Wow. The Hyundai Genesis is a spectacular achievement.
Once you’ve written about cars for a while, you tend to become a bit desensitised: sure, there are new cars that impress, and new cars that are lacking. It’s astoundingly rare to drive something and not be able to dismiss a sense of wonderment.
However, that’s the feeling I haven’t been able to shake about the latest entrant into the premium full-size sector, Hyundai’s Genesis. Yes, this is a car with a lot of surrounding hype: but I’m confident in saying that Hyundai are doing for Korean cars when Lexus did for the Japanese launched the LS sedan in 1989, shattering the image that only the Germans could build a serious luxury car.
It’s been in our garage 24 hours and it’s already garnered more comments and compliments from friends and passers-by than most anything we’ve had before. The most common feedback: it looks like an Aston Martin, at least from the front. And to those that aren’t car aficionados, if you hide the single Hyundai badge located on the boot lid and put them inside the Genesis, they are hard-pressed to tell you this is a car from the same people that once made the Excel.
A sense of luxury and quality is just so thoroughly evident in this car.
The fact that you can get into a base Genesis with most of the goodies for about $65,000 is astounding. And all cars are well-equipped: leather, active cruise control, navigation, a 17-speaker surround sound system and the big, lazy V6 are standard across the range.
We’ve grabbed the keys to the mid-range Sensory that hits the road in the late $70,000s. When you consider that this is a Hyundai, that’s big money. But what you get out of this car is a tremendous equipment list, incredible refinement, a large and powerful engine and the sheer size – at a BMW 7-Series-rivalling five metres long, this is a lot of car for the money.
We expect plenty of equipment in Korean cars, so we’ll put that to one side for now. The bigger surprise is the mature driving experience. The Genesis represents a huge leap over past big-sedan attempts like the Grandeur or i45. It drives as competently as a Lexus GS – a serious complement for what is essentially a first-shot at a proper luxury model for Hyundai.
The smooth, naturally-aspirated V6 lopes along with poise. It’s not turbocharged like the Germans, and at 12L / 100km plus, the Genesis can’t compete with them on efficiency, but it’s a throwback to the remarkably linear engines that big Mercedes-Benz and BMWs used to use, and it’s complete with a lovely growl at high revs, too. It’s very quiet inside at all speeds. Cornering is less barge-like than you’d expect, but the big Hyundai is more highway cruiser than mountain carver.
But you shouldn’t expect to keep up, toe to toe, with a 5-Series or Jaguar XF in the Genesis. In some ways, the Hyundai feels above all that: it delivers its best when driven in a gentle and dignified manner, rather than with serious purpose, like the Beemer or the Jag.
The other thing that’s so promising about the Genesis is that if Hyundai can make a luxo-barge this good, plenty of lessons will have been learned that will filter down to the next generation of small Hyundai cars like the already-polished i30 and i40.
We’ve got both the base Genesis ($60k list) and flagship Ultimate ($80k list) to come, and we’ll reserve final judgement for our review of all three – but so far, developments at Hyundai remain on the up and up.