aligned a bit lower, but with much more focus. The new targets are the class-leading rear-wheel coupes offered by Infiniti and BMW, not to mention some Detroit 3 muscle.

Hyundai was committed to build a performance-tuned sports car. Using the internal designation "BK," the automaker benchmarked the segment-leading Infiniti G37, Mazda RX-8 and BMW 335i. What finally debuted at the 2008 New York Auto Show was a rear-wheel drive coupe with a five-link independent rear suspension, Torsen limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes and a choice of powerplants and transmissions. With a starting price just $22,000, even the base turbocharged model would be a car enthusiast's dream.

Before jumping in, we need to clear up a common misconception: the all-new Genesis Coupe is not a two-door version of the sedan. While they both share the rear-wheel drive configurations, an engine block, some suspension components, and a transmission, they are two very different vehicles. The Genesis Sedan is a luxury-oriented conveyance with seating for five, while the Genesis Coupe is a performance-oriented 2+2.

Hyundai is initially offering six different Genesis Coupe models: 2.0T, 2.0T Premium, 2.0T Track, 3.8, 3.8 Grand Touring, and 3.8 Track (a seventh model, the lightweight 2.0T R-Spec, won't arrive until later). The 2.0T models are fitted with an all-aluminum turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 210 hp with 223 lb-ft of torque, mated to either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission (EPA 21/30 with the manual transmission). The 3.8 models receive an all-aluminum 3.8-liter V6 rated at 306 hp with 266 lb-ft of torque, with either a six-speed manual or a ZF six-speed automatic (EPA 17/26 with the manual). In a sharp departure from the rest of the industry, Hyundai quotes horsepower figures based on regular 87-octane unleaded fuel (according to Hyundai, you will receive a slight bump in power with higher octane gasoline).

Differentiating the models from the outside with a quick glance isn't easy. All share the same body panels and twin exhaust outlets. A closer look reveals that the non-track 2.0T models lack fog lamps, while the 3.8 Grand Touring features chrome lower fascia accents (all track models have fog lamps and black fascia accents). The exterior mirrors on the Grand Touring/Track V6 models also contain integrated turn signal indicators. The standard wheels on both models are ten-spoke 18-inch cast aluminum, while the track model sports gunmetal finish ten-spoke 19-inch wheels.

A cursory look at the interior reveals cloth upholstery in the 2.0T models, while the 3.8 variants receive black leather (standard/Track model) or brown leather (Grand Touring). All models are very well-equipped with air conditioning, power windows, keyless entry, and an AM/FM/CD/MPS stereo with six speakers (any of the option packages will automatically upgrade the audio to a 360-watt, ten-speaker, Infinity system for you audiophiles). Less common in this price segment is news that Hyundai is offering Bluetooth connectivity, XM Satellite radio capability, and iPod/USB/AUX input jacks standard on all Genesis Coupe models. The option packages include power/heated seats, proximity key, HID headlamps, a sunroof, and a backup warning system.

Our required choice would be the "Track" package with 19-inch alloys, Brembo brakes, track-tuned suspension, Torsen limited-slip differential, aluminum pedals, a rear spoiler and more. Pricing on a 2.0T Track model is $26,750 with the 3.8 Track model coming in at $29,500.

Knowing we'd have plenty of time in the Track models later in the day, we settled into a 3.8 Grand Touring 6AT model sprayed in "Silverstone" paint (each of the nine optional colors are named after famed racing circuits – the color of the car in many of our images is "Lime Rock Green"). Our destination was a race track about 65 miles away near the unincorporated town of Pahrump.

The Coupe's 2+2 cabin is belted for four passengers. Up front, there is plenty of room for our six-foot two-inch frame. Shoulder and head room is generous, and the seats are very comfortable (this one had lumbar support). Outward visibility is excellent, thanks in part to that drop-down styling in the rear window just aft of the B-pillar. While the front seats are commodious, our adult frames wouldn't even consider a ride to the ice cream store in the back seat. Small children will fit just fine back there... until they grow to teenage stature (at which point they'll realize that "shotgun" is the preferred passenger position anyway). We suppose if you want or need more room, there's always the Genesis sedan.

Mesmerized by the incredible landscape off State Route 160 in southern Nevada and the smooth arrow-straight asphalt roads, we inadvertently find ourselves piloting the Genesis Coupe across the barren Nevada landscape at a comfortable 80-90 mph (an attentive Nevada State Trooper wasn't as impressed with the Hyundai's high-speed cruise capabilities, although he was benevolent enough to let one of our comrades on the launch event off with just a warning). Wind noise is low, but we did find the non-Track suspension the less stable of the two at high speeds. Not surprisingly, we prefer the Genesis Coupe with a manual transmission, although many will be very pleased with the German-sourced ZF 6HP26 automatic on the 3.8 (used by BMW, Jaguar, and Maserati among others). The optional slushbox is smooth and predictable in operation when left alone, and responsive when shifted manually with the paddles.

Located alongside Route 160, just outside Pahrump, is the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch. Relatively new, as far as racing circuits go, the private facility features a beautiful and challenging 3.5-mile road course loaded with double-apex turns and tight corners. Hyundai had reserved the 1.5-mile west loop for our unlimited use. While it lacked a long straight (we were only able to break into low triple-digit velocities), the circuit was excellent to test the capability of the new coupe under abusive track conditions.

