Namyang, South Korea — Five years ago, Hyundai launched its first luxury car, the Genesis. Few car names have been so fitting, because the Genesis truly was the beginning of a change in perception and market reach for the Korean automaker. At the time, we said that Hyundai had “taken off its gloves,” launching a “no-holds-barred assault” on the luxury market with a car that was surprisingly impressive. The 2009 Genesis was a commendable effort complete with a powerful V-8 and rear-wheel drive—an ambitious feat for any car company, let alone one that had never done a premium vehicle of any kind in its then 41-year existence.
Back to Namyang
Now its time for round two, and we’ve returned to Namyang, South Korea, home of Hyundai’s massive research and design center, to test the 2015 Hyundai Genesis on the same banked oval and the same sweeping road course where we drove its predecessor. The automaker defied critics just by making an award-winning luxury car on the first try, but Hyundai doesn’t want to simply be in the luxury segment, it wants to compete with BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, and Cadillac, and that meant major changes for the 2015 Hyundai Genesis. Inside and out, it’s a new car. While the powertrain carries over, almost everything else, from the design to the mechanicals (including all-wheel drive), is significantly different and better.
“We feel that this will be a defining car for our brand for the next five years,” says Casey Hyun, Hyundai creative design manager.
Creating an identity
The makeover of the 2015 Hyundai Genesis starts with the design, now called Fluidic Sculpture 2.0. While the first Genesis drew comparisons to Mercedes and Lexus sedans, it was actually a backhanded compliment. In 2008, no one knew what a Hyundai luxury car was supposed to look like, and the Genesis lacked a distinct identity. When you’re trying to build a luxury image and the average man on the street looks at the car and doesn’t know it’s a Hyundai, that’s a problem.
“We were trying to find our own direction, our own unique way of designing cars, and I think now it’s evident,” Hyun says.
Indeed. The 2015 Hyundai Genesis has a prominent, distinctive hexagonal grille that will be used across the Hyundai lineup. It’s framed by big LED lights set in large frames that stretch from the grille to far back in the fenders. There’s a bit of chrome to accent the greenhouse, but it’s brushed rather than shiny. Hyundai designers did not want to convey luxury in a showy, new-money fashion; instead, they chose to act like they’ve been here before. In fact, they have. Smart move.
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis has a classic rear-wheel-drive layout, with a long hood and a short deck. There are dramatic lines and creases on the sides that run the length of the car, and the roofline is more noticeably raked than before, almost fastback style. The Genesis does still look vaguely like a BMW, but the new design language provides Hyundai a legitimate look to call its own.
“No longer will people have any doubt,” Hyun says.
The cabin is similarly updated and distinctive. It was nice before, but the Genesis still felt pedestrian in comparison with other luxury sedans. It had plenty of features, but the design was a mish-mash and some of the details were just average. The 2015 car has a totally different vibe. It’s much more aspirational and makes use of real wood—such as bamboo, ash, oak, and walnut—which works in harmony with real aluminum and napa leather. The effect is something more akin to a purposefully put-together Mercedes than a Hyundai playing dress-up.
“We have learned a lot, and that is why we paid a lot of attention to detail,” says Yongseok Lee, overseas product planner for Hyundai.
He’s serious. Designers obsessed so much over the interior that the seats have three different levels of cushioning to contour to the various parts of your body. Even the switches to adjust the seats have been reconfigured so they’re easier to use. In what is believed to be a world first, the Genesis has a carbon-dioxide monitor that senses respiration levels in a bid to detect drowsiness. There are also beefed-up electronics, including a head-up display, an optional 9.2-inch high-definition touchscreen, and a hands-free trunk opening function. The technology enhancements extend to the safety features: there is an automatic emergency braking system and a lane keeping assist system, and the sedan is now designed to pass the IIHS small overlap crash test.
The Genesis grows 0.2 inch in length, but the wheelbase is 3 inches longer, making for different proportions and much more room in the rear seat. Plus, there are head cutouts in back to compensate for the steep roofline. At 196.5 inches long, the 2015 Genesis is bigger than the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
A new platform
Another significant change to the 2015 Hyundai Genesis is the addition of all-wheel drive. It will be available at launch this spring (likely in April) and instantly makes Hyundai more competitive in colder climates. The system, called HTRAC, was developed with Magna Powertrain, the supplier of BMW’s xDrive. HTRAC has an electronic transfer case with a multiplate clutch that actively controls torque distribution, allowing 90 percent of the torque to go to the front wheels in extreme situations.
The under-the-skin changes continue with a new platform, which reinforces the notion that the 2015 model is really a new generation. Hyundai uses more ultra-high-strength steel for the new car (52 percent vs. 14 percent), resulting in improved torsional stiffness. The rear multi-link suspension is updated and is claimed to be stiffer than the suspensions in the 5-series and the E-class. The steering is also revised; the Genesis is the first Hyundai to get a new rack-mounted, motor-driven electric power steering setup with a variable gear ratio. It adds stability at high speeds and improves response at lower speeds.
All of these changes are a lot to consider as we’re hitting 135 mph on Hyundai’s high-speed test oval. Our rear-wheel-drive, V-6 Genesis is composed as we navigate the top line of the track, blast through corners, and then mash the throttle on the open straights into the fading autumn sun. It’s a short but invigorating couple of laps in this big, fast, buttoned-down car.
We switch to a V-8, all-wheel-drive model for the handling course. The Genesis is a willing partner as we try to keep a smooth line and generate as much speed as possible on the brief straightaways. The AWD system adds stability, and the new steering system is an upgrade. The car goes where it is directed. Hyundai lightly tosses out the notion of the Genesis as a sport sedan, but this big car doesn’t fit that category from a dynamics standpoint even with its tauter, more athletic underpinnings. The last Genesis was knocked for being floaty, and the chassis updates have tightened up the ride. The sportiest aspects of this car are the V-6 and V-8 powerplants. They are excellent engines and work effectively with the eight-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai wouldn’t specify power ratings, but they are not expected to change much; better low-end torque, however, should make for quicker sprints to 60 mph.
The original Genesis grabbed our attention, as it was Hyundai’s first foray into the luxury arena. The 2015 Hyundai Genesis no longer seems so revolutionary. It has the polish and refinement of a second effort, but it doesn’t startle us the way its predecessor did. In a way, that’s a testament to the first car’s success—the idea of a luxury car from Hyundai no longer seems so novel.
2015 Hyundai Genesis
- On Sale: Spring 2014
- Base Price: N/A
- Engine: 3.8-liter DOHC V-6, 5.0-liter DOHC V-8
- Horsepower: 333 hp @ 6400 rpm, 429 hp @ 6400 rpm (V-6, V-8, estimated)
- Torque: 291 lb-ft @ 5100, 376 lb-ft @ 5000 (V-6, V-8, estimated)
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
- Drive: Rear-wheel, all-wheel
- L x W x H: 196.5 in x 74.4 in x 58.3 in