Hyundai Genesis offers surprisingly luxury at a value price

By Lary Coppola

Everyone who saw the 2009 Hyundai Genesis during my test drive period had two universal reactions: They were impressed by the total luxury, and outstanding styling of this car — and shocked to learn it was a Hyundai.

The Genesis is a totally new, rear-wheel-drive luxury sport sedan. With a standard 290-horse V6, and available V8 power, the Genesis is a bona fide competitor to the Lexus GS, BMW 5 Series, Infiniti M, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but at $36,000 as tested, value priced along the lines of the Chrysler 300.

Hyundai was best known for building econoboxes, and as the new vehicle of last resort upon it’s entrance to the American marketplace. However, the Korean automaker has moved systematically upmarket for several years, and the Genesis is the culmination of that journey, being the company’s most luxurious — and expensive — vehicle.

Walkaround: The Genesis is built on Hyundai’s all-new rear-wheel-drive platform, and sized similar to the Nissan Maxima, Dodge Charger and BMW 5-Series. It looks like a styling collaboration between Mercedes and BMW, with a politely aggressive, yet somewhat sedate, appearance.

The trapezoid-shaped grille and front-end design are obviously Mercedes-inspired — sans the rounded headlights. Hyundai opted for more modern, eye-slit, standard halogen headlamps. The available Technology Package includes auto-leveling high-intensity discharge adaptive headlights that point into turns for improved night vision.

Fog lights are standard on the lower fascia, which features a large air intake. Styling lines originate at the grille, flow easily into the hood, and terminate at the front A-pillars. The rest of the Genesis features an angular, BMW-inspired silhouette, right down to the dogleg shape of the rear pillars, instead of the softer, rounder Mercedes look.

The upper beltline flows from the front wheel openings to the taillights with a kickout at the bottom of the doors. Standard 17-inch wheels, or available 18-inchers, fill the wheelwells.

The Genesis has the same high trunk line pioneered by BMW and now standard for several manufacturers. The discreet, chrome Hyundai badge on the decklid is the vehicle’s only ornamentation.

Interior: The Genesis is luxuriously appointed, with tight tolerances, a leather-wrapped dash, soft-touch materials, leather seating surfaces, with heated seats, and finished in wood and aluminum trim highlighted with chrome accents. Front and rear seating room is exceptional.

Instrumentation is easy-to-read and electroluminescent, with white numbers on a black background and blue accents. Power windows, mirrors, door locks with remote, and steering-mounted audio controls are all standard. The available navigation system includes voice activation with a multimedia interface much easier to use than those from most luxury manufacturers — and especially BMW. An iPod interface is standard, as is an AM/FM/6-CD audio system that includes XM satellite radio, USB and auxiliary input jacks, along with Bluetooth hands-free phone capability. There’s also an optional 17-speaker, kickass Lexicon audio system with 7.1 surround sound that will blow you away, and an available 40 GB hard drive that holds music files and navigation map information. Music can be loaded from CDs or through the USB interface.

Safety features include dual front airbags, front and rear side airbags, curtain side airbags, tire-pressure monitor, electronic active front head restraints, antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, and electronic stability control.

Front and rear park assist and a rearview camera come with the optional Technology Package.

Under The Hood: The Genesis marks the debut of Hyundai’s first V8, a 4.6-liter dual overhead cam engine putting 375 ponies to the pavement. It has an abundance of smooth, willing power and boasts decent fuel economy. Our test model was equipped with the standard 290-horse 3.8-liter V6, that delivered all the go you need, with the added benefit of an extra mpg’s — it’s rated at 18/city and 27/highway. Each engine is mated to a different, smooth-shifting, six-speed automatic transmission. Both feature Hyundai’s Shiftronic manual shift gate.

Behind The Wheel: The Genesis is touted as a sport sedan, and true to form, delivers smooth handling and easy power on twisty, winding roads. Overall, it has a pretty nimble feel, sliding easily through turns. But while the V6’s hydraulic steering has a positive feel, it can bind slightly in quick changes of direction.

The Genesis ride is comfortable and quiet, ironing out bumps with little impact on passengers — and it doesn’t wallow or float like some other Hyundai’s. The ride can get somewhat bouncy over rough pavement at highway speeds, and it’s not quite as agile as top performers such as the Infiniti M, but overall, the Genesis is a highly legitimate sport sedan.

Whines: Paddle shifters are a glaring omission. The Navigation screen is the central control point for navigation, trip computer, audio, Bluetooth phone, climate control, and settings in the Driver Information System. It uses a large rotating knob and six buttons. Three would be better. The iPod interface works well, but returning to a previous menu always starts it over alphabetically instead of the last spot visited. Nonetheless, other manufacturers — especially BMW and Audi — should take a lesson from the simplicity of Hyundai’s multimedia interface.

Bottom Line: The Hyundai Genesis is a luxury sedan offering lots of features for the dollar, and is a surprisingly capable, legitimate sports sedan. While not quite up to the high standards of the high-dollar European and Japanese luxury cars the Genesis aspires to be, it is a seriously viable alternative — and better appointed than most American luxury sedans — except perhaps the Cadillac CTS. If you’re in the luxury sports sedan market, you’d be remiss not to drive the Genesis before making a final decision.