2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec

It’s very unlikely that you will ever drive this car.

Even if you are attracted handsome, but anonymous looks of the Hyundai Genesis – which for 2012 gets mild face and buttlifts, new headlights and LED accent lighting – based on historical sales data, it’s 80 percent probable that you’ll go for one powered by a V6 engine instead of a V8, like the one under the hood of the Genesis 5.0 R-Spec tested here.

That’s not to say you’ll make a bad choice. The entire lineup of engines now has direct fuel injection, which brings with it more power and better fuel economy. The 3.8-liter six-cylinder found in the $35,050 Genesis 3.8 puts out a stout 333 hp and is connected to an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission, which was designed and built in house by Hyundai and delivers 29 mpg highway -- not bad for a big, powerful rear-wheel drive car.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the other 20 percent of you will be going for the top-level model that is the subject of this report. In between the two lies the $45,350 Genesis 4.6 and its – surprise, surprise – 4.6-liter 385 hp V8.

No, the $47,350 Genesis 5.0 R-Spec is rare air for those looking for something a bit sportier, in the same vein as a Mercedes-Benz AMG or Cadillac V-Series. At least that’s the aspiration.

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    As its formal name implies, the R-Spec gets the same 5.0-liter V8 that is also set to power the larger, full-size Hyundai Equus ultra-luxury barge in 2012. In the Genesis that means big engine, smaller car – always a recipe for fun.

    Rated at 429 hp running on premium fuel – although it will also burn the cheap stuff just fine – it is the most-powerful engine Hyundai has ever built. A stiffer, sport-tuned suspension comes with it and the transmission and steering have been recalibrated to make the most of the motors’ potential.

    The R-Spec is also fully-loaded with a list of features that includes navigation, an excellent 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, blind spot warning system, active cruise control, heated and cooled driver seat and heated front passenger seat – don’t forget to tell the spouse to bring a coat. The seats themselves are very comfortable, though geared more for highway rather than road course performance.

    Owners of other Hyundai models will recognize the full-color information display in the center of the instrument cluster. It’ll make you feel right at home, but, to those in the know, stands as a reminder of the Genesis’ humble origins. Not always a good thing in this class.

    Otherwise, the interior mostly carries over from last year as-is, with only a couple of new woodgrain finishes to freshen things up. Given the great strides Hyundai has made in design in the past couple of years, the Genesis remains last-gen inside and out.

    The cabin is very roomy, however, and the visibility provided by its simple roofline and big windows is panoramic. It’s also reading room quiet and has a huge, flat trunk. Factors which, combined with Hyundai’s epic 10-year/100,000 warranty, probably have a lot to do with how popular the Genesis has become for use as a livery car.

    That’s not likely to be the fate of the R-Spec. Brutally quick in a straight line – 429 hp will do that – on smooth pavement it cruises with authority and a heft that makes you feel like you could drive it through a brick wall if the need arises. The new transmission is a gem, with slick, if not ultra quick, shifts. The gated shift lever lets you change gears for yourself, but there are no F1-style paddles behind the steering wheel. Compared with the direct injection four-cylinder in the Hyundai Sonata (a notoriously noisy technology), the engine barely makes a peep.

    Venture onto less appealing roads, however, and you start to understand why the Genesis costs tens of thousands of dollars less than the German and Japanese cars that it ostensibly competes against. There’s not a ton of sophistication to the suspension. It’s passive and has what comes across as a stiff springs, soft dampers setup that is a recipe for uncontrolled elegance as the surface gets rough. Even over the smallest tar strips and expansion joints the steering dances in your hands.

    Nevertheless, if you live in an area flush with roads that have benefited from recent stimulus programs, for just two grand more than the 4.6 the R-Spec comes across as a pretty good deal. Along with the added passing power it also has a snazzy set of 19-inch wheels that could almost justify the price gap on their own. But the one between the Genesis and the top of the class remains.

    Unlike the rest of the cars in the Hyundai’s refreshed lineup – which stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in their respective segments – the Genesis reflects the automakers old image as one that sells new cars that compete with used cars. For better or worse the R-Spec does that just fine.

    But most of you will have to take my word for that.


    2012 Hyundai Genesis R-Spec 5.0

    Base Price: $47,250

    Type: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan

    Engine: 5.0L V8

    Power: 429 hp, 376 lb-ft torque

    Transmission: 8-speed automatic

    MPG: 16 city/25 hwy