2009 Hyundai Genesis – First drive: An impressive effort, but still a gamble for Hyundai

Everyone talked about a crisis of confidence. Everyone had an opinion as to what banks, governments and central banks from Maine to Mars had to do to put confidence back into the markets.

That’s what was going on in the world when we got our first drive in the Hyundai Genesis. It is a bold gamble by the rising Korean car company that is confident it can make an attractively priced luxury car, and then go out into the schoolyard and selectively tweak the established class presidents like BMW and Mercedes.

On many fronts, the Genesis should have the establishment worried.

The Genesis is nearly 196 inches long and rides on a 115.6 inch wheelbase. It is a comfortable 74.4 inches wide. To put that in perspective, the car is about the size of an Acura TL, Cadillac STS, and the BMW 5. That is heady territory for an upstart firm that also cranks out the $11,000 Accent. But in driving the car, or even walking around it, you would not guess it is that big.

Interested parties can choose from a responsive 3.8 liter, 290 horsepower V6 or a 4.6 liter 375 horsepower V8 — the firm’s first solo venture into eight cylinders. Both are tied to very smooth six-speed automatics. The V6 we drove seemed to have plenty of get-up-and-go when we floored it away from a tollbooth. Look for zero to 60 in 6.2 seconds. The V8 will hit 60 in 5.7 seconds. Both seemed very refined and silent workers. The 6 is rated at 18-27 mpg by the EPA and the 8 at 17-25 mpg.

Luxury abounds inside, especially at the prices charged. There’s virtually every amenity that one could want, and it’s all just a short reach away. The instruments are easy to read and there is ample room for a 6′ driver, and a 6′ passenger can fit into the rear seats. We think if you took your boss out to lunch in one he would never guess that he was riding in a Hyundai.

“Boy, this car is quiet,” said our fellow auto writer about a dozen times during our test drive. In fact, it was more peaceful inside than the Jag XF that we were also testing at the time. Hyundai kept us on smoothly paved interstates and side roads during our drive, so there was no chance to test the handling of the car. We got the impression that the emphasis is on a soft ride, and the Genesis is not into carving up back roads.
There is a huge trunk out back with 16 cubic feet of storage space — more than enough to stock the house for the next Sunday NFL party.

As for prices, Hyundai can put you in a well-equipped base model V6 for $32,250. The base V8 slides out the door for $37,250, with fully loaded ones breaking the $40,000 mark. We think that latter figure is heavy coin for a Hyundai. It is interesting to note that nowhere on the outside of the vehicle does it say Hyundai. There is the familiar Hyundai symbol on the trunk lid, and the Genesis name just below the right rear tail light. Hmmm. Perhaps Hyundai is considering one day making Genesis a stand-alone model like Lexus or Acura, but that is something they deny, citing the huge set-up cost.
Or maybe, we wondered, the company wants to keep people guessing, “What was that car?” That might create a subtle buzz that could pull people into the showroom thanks to an advertising blitz in upscale magazines. Our bet is that Hyundai is really targeting not BMW or Mercedes, but the Toyota Avalon, lower scale Acuras and other introductory luxury makes. And don’t forget, it doesn’t hurt to have something in the lineup for Azera owners to move up to.

The Genesis is an impressive first effort, but how many customers will trek into a Hyundai dealer for luxury wheels? People investing that much money want the name and the symbols on the car, the kind that says they are doing well and want you to know it. On the other hand, successful shy people, like A Prairie Home Companion’s Norwegian Lutheran bachelor farmers would love the Genesis — nothing that screams fancy, but nice nonetheless and a heck of a lot more comfortable than riding a John Deere.

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