Wednesday, October 01, 2008
A New Challenger in the Premium Luxury Segment
Hyundai (rhymes with Sunday, by the way) is all about building cars in a given segment with the quality and content of its competitors but with a lower price. They've not always managed to match that quality and content, particularly in their early days in the US market. But with each new model in each segment they get a little better at it.
Introducing the new Hyundai Genesis. We had our first good look and test drive this afternoon from Ann Arbor out into the countryside along the beautiful ridge of end moraines that define the area around the little settlement known as Hell, Michigan. These glacial hills make for some very nice driving roads, though Livingston County has badly neglected Patterson Lake road making it a good test of the Genesis' rough-road manners. We were impressed on just about all levels.
The confident folks at Hyundai have the audacity to compare the Genesis with the likes of Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS and LS 460 and Infiniti M. Pretty auspicious company, eh?
The new Genesis, at dealers now in the V6 version and within a few months in V8 form, is a rear-wheel drive, premium luxury, or perhaps sport, sedan. A remarkably sexy coupe version, revealed at the New York Auto Show, will follow in the first quarter of '09 and will offer a 2-liter turbo 4-cylinder. The Genesis' size is comparable to the listed competitors and, I must say, the appearance, performance and overall ambiance is damn close as well.
While our Hyundai hosts insist that the styling and design are conservative and non-polarizing yet distinctive and unlike the competitors, I must disagree. Conservative and non-polarizing - yes, and I might add quite attractive. But it would be hard to not see a distinct resemblance from the front to the Mercedes and an unmistakable hint of BMW's rear deck treatment commonly referred to as "Bangle-butt" in reference to BMW design chief Chris Bangle's bold rear look.
Inside we find an interior with seats softer than the German competitors but clad in high-quality brown leather. A wide strip of matching leather gracefully crosses the stylish dash giving an unusual and luxurious feel. Technology and electronics are up to par for this class of automobile including connectivity for your electronic devises and the tactile qualities of all the touchy parts are excellent. The styling of the interior is less conservative than the exterior and I found it intriguing and artful.
My driving partner and I drove the V8 version this afternoon and we were both impressed. They spent more than half the $500 million development costs for the vehicle on this 4.6-liter, 375-horsepower high content engine using premium fuel - a tad less if you choose regular. At higher rpms it sings like a diva with all the sophisticated sounds of the best of its competitors. Zero-to-60 times are impressive at 5.7 seconds. Mated to a slick, quick-shifting ZF 6-speed automatic transmission it still gets 17-mpg in the city and 25-mpg on the highway.
The V6 version of this car pumps out 290 horsepower with a 6-speed Aisin B600 transmission - plenty for most of us - while getting just one-mpg better than the V8. It will cost about 6-grand less to buy in the first place but the car includes a bit less content.
Hyundai thinks of this car as "efficient" in all its qualities. Aerodynamically it's at the top of its class at 0.27 coefficient of drag. That's better than most sports cars. Interior dimensions and packaging contribute to the efficiency claim as well. No dispute here. The rear seat feels generous and the trunk is plenty big.
On the road we immediately notice a distinct on-center feel to the firm electro-hydrolic steering. The suspension, 5-link systems front and rear, is firm but not harsh - perhaps more compliant than the German competitors but about the same as the Japanese. We hear only the quiet whoosh of cruising down the road - no wind noise, no tire echo, no unpleasant noise of any kind. Along the rough sections of Patterson Lake Road the Genesis felt balanced, stable and unflustered.
Safety is top notch with 8 airbags, standard electronic stability control, electronically controlled active head restraint system and full 5-Star NHTSA crash test ratings.
The V6 starts at $36,000 and the V8 at $42,000. Only a few options and packages will boost that price. You're looking at about $46,000 for a top-of-the-line V8 model.
After spending an afternoon with the Genesis I'm impressed. We'll have a more thorough test report once we've been able to score one for a bit more time.
So, in the meantime, if you're thinking about one of the premium German or Japanese sedans at 55-grand and up, you might want to put the Genesis on your shopping list.
© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions