They say timing is everything, but in the automotive world these days, the timing for everything seems bad. Except when it seems terrible.
For one thing, above the screaming cyclone sound of an American car market crashing from a mighty height, it's hard for many extraordinary achievements to get heard and to receive their due. Into this category, I would put the new Hyundai Genesis. On account of current events in our world and our industry such as have caused the automotive press corps, me included, to sit around gasping and spluttering with our collective mouth agape, the Genesis seems to have passed too quickly into the "cars we've driven" category, even though it's a job very well done.
You know the Genesis; you just may not realize it. The styling of the rear-wheel-drive luxo-cruiser - launched in mid-2008 - is that anonymous and stealthy. Hardly hideous, it's reminiscent of a Mercedes-Benz S-class (with a hint of Infiniti M35), though usefully less pompous. Supposedly meant to compete with the Germans and upscale Japanese at a bargain price, its most likely market initially is among the vigilantly pennywise. But there's one truly surprising and noteworthy thing about the Genesis, which I discovered only when I finally got around to driving one: it's quite good.
With excellent refinement, a capable chassis, and truly superior interior finish and materials, it revisits the formula - premium car for less than premium bucks - that put Lexus in business twenty years ago. But a lot more people seemed to be paying attention then. The lack of fireworks for the Genesis launch, some reviewers have ventured, is Hyundai's own fault, a result of a supposedly crucial failure to launch its own premium brand with its own upscale dealerships, such as Toyota did with Lexus, Honda with Acura, and Nissan with Infiniti. I disagree.
Have these critics forgotten that all the cheesy, amorphous-sounding names for made-up luxury brands are already taken? Even assuming they weren't, why would you?
Granted, the salesmen in cheap sport jackets and the "Come on down! Personal bankruptcy? We've all been there!" vibe at many Hyundai showrooms may diminish the luxury experience. But had Hyundai actually taken the plunge and set out to make its own Korean version of Lexus, with separate stores, additional real estate, and free kimchi-flavored fermented fish snacks, everyone would be yammering about their presumptuousness for losing all the money they'd undoubtedly lose and for having chosen the wrong time, what with a worldwide depression going on and all, to come to market.