The 2009 Hyundai Genesis is a totally new luxury sport sedan. With its rear-wheel drive and available V8 power, the Genesis aspires to the BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Infiniti M, but is priced more like American competitors such as the Chrysler 300 and Pontiac G8.
The Genesis seats five and is offered with V6 or V8 engines. Hyundai is best known here for the econoboxes it sold when it first came to America, but the Korean automaker has been moving upmarket for several years. The Genesis represents its biggest leap yet and is the company’s most expensive and most luxurious car.
Inside, the Genesis is nicely appointed, with chrome accents, wood and aluminum trim, and soft-touch materials. Easy-to-read electroluminescent gauges greet the driver, and the available navigation system includes voice activation and a multimedia interface that is easier to use than those from most luxury manufacturers. An iPod interface is standard, and customers can choose a 17-speaker audio system that has 7.1 surround and sounds great. Room in the front and rear seats is excellent.
The Genesis marks the debut of Hyundai’s first V8, a 4.6-liter dual overhead cam engine with 375 horsepower. The V8 provides plenty of smooth, willing power and gets decent fuel economy. Also available is a 290-hp 3.8-liter V6. The V6 offers enough pep for most needs and has the benefit of an extra couple mpg. Both engines run quietly and are mated to smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmissions with manual shiftgates.
Hyundai touts the Genesis as a sport sedan, with a rigid rear-wheel-drive structure and advanced five-link front and rear suspensions. On twisty roads, it performs well, with a generally nimble feel and a fairly flat disposition through corners. Of the two models, the V6 rotates easier through turns, while the V8 is more prone to push. The V8 model, on the other hand benefits from electrohydraulic steering that keeps the boost up in the tightest slaloms, while the V6’s hydraulic steering can bind in quick changes of direction.
The Genesis rides well, ironing out most bumps with little effect on passengers. It doesn’t float or wallow like other Hyundais, but the ride can get bouncy over humps and ruts at highway speeds. On the whole, the Genesis is a legitimate sport sedan, but it’s not as agile as top performers, such as the BMW 5 Series.
Both Genesis models are fine values that deliver fine handling, a smooth ride, and willing power. They also have plenty of interior room, with nicely appointed interiors. Though not quite up to the high standards of the European and Japanese luxury cars the Genesis aspires to, it is viable and cheaper alternative to those cars and a better appointed option versus large American sedans.
The Genesis is based on an all-new rear-wheel-drive architecture. (This same structure will host an upcoming two-door Genesis coupe.) The Genesis is sized similar to the Pontiac G8, both in length and wheelbase, and is about six inches shorter than the Chrysler 300.
On the outside, the Genesis looks like the lovechild of a BMW 5 Series and a Mercedes-Benz E Class. Hyundai says the design is “athletic, not so aggressive, assertive, but not polarizing.” We agree, though, we feel a little more flavor might draw more customers.
Up front, the trapezoidal grille is reminiscent of a Mercedes design, but instead of rounded headlights, it's flanked by more modern eye-slit headlights. Fog lights are standard on the lower fascia, which also features a large lower air intake. Halogen headlights are standard, and the Technology Package includes auto-leveling high-intensity discharge adaptive headlights that point into turns to improve night-time vision on dark corners.
Character lines echoing the shape of the grille flow into the hood and resolve themselves at the front pillars. The rest of the car has more angular shapes like a BMW instead of the softer, rounder shapes of a Mercedes. The greenhouse is practically identical to that of the 5 Series, right down to the dogleg shape of the rear pillars. Ornamentation along the flanks is minimal, with only an upper beltline that flows from the front wheel openings to the taillights and a kickout at the bottom of the doors. Standard 17-inch wheels fill the wheelwells nicely, and the available 18s look even better.
At the rear, the Genesis has the high trunk line that was so controversial for BMW five years ago but has now come into use by several manufacturers. A lower fascia flanked by dual exhaust gives a hint to the Genesis's sporty character.
Nowhere are the Genesis's luxury intentions more clear than in the cockpit. From the driver's seat, customers are greeted with tight tolerances, chrome accents, and numerous soft-touch materials, including a leather-wrapped dash, a feature usually reserved for much more expensive vehicles. While the materials are certainly nice, the rounded shape of the dash isn't as appealing or modern as the best from Europe.
The driver is presented with electroluminescent gauges with white numbers on a black background and blue accents. The gauges are easy to see and read. There is a small, rectangular display between the two main gauges (speedo and tach) that shows trip computer information.
The base setup includes a small screen at the top of the center stack that shows radio and climate information. Below that are the radio controls and at the bottom of the rounded center stack are 10 buttons devoted to climate control. We would prefer the three easy-to-use knobs that many manufacturers are using these days. The CD slot sits below the center stack and below it is a small cubby to fit CDs and the like.
The center console has an ashtray-type bin below the center stack and behind that is an aluminum plate that houses the shift knob. Two cupholders sit behind the shifter, and the center console bin is big enough to carry most of the small bits we carry day to day, though a flat, rubberized tray in front of the shifter would help, too. More small items storage can be found in fold-out pockets on each door.
