Those old enough will recall that famous advertising tagline from the 70s and 80s. Drawing upon a reference to women’s “freedom, emancipation and empowerment,” it was a powerful marketing message that was hugely successful for its intended purposes.
Fast forward to 2009. As we were set to review the milestone Genesis Sedan from Hyundai – in the 4.6L V8 guise – we couldn’t help but to feel as if this vehicle marked the Korean make’s freedom, emancipation and empowerment from its status as “just another Asian car maker.” With styling, performance, build quality and features that rival premium Japanese and European makes, we believe this marks a significant milestone in Hyundai’s pursuit of becoming not only a value leader but an aspirational mark as well.
Once the keys were handed over to us, we took a long, hard look at this rather handsome sedan. To put it simply, it’s a good looking car. Sure, there are certain shapes and bodylines that may remind us of other luxury sedans, but we don’t believe that is necessarily a bad thing. Body gaps between the hood, fenders, doors and trunk were even and consistent, signifying excellent exterior build quality. The standard 18″ wheels on our tester certainly added to the premium feel as well, although we think a plus one set up with wider tires would have been a better call (more on this later). Rounding out the long list of premium features, the Genesis offered up a set of self-leveling and adaptive HID headlights, rear backup camera and rain-sensing wipers.
Once inside, the first reaction we had was, “This is a Hyundai?” Indeed, it was nothing like we had encountered in a vehicle with Hyundai badging.
- Seating was comfortable and supportive, with high quality leather surfaces; we wished there was some additional side bolstering in the front seats, however
- The driver’s seat featured both heating AND cooling, which was a pleasant feature to have on the long, hot drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco
- Although we aren’t particularly crazy about centralized audio / HVAC / “multimedia” vehicle controls in general, the Genesis’ BMW iDrive-like interface was relatively easy to use from the get-go, sans the manual; secondary control buttons were arranged in a logical manner, audio sources on the left, navigation and phone buttons on the right (a user is more apt to change audio sources than play with navigation settings)
- The navigation system screen was by far the sharpest we’ve ever seen – whereas we expect some pixelation and jagged edges on most systems, the Genesis’ screen was comparable to that of a high resolution computer screen
- The integrated XM NavTraffic system (along with XM satellite radio) provided an additional dimension to navigating traffic-riddled roads in Los Angeles and San Francisco
- The Lexicon audio system was incredible – with clean output at all frequency levels, the Genesis’ audio delivery rivaled purpose-built SQ (sound quality) systems you would normally find at sound competitions
- Cabin noise levels were extremely low, as one would expect from a premium sedan, and certainly helped created a solid audio environment for the above mentioned Lexicon system
- The genuine wood trim on the steering wheel was a classy touch, although we weren’t big fans of the wood-grained plastic that adorned the dash and center console
- The trunk is cavernous, with more than enough room for several golf bags or a full weekend’s collection of duds, and a low lift-over which should make loading the trunk relatively easy
The centerpiece of our tester was the stout V8 under the hood. Considering it’s the largest & most powerful engine we’ve seen from Hyundai, we were certainly interested in unearthing whether they got it right. Firing up the 4.6L V8, utilizing the keyless ignition system, elicited a smooth start and idle. Shifting into the 6-speed ZF transmission, the same found in the BMW 5-series, puts 375hp and 333lb-ft of torque on tap. Shifts under auto mode were crisp and quick, and held gear properly without upshifting prematurely under full WOT.
The manual mode was effective as well, with very little hesitation between gear shifts. Automatic slushboxes of old were terrible at emulating a manual, but the ZF transmission was a great example of accomodating the driver’s need for more control. Even under full load, nearing the engine’s rev limit, the engine and transmission exhibited no harshness, noise or vibration. With that being said, we had the same complaint about the shifting pattern as we do with other cars. Upshifts are executed by pushing forward, while downshifts are executed by pulling downward. This is exactly the opposite of what the shifting action should be and would love to see manufacturers revise their designs to correct this.
With all that power on tap, impromptu drag races at freeway on-ramps ushered rapid acceleration to 60, 70mph. Acceleration performance really belies the 4,000lbs curb weight of the vehicle, pushing you back into the seat more like a mid-sized sedan with ample power. And passing acceleration, whether getting around that cumbersome tractor trailer or whizzing by slow moving traffic, was quick and uneventful. We quickly became big fans of the silky Hyundai Tau V8 engine.
The ride quality was smooth and comfortable. Over downtown LA’s pothole-riddled roads and over the rough slow lane on the 5 freeway, the Genesis held its composure well. Once on some twisty roads, however, things became a little less refined. We took the Genesis to task on the undulating roads of the Angeles Crest National Forest and found some excessive body roll and lack of cornering traction from the 235-series tires. Perhaps we’re too accustomed to full coilover setups, but we would definitely put some stiffer rate springs, more aggressive damping and thicker roll bars on our wish list. Although it may hike up the vehicle’s price a bit, but something akin to BMW’s or Audi’s dynamic suspension system would be a great solution. And as alluded to earlier, some wider, meatier rubber (255’s, perhaps?) would greatly help the Genesis’ lateral stability as well.
Honestly, it’s hard to compare the Genesis Sedan to other premium vehicles. If you compare the Genesis to higher-end premium vehicles, such as the BMW 5-series, Lexus GS and LS models, Audi A6 and the like, it offers similar levels of refinement, features and performance for a lot less money. If you compare the Genesis on a pricepoint basis, it’s a complete blow-out as entry-level luxury vehicles, such as the Lexus ES, Infiniti G-series, and Acura TL, can’t deliver the same virtues that make the Genesis a joy to own and drive.
We’re a bit lost as to where we can place the Genesis Sedan in the grand scheme of things. It’s inappropriate to make a direct comparison to either the higher-end or entry-level luxury market. At the end of the day, the only logical conclusion we can come to is, “It’s a hell of a car for a hell of a price.” How often can you say that about any vehicle on the market today?
Hyundai, loosely translated from its intended meaning in Korean, means “Now.” We couldn’t agree more. Hyundai has NOW brought forth a platform that has become a legitimate contender in a market segment that is completely new to the make. At $41,000, as our tester was equipped, it delivers all the features the premium sedan buyer is looking for and more. We can only look forward to bigger and better products from Hyundai as its cements its position as a global player in all price segments.
Hyundai, you’ve come a long way baby.
Hyundai Motor America
PO Box 20850
Fountain Valley, CA 92728-0850