So those wacky Koreans are at it again.
No, I'm not referring to the communists up north with their 1940's-chic H-Bombs and misguided missiles, but the southern capitalists at Hyundai and the relentless drive they have to steal more and more of the American market away from our now partially federalized domestic car industry.
Less than a year after sneaking past security to gain entry into the luxury car club with the Genesis sedan, the folks from Seoul have now gone and built an honest-to-goodness rear-wheel drive sports car.
Along with the name, the 2010 Genesis Coupe shares a few unseen parts with the 4-door, but you won’t recognize any similarities between the two. The Coupe gets a unique design inside and out, and a feel that is the polar opposite of its plump and plush big brother.
Instead, the new 2+2 is aimed at a wide spectrum of cars ranging from the Honda Civic Si and Mazda RX8 to the BMW 135i and Infiniti G37. Apparently Hyundai views the Coupe as a kind of automotive shotgun, hoping to obliterate large portions of several automotive segments that have little in common other than two doors and sporting intentions.
A punk 2.0 liter, 210 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder powers the $22,000 entry level Coupe, while a classy 306 hp 3.8 liter V6 edition starts at $25,000. The two versions are similarly outfitted with features, and weigh nearly the same, but the motors give each one a distinct personality.
Hyundai is specifically targeting tuner hooligans with the 4-cylinder, which seems to have been designed to produce much more power, then dialed down just so the kids could figure out ways to crank it back up. The turbo, for instance, is capable of pumping fuel and air into the cylinders with 15 psi of pressure, but normally operates at half that level. Word on the message boards is that the software for the engine management computer is pretty easy to reprogram for nefarious purposes.
For anyone who cares about that sort of thing, they'll want to do it, too. In stock form the 4-banger never slams you into the seats, though it can be a kick in the pants, especially for more casual owners. Best feature: it runs on regular gasoline. A turbo that can survive on the cheap stuff is as uncommon as a rear-drive Korean sports car, though we're starting to see more of both.
The V6 is more straightforward. It's a smooth player taken from the sedan that cranks out more horsepower and torque than the 6-Cylinder in the new Chevy Camaro, a car that weighs 500 pounds more than the Genesis Coupe. The punch is impressive when fitted with the manual transmission, and through the 6-speed automatic will still spin the tires a bit too easily. It has a nice kick off the line and plenty of passing power at any speed.
Hyundai's engineers didn't skimp on making it sound sweet either. It has a nice baritone that feels genuine, not overly tweaked in the pipes. It is a class-A powerplant that any automaker would be proud to have stuffed under the hood of one of their wares.
Moving at a relaxed pace, the Coupe is noticeably quiet. Its sleek body keeps wind noise at bay while a solid construction and top notch fit and finish to the interior muffle any other unwanted creaks and rattles.
From a distance, the exterior design is a dead ringer for the G37, but up close added drama reveals itself. The tall front fenders and the split character lines running from front to back and back to front, just missing each other by about half a foot at the door handle, pump up the visual volume without stepping over the line to cheap and cheesy.
You’ve seen the interior before, somewhere, but it was a nice place. The hooded instrument cluster and deeply-set gauges scream sports car, though one wonders where Hyundai left the one for turbo boost. I suspect that you'll find it in the bean counter's office next to a note that says “two engines, one dashboard, people can deal.”
Hyundai skimped a little bit on the plastics, too. They're far from terrible, nice actually, but not as good as what you find in a Nissan 370Z. That wouldn't be so bad since that car costs $5,000 more than the Coupe, but most of the stuff in the $21,000 Mustang outclasses it, too. The Coupe has rear seats, and they're roomy for your bottom half, but you'll want to leave your head at home if you are over five-and-a-half feet tall.
Coupes equipped with either engine are available in three trim levels. ‘Base’ comes with a lot of standard features that usually aren't, like an XM satellite radio and an iPod/USB jack, not to mention air conditioning and a leather steering wheel with audio controls. Remember, Hyundai built its reputation as a value, not performance brand and old habits die hard. You’ll hear no complaints about that.
The next step up - called ‘Premium’ with the Turbo, ‘Grand Touring’ with the V6 - adds goodies like power seats, a sunroof, an even fancier stereo system, and a one of those cool proximity keys that I can never find a place to put for an extra $2,500. Navigation isn't available yet, but a few more treats are for an extra $2,000.
The ‘Track’ model keeps everything else and adds wider 19-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, aluminum pedals, a rear spoiler, and the track-tuned suspension that gives it its name. Like it or not, the sunroof remains. I can't recall the last time that I saw one of those at LeMans. Maybe I should actually go there one day to double check.
It matters little. The Coupe is light on its feet with quick steering and sure handling. Both suspension settings are on the stiff side, but it’s more of a bother in the passenger seat. The driver will appreciate how well-sorted the Coupe is, especially on smooth surfaces.
On public roads at legal speeds it’s difficult to discern the difference between the two, but the stiffer dampers of the Track setup do give it a finer handling edge while retaining enough wheel travel to keep it from rattling itself and its occupants to pieces. Hyundai is sponsoring a team in the Formula Drift championship this year, and, unlike the company’s front-wheel drive Tiburon, you can definitely picture smoking the tires and getting very sideways in the Coupe.
If you actually plan on doing that, you might want to wait a few months until the ‘R-Spec’ version of the Coupe is released. It’s the Track turbo model with a close-ratio transmission and minus a few features like the Bluetooth, cruise control, and that pesky sunroof for cost and weight reduction. Priced at $23,750, it should be a runway hit among the Hyundai hardcore horde, if such a group of people exists. Fuel economy of 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway will save them even more cash for parts and service since they’ll surely be voiding Hyundai’s 10 year/100,000 mile warranty preparing their Coupes for battle.
A weapon of mass destruction it is not, but the saber has been rattled and the West and East need to take notice.
At least their carmakers do.
2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Base Price: $22,000 (i4), $25,000 (V6)
Type: 4-passenger, 2-door coupe
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged inline-4 cylinder, 3.8L V6
Power: 210 hp, 223 lb-ft torque (i4), 306 hp, 266 lb-ft torque (V6)
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 5-speed automatic (i4) or 6-speed automatic (V6)
MPG: 21 city/30 hwy (i4), 17 city/26 hwy (V6)
What do you think of the Genesis Coupe?
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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.