Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Luxury Car That Hyundai Always Wanted to Build

The luxury car that Hyundai always wanted to build

2009 Hyundai Genesis

The Genesis is the beginning of something radically different for Hyundai.

This is a serious luxury machine built around a rear-wheel-drive platform and an available V8 engine. The resulting premium-grade sedan, due to arrive this summer, will take on some of the best sedans that Europe, Japan and North America have to offer.

That's a lofty goal and it remains to be seen whether this mainstream Korean automaker, which began a couple of decades ago selling modest little vehicles, can be accepted into an exclusive club dominated by the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus and Cadillac, to name some of its key members.

Let the critics scoff. Hyundai seems to think the Genesis deserves to be taken seriously as a true luxury contender and at a price that just might embarrass the competition.

Of course, we've heard that rhetoric from Hyundai before. The company's Azera sedan boasted a similar claim when it arrived for the 2006 model year. It was - and still is - a pretty decent ride, but falls short of making the luxury claim stick.

This time, however, the luxury tag has some serious backing. For starters, there's a new rear-wheel-drive platform with a sophisticated independent front and rear suspension on the menu, a first for Hyundai in North America, although this type of setup has been employed in its native Korea for a number of years. Secondly, the Genesis will be offered with a 4.6-liter V8 that delivers between 368 and 375 horsepower, depending on whether you pump regular- or premium-grade gasoline into the tank. The output level beats nearly every direct and indirect competitor in sight, including the Infiniti M45, BMW 550i, and Chrysler 300C and comes whisker-close to topping the Mercedes-Benz E550 and the Lexus LS460. However, it's important to note that the Hyundai's 324 pound-feet of torque falls short of these potential competitors. As well, the Genesis is the only sedan in the group that fails to offer all-wheel-drive as an option, a feature that nearly every luxury car worth its salt can be equipped with these days.

Of course, it's the Genesis' V8 powerplant that's attracting significant attention, but it's not the only available motor. Base versions will come with a 268-horsepower 3.3-liter V6, while mid-range models will get a 290-horsepower 3.8-liter V6. Both are derived from the Azera and Sonata's front-wheel-drive architecture but, like the V8, they're connected to six-speed automatic transmissions.

The Genesis is wrapped in one of the most inviting bodies ever designed for a Hyundai. There are strong hints of Mercedes, BMW and Infiniti in the shape, but not in an overt or awkward way. In other words, no new ground is broken, but none of the design elements look glaringly out of place. Overall length and width is with an inch of the Chrysler 300, placing the Genesis firmly in the full-size category and providing more limo-like stretch-out space than either an E-Class Mercedes or BMW 7-series.

All Genesis models should arrive with a very high degree of standard equipment (final base content has yet to be announced). At the top end, though, you'll be able to load up with a heated and cooled driver's seat, power rear sunshade, backup camera, auto-leveling Xenon headlights, 17-speaker 500-watt sound package, navigation system, UV-reflective leather-covered steering wheel that stays cool to the touch in bright sunlight when the windows are up and adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance from the vehicle directly in front.

Genesis pricing is not yet known, but a $30,000-$40,000 range is likely. That certainly undercuts many of its peers, which is exactly what Hyundai needs to attract buyers to the upscale side of its newly revised business plan.

What you should know: 2009 Hyundai Genesis

Type: Four-door, rear-wheel-drive full-size entry-luxury sedan

Engines: 3.3-liter DOHC V6 (268 hp); 3.8-liter DOHC V6 (290 hp); 4.6-liter DOHC V8 (375 hp)

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Market position: The Genesis will attempt to carve out a niche within an established group of premium-priced rear-wheel-drive passenger cars.

Points: * A whole new direction for Hyundai. * Optional V8 among the most powerful in class. * All-wheel-drive option should be part of the program. * Planned Genesis coupe will follow sedan launch. * Available 17-speaker high-performance audio system enhances car's character. * Existing long-term Hyundai warranty already up to luxury-car standards.

Safety: Front airbags; front- and rear-side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

The numbers: MPG (city/hwy): 17/24 (3.3, est.) Base price: $30,000 (est.)

By comparison

Chrysler 300

Base price: $25,300

Available from tame to torrid with optional 425-hp SRT8 model.

BMW 5-series

Base price: $45,100

Sporty sedan offers superb handling, impressive V8 power.

Infiniti M35/45

Base price: $43,800

Splendid V6 and V8 performers are roomy and well appointed.

By Malcolm Gunn
Wheelbase Communications
March 15, 2008

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