DRIVEN: 2009 Hyundai Genesis 4.6: Luxury Car Comparison - Bull's-Eye, Baby

October 7, 2008
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0810 01 Z+2009 Hyundai Genesis 4 6+front Three Quarter View
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.
0810 03 Z+2009 Lexus GS460+side View
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.
0810 04 Z+2009 Mercedes Benz E550+front View
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.
0810 02 Z+2009 Jaguar XF+rear Three Quarter View
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.
0810 08 Z+2009 Jaguar XF+interior View
Don't look too closely at the Jaguar's awkward headlights, or you'll forget to notice how gorgeous the rest of the car is. In contrast to the derivative Hyundai, the all-business Mercedes, and the introverted Lexus, the Jaguar is an epiphany of design. Every cutline, every detail, and every bulge is a triumphant piece of jewelry - and the longer you stare at it, the more you notice. Your eyes can fully digest the Mercedes in eight seconds, but it takes hours to truly appreciate the Jaguar's complex shape.
The Jaguar also has the most modern-looking interior, although it borders on kitschy, with rotating vents and a circular gear selector that rises slowly from the center console as the engine is started. At night, the dash illuminates in blue, with thin lines that remind us of the science-fiction movie Tron. Looking at - not touching - the Jaguar's interior is the best way to enjoy it, as the materials don't feel quite as nice as they appear. And the entire interior tends to creak and rattle while driving.
0810 05 Z+2009 Hyundai Genesis 4 6+interior View
This isn't true for the Hyundai's rock-solid interior, which is the richest of the group both in appearance and feel. Its swooping, two-tone, leather-covered dashboard mimics that of an S-class and is refreshingly clean and uncluttered. Its perforated leather seats are the warmest (visually - the seat cooler on the driver's seat will render your unmentionables frostbitten) and most inviting of the group, and the wood steering-wheel rim looks as though it were lifted straight out of a posh LS460. With the key comfortably in your pocket, press the START button, and the Hyundai's white-on-black gauges perform the same startup ritual we've become accustomed to in every Lexus, with luminescent needles glowing brightly as the numeric markings gradually become visible. Actually, the entire experience from behind the wheel of the Genesis leads you to believe you're in a Lexus.
The particular Lexus in this test, however, offers a more athletic-looking interior than the others. The GS460 has brushed-metal gauge faces and a three-spoke steering wheel that work in concert with a louder, if occasionally boomy, exhaust note to give a sporty impression. Our test car's monochromatic interior left us a little cold, though, and the LED cabin lighting must have been designed by a photophobic migraine sufferer - open the doors at night, and the interior is illuminated with all the lumens of a sickly glowworm.
0810 11 Z+2009 Mercedes Benz E550+rear Three Quarter View
There are no LED gimmicks in the E550, and a quick look around the Benz's cabin will remind you that the traditional German concept of luxury comes from engineering excellence and attention to mechanical detail - not pillowy softness. For example, the perfectly machined door latches are practically works of art, yet your right elbow will become bruised by the rock-hard wood center console. In addition, the E550's infotainment system looks and feels like an old Tandy computer compared with the others' colorful and interactive screens.
0810 09 Z+2009 Mercedes Benz E550+interior View
On the road, though, the Mercedes feels as if it weighs six tons, isolating you so completely from the harsh unpleasantries of planet earth that you imagine every airspace under the dash, in the doors, and in the roof must be filled with sound- and shock-absorbing maple syrup. The E550's controls have a fluidity of motion and dampened responses that no other car here can match. By comparison, the Lexus and the Jaguar feel like they're made of harsh, unyielding Styrofoam. The Mercedes' upright, conservative shape delivers the best view out, the most comfortable back seats, and the most usable trunk. And yet when you floor the accelerator, the E550 leans back on its haunches and explodes forward like a muscle car. Its 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8 is the largest and most powerful of our quartet, producing significantly more low-end torque than any of the other V-8s. It's brutally fast off the line, but it's the unrelenting acceleration at highway speeds (and double them) that serves as a clear reminder that the E-class is very much engineered to run flat-out on the autobahn.
0810 06 Z+2009 Jaguar XF+front Three Quarter View
The only engine that sounds better than the E550's is the XF's. At 4.2 liters, it's the smallest and least powerful, yet it's forced to cart around a heavy car. It's also quite soft at low rpm, which means that the transmission needs to downshift frequently to keep up with traffic, but that's a good thing, acoustically. Jaguar's engineers have muted much of the V-8's volume without diluting any of its fury. It may be the slowest of the four in a straight line, but it sounds wonderful while trying to keep up, and thanks to agile moves in the corners, it's easily the fastest on back roads.
0810 10 Z+2009 Lexus GS460+front Three Quarter View
