LOS ANGELES, Calif. — In a tiny corner of the luxury car world there is a brand producing automobiles that are criminally underrated. Spun from the depths of the Hyundai/Kia more-for-your-money juggernaut, the three-year-old Genesis brand makes sedans (and eventually an SUV that can’t come soon enough for the brand) that exceed the sum of their parts-bin origins. The facelifted 2020 Genesis G90, which we drove briefly through the hills of Los Angeles, is the latest glimmering and bravely styled example.
Sure, the spinning off of luxury brands is a hallmark of successful Japanese manufacturers and a path to bigger profits for any carmaker. But the notion that Hyundai would challenge the German patriarchs of opulence, the makers of the great S-Class and 7 Series, seemed laughable right up until it became a reality.
But let’s be careful here: Genesis’s merits are twofold. First and most obvious is that it provides a lot of car for the money. Genesis products, like its Hyundai and Kia siblings, are aimed squarely at our value receptors. But its bigger wager, the one that makes this flagship sedan so compelling, is the simple and intuitive way it presents the G90 as a luxury car. It forgoes many of the gimmicks that help others maintain brand image – road-reading air suspension, gesture controls, the indignity of talking to a machine like we experienced in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB 250 and 2019 Mercedes-Benz A 220 – and instead substitutes comfort and a competent luxury experience.
This is not a full redesign. In fact, the G90 has been around since the 2017 model year. But for 2020 it comes of age with shapely new sheetmetal everywhere save the doors and roof, and a massive, bold grille. Its optional 19-inch wheels feature a grid pattern that matches its new maw. And it’s significantly quieter. This is the car that should have launched the brand, a flagship that makes a statement.
Underneath, the familiar powertrains remain. The base trim, called Prestige, is fitted with a twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V6 good for 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, which are available at only 1,300 rpm. The Ultimate trim gains a 5.0-liter V8, which produces more power (420 hp) but only a few lb-ft more twist (383 lb-ft). Both engines are backed by the brand’s eight-speed automatic transmission. The V8 makes the G90 quicker, but not meaningfully so. The V6, which delivers nearly equal peak torque 3,700 rpm earlier in the rev range, is the practical choice for more than just financial reasons. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional with either engine.
Reinforcing the value statement is the fact that both trims come loaded. Sure, there are small differences — V8-powered G90s come with a rear-seat entertainment system and two 10.3-inch screens as well as ventilated rear seats, which can’t be had with the V6. Otherwise, buying a G90 means getting a luxury sedan padded with many of the same, albeit easier-to-use, amenities you’ll find in the BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Up front a 12.3-inch touchscreen sits atop a cleanly styled center stack. There’s a redundant console-mounted control knob for infotainment management that clicks crisply through various menus on the touchscreen. Five leather options and four wood trims are available. And the presentation comes together with a finished, cohesive feel.
The G90 is a big car, and it won’t let you forget it from behind the wheel. Its 124.4-inch wheelbase is in the ballpark with the big German sedans and the Lexus LS 500. There are no adjustable air springs or active anti-roll bars (simple, remember), but the G90’s coil springs and multilink front and rear suspension give it a respectable demeanor when the going gets curvy. Every G90 comes with adaptive dampers. This is not a car for hustling, and it makes no sporting pretensions, but neither is it a wallowing yacht when asked to turn – it’s bulky, but reasonably athletic. Its four drive modes are differentiated enough to matter, but the only ones that really do are Sport and Comfort.
There’s ample safety tech. Nine of the G90’s standard driver aids are either new or revised for 2020, but the most striking is its remarkably gifted lane-keeping system, which accurately centers the sedan in its lane with none of the pinballing so common to these systems. That it’s probably the best system on the market today speaks to the Korean brand’s ability to do tech right without resorting to unfinished distractions. There’s also adaptive cruise, a surround-view monitor, a blind-spot monitor, ultrasonic parking sensors and a rear cross-traffic alert, among others.
Genesis claims best-in-class NVH for the G90, which is a monumental declaration when considered against Lexus and Mercedes rivals known for their silence. It is quiet, but sound claims can be hard to quantify. Even so, the optional 19-inch wheels offer sound-deadening properties thanks to a built-in resonance chamber that helps to cancel tire noise, and Genesis added numerous new seals and sound-insulating additions to the chassis. Genesis COO Erwin Raphael, when pressed, points to the G90’s silence as the attribute he’s most proud of. “It feels extremely isolated, like you’re in your own world,” he said.
Pricing is not yet finalized for the 2020 G90 though we’re reassured that it will be only slightly increased over the 2019 model, which started at $70,345 for the Prestige and $74,845 for the Ultimate. All-wheel drive added $2,500 to either trim in 2019. Those prices undercut the 2020 Mercedes-Benz S450 by about $20,000 and the 2020 BMW 740i by about $17,000. What we have here, then, is an S-Class and 7 Series experience offered for roughly E-Class and 5 Series money. And that makes simpler sound like it’s worth embracing.