First Drive: 2012 Hyundai Genesis Sedan 5.0 R-Spec

The Hyundai Genesis launched for 2009, and it has done pretty well for itself, with some 29,000 units leaving dealer lots last year. That number is a ways off from the big boys (the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the BMW 5-series) but betters the entries from Infiniti and Lexus. That’s not a bad performance, considering the Genesis is Hyundai’s first-ever rear-wheel drive luxury sedan (in the U.S. market at least), and that the Genesis is sold in only two versions, the six-cylinder Genesis 3.8 and the V-8 Genesis 4.6.

Adding to the family
For 2012, Hyundai is addressing a key missing element in the Genesis family. No, it’s not all-wheel drive — that’s still not available — it’s a sporty variant. The new 5.0 R-Spec endeavors to fill that role.

A Hyundai 5.0
To do so, Hyundai has given it a larger engine of, yes, 5.0 liters. Hyundai’s biggest-ever V-8, it’s part of the Tau engine family, and is essentially a stroked and direct-injected version of the 4.6-liter (which continues). The 5.0 makes an impressive 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque — with over 330 pound feet available at only 2000 rpm.

The 5.0-liter is paired with a new eight-speed automatic (which replaces the six-speed box in the other Genesis models as well). Hyundai estimates a 0-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds. The engine is plenty responsive even if it doesn’t have a whole lot of personality. And the eight-speed gearbox can be stirred manually with a plus/minus shift gate but there are no paddles.

Besides the bigger engine, the R-Spec boasts…uh, not a lot. The suspension is firmed up a bit — the other Genesis models have been softened — and the steering is recalibrated. Although the steering is firmer on center than the standard car’s, the electro-hydraulic system is springy and artificial when you wind on more lock. And while the chassis tuning felt pretty good on our short drive, it didn’t have quite the over-the-road solidity of the best competitors.

Where are the visuals?
Even more so than the mechanical changes, the R-Spec’s visual differentiators amount to pretty thin gruel. Special nineteen-inch wheels replace the standard seventeens and the headlamps (with LED accents for 2012) have darker reflectors. That’s it, unless you count the R-Spec badges. Inside, it’s the same story. Don’t look for new seats to replace the soft standard units, or any special trim. There’s just a leather-wrapped steering wheel (in place of the standard wood rim) — oh, and R-Spec floor mats.

With no visual pop and only the subtlest of changes in driving dynamics, the R-Spec ends up being just an engine upgrade. At $47,350 ($2000 over the Genesis 4.6), the R-Spec may be a good deal, but no more so than any other Genesis. And whereas value-for-money may have made the regular Genesis a success, a true sport sedan needs to try harder than this.

2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec

Base price: $47,350
Price as tested: $47,385
On sale: Now

Powertrain: 5.0-liter, 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 429 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 376 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel

L x W x H
: 196.3 x 74.4 x 58.3 in
Wheelbase: 115.6 in
Cargo capacity: 15.9 cu ft
Curb weight: 4046 lbs
EPA rating (city/highway): 16/25 mpg

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