If you ever wanted to know what three quarters of a billion dollars looks like, take a gander at the 2009 Hyundai Genesis.
That's how much the Korean automaker spent developing its first luxury car for the American market, and it can be yours for the low, low price of $33,000.
If that sounds like a lot to you for a Hyundai, join the club. The perennial value brand has its work cut out for it convincing buyers that it can seriously be considered an alternative to the luxury offerings from Japan and Germany, not to mention Detroit, even at a bargain price.
After spending a day driving several models of the car on the winding roads paralleling the Hudson River in New York City's northern suburbs, I'll venture to guess that getting high-end shoppers in the doors of its dealerships will be the second hardest challenge Hyundai has ahead of it.
Keeping the Genesis in stock will be the really tough part.
At the press drive introduction, Hyundai made no excuses for the Genesis, nor did they need to. Unlike some past offerings from the brand, there is very little "you get what you pay for" about the car. It is just plain good.
The Genesis is a large vehicle, with exterior dimensions that fall between most mid- and full-size sedans. Considering it's priced like a compact, that's an achievement unto itself. The exterior — an amalgam of Mercedes, Lexus and BMW themes — breaks no new ground, but there is also nothing about it that is wrong. The design is clean and well-proportioned without any notable missteps, which is more than many of the cars it will compete against it can say.
The grille was the last feature finalized, and what Hyundai went with kind of looks like a barista drew an S-Class grille with chocolate sauce on the top of a cappuccino, then ran a coffee stirrer down the center.
The only thing missing is a Hyundai logo, but that is intentional. The company is trying to establish Genesis as a sort of pseudo-luxury brand without going to the trouble and expense of starting a separate sales channel like the Japanese did with Acura, Infiniti and Lexus. It probably isn't special enough to hang all of that on to it, but it will do the trick for now, and is definitely more attractive than your standard Hyundai front end.
One of those fancy proximity keys unlocks the door as you approach, and there's a button on the dash to start the engine with. Genesis is available with either V-6 or a V-8, and you won't find yourself wanting much with either. The six cylinder churns 290 horsepower through the rear wheels and manages 27 mpg on the highway, which is very good for a car of this size with that much power. Give the gas pedal a nice prod and you'll feel a strong shove into the seat.
Do that with the eight cylinder and you might end up in the back row. The 375 horsepower is all you need to know about it, but a 25 mpg highway rating is a nice surprise, and as much as you'll find in just about any car it competes with. Starting price for a Genesis with the big motor is just $38,000.
Always watching out for your bottom line, Hyundai makes a point to tell you that while premium gasoline is recommended for the V-8, it'll run just fine on regular. In fact, they are the only automaker I know that gives you the horsepower rating for the lesser grade fuel, and at 368 horsepower, you might as well save the money.
Underway you'll notice something is missing that is found in most of its sister products. Noise. Hyundai says the Genesis is as quiet as a BMW 750i or Lexus LS460, automobiles that cost twice as much. I can't vouch for that claim, but it is astonishingly quiet inside. Even under full throttle you hear little more than a murmur from the engine bay, virtually no tire roar and just a whisper of wind through the laminated glass.
Hyundai showed us diagrams of all the sound insulation it stuffed into the car, and I doubt that Bob Villa could have done more with your chilly garage.
The interior of the Genesis is anything but cold, with leather that could be straight from an Infiniti, and lots of glossy real wood that looks the part. There's some plastic and vinyl, but it's all soft to the touch, even the stuff way down low on the transmission tunnel, where it's easy to cheap out with the hard stuff.
The seats are more comfortable than sporting, and a little too flat when the roads start to turn. A shame because with a suspension that automatically adapts to the way you drive, the car can put on a pretty good show, even if it doesn't go out of its way to encourage that kind of driving.
The shape of the dashboard is Mercedes channeled through Lexus, with a big bulge in the center that houses the multimedia system. On V-8 models, you can opt for a technology package that has navigation with live traffic and a 17-speaker stereo designed by Lexicon, the same company that provides the audio setup for the Rolls Royce Phantom.
With 7.1 surround sound, it is as good as any, and much better than even the 14-speaker system that is also available. You can control most of the functions with a console mounted dial, but there are auxiliary controls scattered about for more immediate adjustments like volume.
The screen is a good size, with up to date graphics, but its a little high on the dashboard and not shaded well, the top half of it often disappearing in direct sunlight just as you are approaching the next right turn.
If it weren't for the humdrum instrument panel and a steering wheel with too many large square buttons on it, from the driver's seat you'd have a hard time telling the difference between the Genesis and a dozen cars that cost much more than it does. There's also a lot of room: as much interior space as a Mercedes S-Class. Much of that must go to headroom, though, because space for legs doesn't quite top the charts.
That's not to say back seat passengers will complain. I was easily able to fit behind the driver's seat, even with it adjusted to fit my 6-foot-1 frame. Unfortunately the cars that Hyundai benchmarked for rear seat comfort don't seem to have considered hydration very important. The only two cupholders are in the fold-down armrest, which means if three people are back there, they will all need free hands for their Diet Cokes. A lot of carmakers are guilty of this oversight, but that doesn't mean Hyundai gets a pass.
It doesn't need one on fit and finish. All of the parts go together like a jigsaw puzzle, with every line and seam matching up perfectly, and there wasn't a rattle or hum to be heard in any of the cars that I drove. Cruising through the ritzy towns that straddle Route 9 through Westchester County, I felt right at home, and didn't want for anything.
Sure, if a BMW M5 came along I'd be toast, but only if I were foolish enough to engage him in battle. According to Hyundai, Genesis buyers are mostly male, mostly married, with a little less than half making more than $100,000. These are not hoons looking for trouble. They are people who used to own Sonatas and Azeras. If they were interested in 0 to 60 mph times, they would've been driving a different brand and would have never checked out the Genesis in the first place.
Hyundai should have little trouble finding the 20,000 or so of these buyers they're figuring on for the first year, though they are ready to build a lot more than that if needed.
Give them credit for not getting ahead of themselves, but they may want to think about adding a few shifts at the plant.
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2009 HYUNDAI GENESIS
Base Price: $33,000 (V-6)/$38,000 (V-8)
Type: Front-engine, rear-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Engine: 3.8L V-6/4.6L V-8
Power: 290 hp, 268 lb-ft torque/375 hp, 333 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 27/18 (V-6) 25/17 (V-8)
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