In 1986, Hyundai entered the American marketplace with the subcompact, $4995 Excel, which was based on a Mitsubishi Mirage and was so far below the radar that it was deemed unworthy of mention by a fledgling Automobile Magazine. It wasn't until 1995 that the company sold a U.S.-market car - the new Accent - that was all-Hyundai and didn't have a Mitsubishi engine or underpinnings.
My, how things have changed. Today, Hyundai has a wide-ranging lineup of competitive vehicles and has seen its market share increase in a very tough economy. At the top of the Korean automaker's current range is the rear-wheel-drive Genesis sedan, a car that Hyundai launched in 2008 and championed as having "capabilities and features comparable to the world's leading premium sport sedans." Hyundai Motor America's CEO, John Krafcik, is even more specific about the car's bogeys: "We like to say that it has the interior package of a BMW 7-series, the driving dynamics of a 5-series, but a price range more like a 3-series."
A vehicle with such lofty aspirations and significance to a carmaker was a natural candidate for a Four Seasons test. When the 2009 Genesis 4.6 arrived on our doorstep, it rang the cash register at $42,000 and came with a 4.6-liter V-8 and a single option - the technology package, which included a navigation system, a seventeen-speaker Lexicon stereo, a rearview camera, parking sensors, swiveling HID headlights, and a ventilated driver's seat. All Genesis models, including the six-cylinder Genesis 3.8, come standard with power everything, plus heated front seats, leather upholstery, Bluetooth phone connectivity, six air bags, a six-speed automatic transmission, and a generous warranty; the 4.6 model adds a power rear sunshade, premium leather seats, a leather-covered dashboard and door trim, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and eighteen-inch wheels.
Those wheels might be partially to blame for our most serious complaint about the Genesis: its harsh ride characteristics. Web producer Evan McCausland wrote early on: "My biggest beef is with the Hyundai's ride. It's fine over smooth surfaces, but launch the Genesis on a stretch of broken concrete, and you'll be amazed by how rough it is."
Similar comments about the Hyundai's "brittle," "choppy," "jouncy," and "busy" ride quality dotted the pages of the car's logbook throughout the year, whether the car was wearing its stock Dunlop all-season tires or its Bridgestone winter rubber. But not all drivers were disturbed by the ride, and assistant editor David Zenlea offered a positive perspective. "I'm willing to take a glass-half-full approach to the ride-quality issue," he noted. "Yes, it's a bit harsh, but considering Korean automakers' general penchant for the soft and cushy, I'm thankful that the American-spec Genesis didn't turn out to be a Korean Lincoln Town Car."
Ride quality aside, we all found the Genesis to be an extremely comfortable and luxurious cruiser, qualities that were soundly reaffirmed during 30,358 miles in our hands. Indeed, the Genesis can match just about any luxury sedan on a long trip - our Hyundai shuttled contented passengers as far as Rochester, Minnesota; Louisville, Kentucky; and New York City.
Helping the miles melt away was the cabin's impressive overall feeling of quality. Friends and family frequently mistook the Genesis for a Lexus. Less than 2000 miles into our test, Zenlea commented: "The leather on the seats has a dead-on perfect feel, while the colored dash is subtle without being dour. In other words, it's everything you'd expect from a well-thought-out luxury sedan. Although there might be a few hints of the Hyundai parts bin in the form of downmarket switchgear, at no point do you think, 'I'm in a gussied-up Sonata.' " Eleven months later, editor-in-chief Jean Jennings observed, "I'm pleased to see just how well the materials inside are holding up, and I still admire the high quality of the stitched-leather dash and its two different colors of leather."
Perhaps the Genesis's strongest execution of luxury was its infotainment system. Its spin-the-wheel controller works much like those in Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz products but is arguably superior to all of them - and on Hyundai's first attempt at such a system. Senior editor Joe Lorio gave "full marks for the audio/navigation/climate-control interface, which is very easy to use right from the get-go." Deputy editor Joe DeMatio added, "The Bluetooth interface is, hands down, the easiest I've ever operated. The iPod connectivity is extremely straightforward, too, and the stereo is superb." Senior Web editor Phil Floraday agreed and said, "Anyone who has used a computer can easily pair a Bluetooth phone, select an XM satellite-radio station, or scroll through iPod playlists without being too distracted."
The V-8 engine - Hyundai's first for the U.S. market - is quite impressive, as well. DeMatio remarked, "The 375-hp engine's smooth, linear power delivery and surprisingly rorty intake roar are very pleasing. And the six-speed automatic is quite responsive to your right foot." Several staff members remarked that they'd be happier with the base Genesis, however, which gets a 290-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 and offers improved fuel economy at a $6500 savings (for 2010 models). Still, our Genesis 4.6 averaged a respectable 22 mpg during its time with us, which is actually 1 mpg better than the V-6's EPA combined rating.
