2009 Hyundai Genesis

Unapologetically and unequivocally, Hyundai has taken off its gloves. Its new Genesis is a no-holds-barred assault on luxury and near-luxury sedans from Japan, America, and Europe. Seriously, folks. Oh, we know what you're thinking. You've heard that the second-generation Hyundai Santa Fe is a decent little competitor to the Honda CR-V, and you've read in these pages that the Hyundai Veracruz mid-size crossover introduced last year need not hide from the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot, or even the Lexus RX350.

But front-wheel-drive-based people movers are one thing, and rear-wheel-drive sedans that might actually quicken your pulse are another. After all, cars like that have never been the province of the Korean automakers.

But now they are. My heart rate was certainly above its normal level as I circled Hyundai's test track at 150 mph in a Genesis equipped with Hyundai's advanced new 375-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 engine. The big sedan was composed, predictable, and vigorous as the high banks dumped us onto the long straights and the scenery blurred. Yes, I was driving a Hyundai. What is this world coming to?

"We set a number of high development goals for ourselves," admits Bong-hwan Lee, executive vice president of Hyundai's Vehicle Development Center. "We wanted to achieve the same scores as other premium sedans, including Lexus, in the J. D. Power Initial Quality and Vehicle Dependability Surveys.

"Another priority was to attain the highest level of crash protection. We benchmarked the BMW 5-series, the Lexus GS and LS, and the Mercedes-Benz E-class." Although Hyundai says that the Genesis's body-in-white (the basic body structure, without paint, powertrain, suspension, or interior) is larger than those of the Lexus LS460 and the Mercedes S-class, the automaker claims that it is lighter than them and stiffer in torsion and bending properties.

In terms of size, the Genesis is bigger and roomier than most mid-size luxury sedans and, in fact, is classified by the EPA as a "large" sedan. Its wheelbase is 115.6 inches, compared with 113.7 inches for the BMW 5-series, 112.4 inches for the Mercedes E-class, and 113.4 inches for the Cadillac CTS. With an overall length of 195.9 inches, it's several inches longer than those three cars and only 2.5 inches shorter than a short-wheelbase 7-series. Although rear-seat room falls short of what you'd find in a long-wheelbase 7-series or a Lexus LS, the rear seats in the Genesis are still very accommodating, with plentiful legroom that outpaces the 5-series, the E-class, and the CTS.

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