Once upon a time, a japanese giant pulled a bit of a sneaky move on the established German luxury-car market. Known best for its inexpensive, reliable economy cars, Toyota launched the 1990 Lexus LS400 - a big, rear-wheel-drive, V-8-powered luxury car. The LS was to compete with the top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz S-class, but it cost little more than the entry-level 190E. The Germans laughed (and laughed, and laughed), but it was the Japanese who laughed last. The LS400 was, in fact, a worthy rival to the S-class, and to remain competitive over the next decade and a half, Mercedes would slash the price of its S-class by almost twenty percent.
Now that Lexus's prices have crept up into Mercedes territory, Hyundai's pulling the same move. Just like the Japanese company did nineteen years ago, the Korean automaker has gathered a bunch of heavy-hitters, put them in a blender, and frappéd together a car that competes with all of them in one way or another. The new Genesis is almost as big as the luxurious Lexus LS460, can run with the sporty GS460, and is priced like the compact IS350. Or so says Hyundai. This time, no one's laughing. We chose the top-of-the-line Genesis to see how it compares with some of the V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive cars it copies.
In the German corner, we have the Mercedes-Benz E550, an old-school poster child for upright, refined Teutonic virtues. Fighting for the Japanese is the Lexus GS460, which received the LS460's larger V-8 and eight-speed automatic transmission for 2008. And because it's new, gorgeous, and priced similarly, we included the very English Jaguar XF in the mix. Lest you think the bargain-basement Hyundai is going to embarrass itself, keep in mind that when we pitted the Lexus LS400 against the European establishment back in 1989, it won outright.
When you line up these four sedans, the first thing you notice is that the Mercedes, the Lexus, and the Jaguar each look like nothing else on the road, and the Hyundai looks like everything else. The Genesis is such a hodgepodge of shoplifted design cues that it resembles one of the nondescript, digitally rendered cars in an insurance advertisement, an impression not helped by the badgeless grille. Other than that homely schnoz, though, nothing about the Genesis's appearance looks cheap - our test car's metallic red paint is deep and lustrous, its panel gaps are the same as (or smaller than) all of the other cars here, and the overall proportions create a substantial stance. Even the LED taillights and the intricate headlights look expensive.