2009 Hyundai Genesis

Both engines are very refined, eager to rev, and work seamlessly with their respective transmissions (the V-6 unit is from the Japanese supplier Aisin, while the German company ZF supplies the V-8's six-speed box). There's a manual-mode shift gate for both, but there are no steering wheel paddles in sight. Hammer the V-8, and some pleasing induction and valvetrain resonances will drift back into the cockpit, but more impressive is the strong torque band and the nice whack of acceleration that the Tau provides. We'll wait until we can drive a Genesis stateside before running performance numbers, but Hyundai promises a 0-to-60-mph time of well under six seconds. And even the V-6 model stormed around the high-speed oval with little drama, the speedo needle swinging around to 100 mph in no time and then rising steadily to 135 mph.

Unfortunately, the Genesis has not shed that layer of isolation that so characterizes Lexus cars and, of course, most Hyundais. This car, especially in V-8 guise, has the power and the presence to hold its own with cars costing much more. But those looking for pure tactility will be disappointed, as I was reminded when I ran the 530i and the M35 through the same paces that I'd driven the Genesis. Especially around the handling track, those two cars were far more in tune with the driver's intentions and better at communicating what was happening at the tire's contact patches. We'll grant Hyundai that the Genesis is more involving to drive than the Lexus GS (and certainly more so than the ES350), but for a sedan that so unabashedly aims for the best from Germany, it still needs a more Teutonic tilt to the chassis tuning: more road feel and steering feel, please. And although the brakes in both V-6 and V-8 Genesis models were responsive and progressive, they could use a more positive-feeling pedal.

Hyundai has a lot of irons in the fire. Between it and Kia, its subsidiary, it controls 75 percent of the Korean home market, and its sales are burgeoning in China, India, and other emerging markets. In fact, the United States comprises only 20 percent of Hyundai's worldwide sales, so it's little surprise that Hyundai decided, at least for now, not to launch a luxury sales channel here like Toyota and Nissan did two decades ago.

Instead, it is essentially dipping its toe into the luxury-car waters with the Genesis. If it is a success, more luxury products are likely to follow, and Hyundai co-chairman and CEO Dong-Jin Kim does not rule out the possibility of a luxury arm for the future: "Some day, when we are strong enough. But for now, we have concluded that a separate premium brand is premature."

This means that, at least for the time being, the Genesis does without some of the baubles of the luxury-car establishment. No optional all-wheel drive. No direct injection or variable valve lift for the engines, no air suspensions or dual-clutch gearboxes, and more than likely, no special dealer treatment, just "a special, well-decorated corner [of the showroom] to display the Genesis," says Kim. Hyundai Motor America will, however, take pains to ensure that salespeople more accustomed to pushing Elantras and Sonatas out the door are properly trained to sell the Genesis and to deal with its potential customer base.

That customer base, if Hyundai's research proves accurate, will be a disparate group. "We will get people who normally graduate from an Accord type of car and make the leap to a luxury brand," says Joel Ewanick, Hyundai Motor America's vice-president of marketing, "but we'll also get people coming down from the luxury brands. We already get buyers like that for the Azera, people who do a lot of research on cars who then realize, 'this [a Hyundai] is a car that hasn't been on my radar screen, but should have been.'" As for pricing, Hyundai is positioning the Genesis squarely on top of the BMW 3-series and the Mercedes C-class, meaning the V-6 model starts at about $33,000 and stretches up near the V-8 model's starting price of $38,000. Fully optioned, the V-8 will be priced in the mid-$40,000s. Bold strokes, these, since in reality the Genesis is also going to be cross-shopped with the Pontiac G8 and the 3.5-liter Chrysler 300C, which start at $27,595 and $29,290, respectively, and since Hyundai has yet to prove itself over the long haul in J. D. Power surveys and in resale values, although there has been recent progress on those fronts.

Hyundai might not be entering the luxury-car world with a new brand and shiny new dealerships, but there is nothing tentative about the Genesis itself, a car that represents the most ambitious engineering undertaking ever for the Korean automaker. Hyundai is a company that is very much looking forward but is also keenly aware of how far it has come. It didn't even have the wherewithal to build its own engine until 1991, when it introduced its Alpha four-cylinder and no longer had to license engines from Mitsubishi. Now, here it is making its own, high-powered V-8 engine. The company insists that it will make money on every Genesis it sells, unlike Toyota, which sold its first Lexus cars at a loss to establish its luxury-car bona fides. In Hyundai's case, it's clear that, while the Genesis is a commodity product that will increase the bottom line, it's also an emotional milestone for the company, a way to mark its place in the world. And there's no need to apologize for that.

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