The Genesis's derivative styling was also a source of contention. In our introductory story on the Genesis, DeMatio wrote, "If Hyundai's designers borrowed from the Mercedes-Benz S-class, the BMW 5-series, and the Infiniti M - and they most certainly did - the net effect is at worst benign, the car assuming a kind of generic upscale visage." But once the car reached Ann Arbor, some of DeMatio's colleagues were less kind, citing the Hyundai's "anonymous exterior," "poseur grille," and "generic styling" and calling it "a vaguely expensive-looking blob."
Floraday didn't mind, though, offering that "the understated look of the Genesis seems very appropriate for these economic times. It isn't flashy on the outside, but the interior is about as nice as you'll find in a sub-$75,000 car today." In fact, a few staff members preferred the Genesis to our $103,420 Four Seasons BMW 750Li.
Not that BMW should worry that driving enthusiasts will switch their allegiances to Hyundai just yet. As New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman commented during the car's sojourn to the Empire State: "The Genesis is pleasant to drive, but don't bother bringing your driving shoes or your string-back driving gloves. Still, for a Korean car, it marks a giant step forward, especially for those of us who can remember just how diabolical a late-1980s Hyundai might be."
Unlike those Hyundais of yore, the Genesis makes no excuses whatsoever. It required only regular maintenance and held up quite well. A high-pitched squeak that developed from the passenger seat was about the only sign of aging. Other minor complaints included a transmission that tended to shift out of first gear too quickly, high-beam headlamps that didn't reach as far as we'd like, excessive wind noise from the rear side windows, and seat cushions that some behinds felt were too flat.
Since the Genesis sedan hit the streets in mid-2008, a coupe version has been added, although the two-door looks and feels almost unrelated to the sedan, despite sharing some of its underpinnings and its V-6. Engineers tweaked the sedan's chassis, starting with 2010 models, to improve steering feel and reduce friction in the suspension. And Hyundai isn't done. The Genesis has also bequeathed its platform to the upcoming Equus, a larger and more luxurious sedan that'll aim even higher.
Based on our experience with the Genesis sedan, memories of those $4995 Hyundai Excels should only continue to get cloudier.
5-yr/unlimited-mile roadside assistance
7624 mi: $110.24
16,963 mi: $307.52
25,703 mi: $108.60
176 mi: Purchase, mount, balance, and install Bridgestone Blizzak LM-25V winter tires, $979.29
6547 mi: Mount, balance, and reinstall stock Dunlop SP Sport 5000m all-season tires, $94.34
16,963 mi: Four-wheel alignment, $95.35
26,480 mi: Mount, balance, and reinstall winter tires, $94.34
25,703 mi: Update air-bag control unit
Cost per mile
(Fuel, service, winter tires) $0.17
($0.53 including depreciation)
Prices & Equipment
Price as tested
ABS; traction and stability control; air-conditioning; power sunroof, rear sunshade, windows, mirrors, door locks, and tilting/telescoping steering column; keyless ignition; leather seats; heated front seats; Bluetooth phone connectivity; rain-sensing windshield wipers; front, side, and side curtain air bags
Technology package (navigation/multimedia system with rotary controller; 528-watt, seventeen-speaker Lexicon stereo with XM satellite radio and NavTraffic; rearview camera; integral Bluetooth display; swiveling HID headlamps; front and rear parking sensors; ventilated driver's seat), $4000
*Estimate based on info from intellichoice.com
Pros + Cons
+ Luxurious cabin
+ Nice multimedia interface
+ Bang for the buck
- Choppy ride
- Derivative styling
- Shortsighted high beams
|RATING||4.5 out of 5 stars|
|body style||4-door sedan|
|Engine||32-valve DOHC V-8|
|Displacement||4.6 liters (282 cu in)|
|Horsepower||375 hp @ 6500 rpm|
|Torque||333 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm|
|Transmission type|| (368 hp/324 lb-ft on 87 octane)|
|turning circle||36.0 ft|
|Suspension, front||Multilink, coil springs|
|Suspension, rear||Multilink, coil springs|
|Brakes f/r||Vented discs/discs, ABS|
|Tires||Dunlop SP Sport 5000m|
|headroom f/r||38.1/37.7 in|
|legroom f/r||44.3/38.6 in|
|shoulder room f/r||58.3/57.9 in|
|hip room f/r||54.9/54.3 in|
|L x W x H||195.9 x 74.4 x 58.3 in|
|Track f/r||63.1/63.8 in|
|weight dist. f/r||53.9/46.1%|
|cargo capacity||15.9 cu ft|
|fuel capacity||20.3 gal|
|est. fuel range||450 miles|
|fuel grade||91 octane|
|Our Test Results|
|0–60 mph||6.3 sec|
|0–100 mph||14.5 sec|
|1/4–mile||14.6 sec @ 101 mph|
|30–70 mph passing||6.2 sec|
|peak acceleration||0.55 g|
|speed in gears||1) 40; 2) 67; 3) 107; 4) 137;|
|5) 149; 6) 130 mph|
|cornering l/r||0.89/0.85 g|
|70–0 mph braking||166 ft|
|peak braking||1.06 g|