Throughout a long day, we tossed the Coupe 2.0T 6MT, Coupe 3.8 6MT, and Coupe 3.8 6AT around the buttery-smooth asphalt until our hips ached from the g-forces. We were bent on finding out which model was best suited for track duty. Being virgins to this particular circuit, we preferred the 3.8 6MT in the morning as its abundant low-end torque would mask our mistakes as we learned the corners. After lunch, the slightly lighter and more tossable 2.0T 6MT was selected as we refined our lines and cleaned-up our laps. However, by late afternoon the 3.8 6MT was again the weapon of choice as we could use the additional torque coming out of the corners to our advantage (the ZF automatic model with paddle shifters performed well on the track, but frankly, we enjoyed the control and challenge of the manual).

Regardless of engine or transmission, there were several stand-out impressions during the day. Most notably, the Hyundai engineers have done an excellent job with the chassis and suspension. It feels well balanced (55:45 weight distribution, regardless of engine), and the vehicle can be tossed into the corner and its attitude modulated with the throttle. Even with traction and stability control completely off (all but our first lap), the coupe is predictable and easy to control at the limit. We'd overcook the entry to a turn countless times as we tried different lines, but a blip of the throttle with a slight change in the steering angle seemed to bring the unflappable coupe back on the race line without drama.

Brembo supplies the brakes for the Track Package, and they are a worthy mention. Massive four-pot fixed monobloc aluminum calipers clamp down on huge 13-inch rotors on the front, while the rear makes due with only slightly smaller twins. With the authority of an iron vise holding a piece of soft aluminum, the red Brembos hauled the Genesis Coupe down from speed without any sense of drama. We deliberately slammed the brakes late, even mid-corner, in an attempt to bring out the demons... yet the evil deities never surfaced in fault or fade.

Like the Porsche Boxster, Lexus IS-F, and Ferrari F430, the Genesis Coupe Track variants wear staggered Bridgestone RE050A tires on all four corners (the standard models get all-season RE-88A rubber). Up front, the coupe wears 225/40-19, the rear is fitted with 245/40-19. Most street tires lose their cool -- literally -- after several hot laps and slowly begin to self-disintegrate leaving the driver second-guessing the grip. With a high-performance rubber compound molded into an asymmetric tread pattern, the RE050A tires were consistent and trustworthy during our track sessions. The Bridgestone rubber held its composure until late in the afternoon when the continuous punishment finally caused them to feel a bit greasy. No undue stress... we simply had to tighten our lines a bit to compensate for a bit more drift.

To be fair, Hyundai brought an Infiniti G37S 6AT to the track for comparison. Running the Genesis Coupe back-to-back on the race circuit against the G37S, the differences were immediately apparent. While there is no question that the Infiniti is much more comfortable than the Genesis Coupe on the highway (200+ pounds of additional luxury will do that), the Japanese coupe felt much larger and more resistant to directional changes on the track, a perception reinforced by its heavier steering feel. The Infiniti offered similar grip at the limit, but there was more body roll evident before it settled into the turn. Bleeding speed hard repeatedly after triple-digit velocities, the G37S was eventually sidelined for a time when its big brakes overheated - more competent pads would have likely solved the problem (it is also worth noting that Infiniti no longer uses Brembo-supplied brakes on the sport package G models). The luxury-oriented and more expensive Infiniti G37S is a better road car and it feels faster, but the Genesis Coupe is much more nimble and enjoyable on the track.

Try as we did to find one, the new Hyundai seems to lack an Achilles Heel that would quickly cripple it. We did notice that the manual transmission balks when rushed, making our speed-shifts seemingly futile (more engine speed – at the expense of the clutch – seemed to cure things). Second, a performance-oriented car should have a few additional engine monitoring gauges too keep enthusiasts informed of its inner workings (oil temp, oil pressure, etc...). Lastly, the blue LED readout in the center of the instrument cluster is difficult to read while wearing sunglasses. There were a few other nit-picks about the interior and trim that reminded us that the Genesis Coupe is far from perfect, but the little flaws became idiosyncrasies dismissed when we remembered that the buy-in price cleanly undercuts the competition by thousands of dollars.

So, where does this new Genesis Coupe fit into the big picture? With its current pricing ($22,000 to $29,000), Hyundai believes that its new sporty two-door sits comfortably in an unoccupied price segment ("white space") in the retail marketplace. It is positioned to pull sales from both below (those who are longing for a Honda Civic Si/Mitsubishi Eclipse GS will realize the handling advantages of RWD and step up a bit) and above (economically-sensitive Infiniti and BMW coupe owners will relish the financial savings). While the current financial crisis is destroying some automakers stuck with expensive inventory, the aggressively-priced Genesis Coupe may be perfectly positioned.

The salvo fired when the Genesis Sedan was launched last summer was a shot across the bow of the competition. This time, the projectiles have been targeted to create space in a rear-wheel drive sector where competition has enjoyed peaceful anchorage. The new Genesis Coupe, a modern-day reincarnation of the Nissan 240SX (Hyundai's own words), will deservedly wedge itself into the segment and push outwards as drivers and tuners jump on board. This platform's growth will be sustained by its solid performance and unexpected price point. Hyundai doesn't need perks like the ten-year warranty or its Assurance program to sell the Genesis Coupe; they just need to get enthusiasts behind the wheel.

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Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

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