The navigation option features a central multimedia controller for the radio, navigation system, iPod interface, trip computer, Bluetooth phone, and settings in the Driver Information System. It uses a large rotating knob and six buttons. Compared to BMW's iDrive, the Hyundai system is simpler to use, but it still adds a couple steps to simple tasks like programming a radio station. The iPod interface works well, too, displaying songs, artists or playlists on the dashboard screen. However, returning to a previous menu always starts you over alphabetically. It would be nice if the system returned to the last spot you visited. Nonetheless, other manufacturers would do well to study the simplicity of Hyundai's multimedia interface.
The Technology Package includes a 40-gigabyte hard drive to hold music files and navigation map information. Songs can be loaded from CDs or through a USB interface.
Front and rear head and leg room are plentiful. Only tall rear passengers will have a complaint, and probably only with head room. The rear center passenger will also have to deal with the driveshaft hump as well as a seat hump, but four passengers should ride with ease. The front seats are comfortable, but sit up higher than we'd prefer and they don't have all that many adjustments for a car with this level of luxury. Getting in and out is easy.
The trunk is deep, with 15.9 cubic feet of cargo room, but it is a bit compromised by the lack of split folding rear seats. Hyundai opted against them for structural reasons. For some, this may be a deal breaker, but at least a rear pass-through is provided.
Hyundai says it benchmarked the BMW 5 Series, Infiniti M, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Lexus GS when developing the Genesis. Advanced five-link front and rear suspensions and a rigid rear-drive unibody structure give the Genesis the engineering to compete with those cars. But this is Hyundai's first sport sedan, so is it possible that the Genesis is a match for such lofty competition?
Hyundai gave journalists the opportunity to drive the Genesis on both twisty two-lane California roads and on a road course to test the handling. They were even kind enough to provide a Mercedes-Benz E Class for comparison. The Genesis proved to be a capable handler, a viable match for the Mercedes. By comparison, the Genesis feels a bit more numb and doesn't have as much steering feel, but it stays flatter through turns.
The Genesis 3.8 V6 is lighter and has a 52/48 weight balance (compared to 53/47 for the 4.6 V8), making it easier to rotate through high-speed corners than the Genesis 4.6 or the Mercedes.
That's all pretty darn good news, but the Genesis lacks the balance, agility, and direct steering of the BMW 5 Series. Hyundai shouldn't be ashamed, though. BMW builds the finest handling sport sedans in the world.
The Genesis is equipped with Amplitude Selective Dampers, which are basically two shocks in one. These multi-vein shocks have one mode for small, high-frequency bumps and ripples and another mode for the larger motions shocks usually deal with. Hyundai says they improve ride comfort, optimize road surface contact, and increase body and wheel control. On the road, they help the Genesis provide a smooth, quiet ride. We detected no float or wallow, though we did find that the ride got too bouncy over humps and ruts at highway speeds.
Steering is direct but not overly quick. The 4.6 model has electrohydraulic steering, while the 3.8 is hydraulic. A few turns through a slalom revealed that the hydraulic steering can't keep up with quick changes of direction, resulting in some binding, a phenomenon we've observed in many fine automobiles. The 4.6 model had no such issue, so it was better in the slalom despite the 3.8 model's better overall balance. (You do run your car through slaloms, don't you?)
The Genesis 3.8 model is powered by Hyundai's Lambda 3.8-liter DOHC V6, which produces 290 hp at 6200 rpm and 264 lb.-ft. of torque at 4500 rpm. The V6 is EPA-rated City/Highway at 18/27 mpg.
On the road, we found that the V6 had plenty of zip for most every need. Hyundai quotes a 6.2-second 0-60 mph time, but it didn't feel that quick so we tried an unofficial 0-60 mph run and found that the time was more like 7.5 seconds. That's still pretty fast and competitive with most other cars in the class, but not as spritely as we were told. No worries, though, because the Genesis gets up to speed quickly and highway passing is a breeze.
The V8 model offers Hyundai's new Tau 4.6-liter DOHC V8. This engine has continuously variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust, and also comes with a Variable Intake System designed to allow the engine to breathe more efficiently at both low and high speeds. The result is 375 hp at 6500 rpm and 333 lb.-ft. of torque at 3500 rpm with premium fuel. Save some cash and choose regular fuel and those numbers drop slightly to 368 hp and 324 lb.-ft. of torque.
The V8 is substantially quicker than the V6. It has plenty of power from a stop, in the midrange, and at highway speeds for passing. Hyundai quotes a 5.7-second 0-60 mph time, and we believe it. The V8 is EPA-rated at 17/25 mpg City/Highway, which isn't much of a fuel economy penalty given the extra power.
Each engine is mated to a different six-speed automatic transmission. Both are responsive, shifting quickly and smoothly. Both also have Hyundai's Shiftronic manual shift gate. However, it does not have shift paddles on the steering wheel.
The 2009 Hyundai Genesis luxury sedan offers lots of features for the dollar. When it comes to sport sedan credentials, the Genesis is surprisingly capable, though not a match for the best in the class. With a smooth ride, lots of interior room, and willing power, the Genesis is a viable choice that fits between established luxury brands and the less-expensive but capable Chrysler 300 and Pontiac G8. Genesis customers can choose between the capable 3.8 model that provides better handling and fuel economy or a quicker 4.6 model that has better steering but pushes a little more in fast turns.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Kirk Bell filed this report from Santa Barbara, California.