- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2008

Is it 1989 all over again? The decision makers at Hyundai are certainly hoping so. That was the year Toyota turned the luxury sedan segment on its ear with the launch of its Lexus brand and the LS400. Hyundai would like to work some of the same magic. In the current version of this Cinderella story, it would be the all-new Genesis taking more established models to task. Comparing and contrasting Lexus in 1989 with Hyundai in 2009 doesn’t make the job of handicapping Genesis’ odds any easier.

In Hyundai’s favor are Genesis’ comparatively low price, available segment-leading V8, high-quality construction and impressive technology. Working against this Korean carmaker’s bold experiment is just that: It is a Korean carmaker with no track record in the luxury arena. Does the minus outweigh the pluses? Will luxury consumers pony up 40 large for a Hyundai no matter how good it might be?

During the publicity buildup to the launch of the LS400, the European imports snickered and elbowed one another in the ribs at the thought of a Japanese-built sedan making inroads into the luxury segment. That lasted until the first few were sold. No one is going to discount Hyundai’s chances out of hand. The industry’s experience with Lexus has kept the Genesis skeptics fairly quiet. Also contributing to the skeptics’ reticence is the amazing leaps forward Hyundai has made in quality and sales during the last decade. It is currently the seventh best selling brand in the United States, enjoying a 20 percent compound annual growth rate in sales since 1998. For every customer it loses, Hyundai gains 2.2 new ones and that’s second only to Toyota.

To judge Genesis for yourself, you will have to spend either $33,000 for the V6 version or $38,000 for the V8. Hyundai marketers think you will be measuring Genesis against the Lexus GS, Infiniti M, Pontiac G8 and Chrysler 300 to name a few. The 3.8-liter V6 delivers a very competitive 290 horsepower. Hyundai invested $260 million - Kia shared some of this cost - in its first homegrown V8. It displaces 4.6 liters and churns out 375 horsepower and 333 pounds-feet of peak torque. These are higher numbers than the V8s in the Lexus GS460, BMW 750i and the Infiniti M45. It accelerates from a standing stop to 60 miles per hour in less than six seconds. While offering this degree of performance it still has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. The V6 adds one mpg in the city and two mpg on the highway.

Both engines funnel their output through a six-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission to the rear wheels. In the case of the V8, the tranny is a high-output version engineered to handle the extra power and supplied by ZF.

Nicely balanced, the 52/48 weight distribution is nearly ideal. The independent suspension includes a sophisticated five-link setup in the front and in the rear. Many of the components are light-weight aluminum. Tuned primarily for passenger comfort, this layout delivers outstanding handling characteristics. Steering is quick and accurate. Resisting body roll when tossed about, Genesis is settled and composed in the turns, even at speed. Fronting the four-wheel disc brakes are 17-inch and 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels on the V6 and V8 respectively. The anti-lock system provides the platform for electronic stability control, traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist.

Conservative yet interesting, the exterior is memorable primarily for its simplicity. Having one of these sedans grow in your rearview mirror for the first time, you will be hard-pressed to identify it. Even the Hyundai logo is missing from the front because stylists couldn’t figure a way to incorporate it while retaining the same elegance. You’ll need to wait until it zooms by to catch its rear badging.

Inside the styling, materials and construction of the cabin are top notch, and can go toe to toe with any of its target competitors. The feel of the wood, smell of the leather and look of the hand stitching all contribute to the rich ambience. Three different interior color combinations are available. Both V6 and V8 come with the usual array of power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated outboard mirrors with imbedded turn signal indicators, audio system (seven speakers in the V6) with CD player, USB port and dedicated iPod port, and keyless entry/start. Additional standard equipment in the V8 includes rain-sensing wipers, power rear sunshade, memory system for driver’s seat/outboard mirrors/steering column, eight-way power driver’s seat, and a 14-speaker Lexicon audio system with in-dash six-disc CD changer.

A number of optional upgrades are also available. Among them are adaptive (auto-cornering) headlights, 17-speaker Logic7 Lexicon surround sound system, hard-drive based navigation system with XM satellite NavTraffic, and front/rear parking assist. Some of these are available only in packages and not all are available for the V6.

Only the public can determine if Hyundai will achieve the same sort of success with Genesis that Lexus did 20 years ago. Timing for a V8 isn’t optimal and the economy in general may keep some shoppers out of showrooms.

If the question, however, is if Genesis is up to the task of competing with its target rivals, the answer is a resounding, indubitably.

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