There wasn't as much praise for the Lexus. Hampered by electronic brakes that are frustratingly difficult to modulate, electrically assisted power steering that offers almost no feedback, and electronically adjustable dampers that effectively control body motions at the price of ride comfort, the GS460 was our least favorite to drive. We've always wished that the GS would drive like a small luxury car - a miniature LS, if you will - soft, supple, and quiet. Instead, it seems as if Lexus engineers added contrived sportiness by dialing in arbitrary harshness without improving driver involvement. The GS is a very fast and very capable machine, but it's too compromised to be either a driver's car or a luxury sedan.
The Hyundai, on the other hand, doesn't even bother pretending to play sports car, and it drives around town in exactly the manner we think the GS should. Like the Jag, the Genesis uses a ZF six-speed automatic, but in the Hyundai, the transmission shifts like a Lexus - slowly and deliberately. Hyundai's new V-8 produces almost as many ponies as the Mercedes mill, and in a straight line, the Genesis feels almost as fast. On glass-smooth on-ramps, the big Hyundai takes a deliberate, slightly tail-out set, thanks in part to an enormous rear antiroll bar.
0810 07 Z+2009 Hyundai Genesis 4 6+rear Three Quarter View
But add a few bumps, and the Genesis takes a turn for the worse. Unlike any of the other sedans, the Hyundai falls completely to pieces on twisty, bumpy back roads. Push it hard, and pavement irregularities send the Genesis heaving and wallowing down the road with the traction control light flashing and the steering wheel shuddering. When you're hustling with a car full of passengers, its soft rear suspension crashes onto its bump stops over moderately rough roads.
Then again, we can't imagine Genesis drivers taking their cars on many back-road blasts. At everyday driving speeds, the Hyundai's only real flaw is a slightly busy ride, and for that we can probably blame the same big antiroll bars that help it corner neutrally. Otherwise, it's a superb daily driver. It has by far the biggest rear seat, the most interior room, and the best stereo - a seventeen-speaker, 528-watt Lexicon system that is one of the automotive world's very best. Its high-resolution LCD navigation screen is among the clearest we've laid our eyes upon, and the console-mounted controller is easier to use than any other system - touch-screen, controller, or otherwise. The iPod and Bluetooth telephone integration are flawless, the dashboard illumination is perfectly color-coordinated, and the climate-control system operates in virtual silence. The Genesis, like almost all luxury cars these days, also has keyless go, swiveling HID headlights, a reverse camera, turn signals in the mirrors, and automatically dimming rear- and sideview mirrors.
0810 12 Z+2009 Lexus GS460+interior View
Lexus figured out long ago that most American drivers don't care much about twisty-road performance in their everyday sedans; it's the luxury features that people want. Hyundai has obviously come to the same conclusion, and as a luxury car in the grand American tradition of luxury cars - plush, quiet, relatively inexpensive cruisers with loads of space, a big V-8, and all the gadgets to impress the neighbors - the Genesis wins this comparison hands down. But if you're looking for a car that you can drive with enthusiasm, you'll need to shell out some more money to get the real thing from Germany or England.
2009 HYUNDAI GENESIS 4.6
Price (base/as tested) $38,000/$42,000
Powertrain
engine DOHC 32-valve V-8
displacement 4.6 liters (282 cu in)
horsepower 375 hp @ 6500 rpm
torque 333 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
transmission type 6-speed automatic
drive Rear-wheelChassis
steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
suspension, front Control arms, coil springs
suspension, rear Multilink, coil springs
brakes F/R Vented discs/discs, ABS
tires Dunlop SP Sport 5000m
tire size 235/50VR-18
Measurements
L x W x H 195.9 x 74.4 x 58.3 in
wheelbase 115.6 in
track f/r 63.1/63.8 in
weight 4080 lb
city MPG 17
HWY MPG25
2009 JAGUAR XF
Price (base/as tested) $49,975/$63,125
Powertrain
engine DOHC 32-valve V-8
displacement 4.2 liters (256 cu in)
horsepower 300 hp @ 6000 rpm
torque 310 lb-ft @ 4100 rpm
transmission type 6-speed automatic
drive Rear-wheel
Chassis
steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
suspension, front Control arms, coil springs
suspension, rear Control arms, coil springs
brakes Vented discs, ABS
tires Dunlop SP Sport Maxx
tire size 235/35YR-20
Measurements
L x W x H 195.3 x 73.9 x 57.5 in
wheelbase 114.5 in
track f/r 61.4/63.2 in
weight 4080 lb
city MPG16
HWY MPG25
2008 LEXUS GS460
Price (base/as tested) $53,385/$59,318
Powertrain
engine DOHC 32-valve V-8
displacement 4.6 liters (281 cu in)
horsepower 342 hp @ 6200 rpm
torque 339 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
transmission type 8-speed automatic
drive Rear-wheel
Chassis
steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
suspension, front Control arms, coil springs
suspension, rear Multilink, coil springs
brakes Vented discs, ABS
tires Dunlop SP Sport 5000m DSST
tire size 245/40VR-18
Measurements
L x W x H 190.0 x 71.7 x 56.1 in
wheelbase 112.2 in
track f/r 60.4/60.6 in
weight 3960 lb
city MPG 17
HWY MPG 24
2008 MERCEDES-BENZ E550
Price (base/as tested) $60,175/$63,970
Powertrain
engine DOHC 32-valve V-8
displacement 5.5 liters (333 cu in)
horsepower 382 hp @ 6000 rpm
torque 391 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
transmission type 7-speed automatic
drive Rear-wheel
Chassis
steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
suspension, front Multilink, air springs
suspension, rear Multilink, air springs
brakes Vented discs, ABS
tires Continental ContiProContact
tire size f, r 245/40VR-18, 265/35VR-18
Measurements
L x W x H 191.0 x 71.7 x 58.4 in
wheelbase 112.4 in
track f/r 62.1/61.9 in
weight 4020 lb
city MPG 15
HWY MPG 22

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2009 Hyundai Genesis

Base RWD 4-Dr Sedan V6
starting at (MSRP)
$32,250
Engine
3.8L V6
Fuel Economy
18 City 27 Hwy
2009 Hyundai Genesis