The Genesis is the new full-size rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan from Hyundai. Available in two models -- V6-powered Genesis 3.8 and V8-powered Genesis 4.6 -- the Genesis carries a reassuringly long warranty, a mile-long list of luxury features, and an unbelievably cheap price tag. But is it a proper luxury car? And will anyone believe me if I say it is? Read on. Price range $33,000 - $42,000, EPA fuel economy estimates 17-18 MPG city, 25-27 highway.
First Glance: I'm not lying
Allow me to start with a disclaimer: I am not lying. I am only pointing that out because I expect a large number of readers not to believe me when I talk about how good the Hyundai Genesis is. There are a lot of people who are convinced that Hyundai simply cannot build a decent car. Not that I blame them; twenty years ago Hyundai was peddling the Excel, a car that cost $45 to build and was made out of compressed squirrel turds. Who in their right mind would believe that Hyundai could come so far, so fast? (Answer: Anyone who's bought a Hyundai in the last 3 or 4 years, but that's another discussion.)
For those who are inclined to believe me, I'll give you the short version: The Genesis Sedan is a Lexus. It drives like a Lexus. It coddles you like a Lexus. It even smells like a Lexus. It's a $33,000 Lexus, unless you go for the V8 model, in which case it's a $38,000 Lexus with the engine from a $60,000 Mercedes. Have I convinced you? Good. Stop reading and go buy one. Go on, I'll wait.
Still skeptical? OK, guess we'll have to take the long road. But if you're waiting for the other shoe to drop -- for me to write something like "It all seems very Lexus-like, until you look under the dashboard and discover that the electrical components are made of paper-mâché" -- you're going to be sorely disappointed. Towards the end I might wax a bit clairvoyant and ponder the wisdom of selling a luxury car for thousands less than it's actually worth, but other than that, it's going to be all sunshine and daisies. Don't say I didn't warn you.
In the Driver's Seat: Lexus accommodations, Hyundai value
At the Genesis press preview I paired up with Keith Griffin, About.com's Guide to Used Cars. Keith drove first, a move we both agreed would rapidly increase our chances of survival. I was immediately struck... wait, bad choice of words. I was immediately impressed by how nice it is to be a passenger in the Genesis. If you led me into a Genesis blindfolded, I'd swear -- from the smell, the space, the feel of the materials, and the sound (or, should I say, the silence) -- that I was riding in a Lexus.
I don't have room to list all of the Genesis' standard equipment, so I'll give you the highlights. The basic Genesis 3.8 comes with heated and power-adjustable leather seats (link goes to photo), wood-trimmed dash, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming mirrors, Bluetooth phone compatibility, iPod adapter, 8 airbags (including rear-seat torso airbags), antilock brakes, and electronic stability control, all for $33,000 -- $775 less than a Mercedes C300 with vinyl seats and a manual transmission.
The $38,000 Genesis 4.6 gets all of the above plus a sunroof, rear-window sunshade, stereo by Lexicon (supplier to Rolls-Royce), awesome-looking leather-trimmed dash, and 18" wheels. All of these extras can be added to the Genesis 3.8 for $3,000 ($2,000 without the 18" wheels.) Both cars offer a $4,000 technology package that includes dial-operated navigation with real-time traffic info, backup camera, parking sensors, 17-speaker Lexicon stereo with DVD audio, cooled driver's seat, and headlights that turn with the steering wheel.
On the Road: It's no Infiniti, but...
The Genesis 4.6 is home to Hyundai's first V8, an excellent 4.6 liter unit that's as quiet and smooth as anything from Japan or Germany. The 4.6 liter V8 can be run on regular fuel or premium; it produces 368 horsepower on the former and 375 on the latter. The Genesis 3.8 comes with Hyundai's familiar 290 hp 3.8 liter V6. It has plenty of power for the job, but with only a 6-8% loss in fuel economy (18 MPG city/27 highway for the V6 vs. 17/25 for the V8) and a $2,000 price premium (allowing for options, that is), I'd go for the extra zoom of the V8. Both engines drive the rear wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission, an Aisin unit for the V6 and a German ZF for the V8.
Hyundai plans to pitch the rear-wheel-drive Genesis as a performance sedan. They envision it going up against sporty luxury sedans like the Infiniti M-series, and they had us drive the Genesis on a race track to prove their point. Well I've driven the M-series, and Senator, this is no M-series. Don't get me wrong; the Genesis feels nicely balanced, it grips the pavement well, and certainly didn't embarrass itself out on the track. But it just doesn't have the aggressive, ambitious feel of a proper sports sedan.
No, the Genesis is more like a Lexus LS460: Soft, quiet and coddling. Nothing wrong with that -- after all, where is it written that "luxury" and "sport" must go hand-in-hand? Certainly not on this web site. The Genesis is good ol' fashioned luxurious luxury. Sure, it can tear through the corners with surprising aplomb when the need arises, but really, must we engage in such uncouth behavior?
Journey's End: Hyundai built it, but will they come?
So that's the story: The Genesis offers the ambiance of a Mercedes, the smooth, quiet ride of a Lexus, and the back seat space of a BMW 7-series, all for the price of an Audi A4 (or, for that matter, a fully-loaded Toyota Camry). The Genesis has 95% of the features found on high-end luxury cars; all that's missing is dynamic cruise control and one of those annoying blind-spot warning systems.
If Hyundai made a mistake, it's that they priced the Genesis too low. A $50,000 car for $33k? (Or, if you go for all the options, a $65,000 car for $42k?) There has to be a catch. Except there isn't. Not even resale values, a traditional Hyundai weak point: The Genesis has higher 3-year residuals than the BMW 5-series, Mercedes E350/E550, Infiniti M45 and Lexus GS460.
Here's the problem: Luxury cars are vanity purchases. Why spend $35,000 on a stripped-down Mercedes C300 when you can get a big, cushy Genesis for less? Because the Mercedes is a Mercedes. Say all you want about conspicuous consumption, paying for a label, etc.; there's something about owning a Mercedes (or a BMW, or an Audi, or a Jag) that you just don't get from a Hyundai.
If you're shopping for brand cachet, you probably won't set foot in a Hyundai dealership anyway. But if you want the most luxury you can get for the least amount of money, it would be silly not to consider the Genesis. It's an outstanding car at a bargain-basement price. And that's no lie. -- Aaron Gold