It was a sunny day, and the hot dry heat of the desert radiated off the black pavement at the Buttonwillow Raceway Park in Buttonwillow, Calif. A Pearly white BMW 7-Series lined up next to the cone, with the journalist behind the wheel revving the engine. I hopped into the driver’s seat of the car to the left of 7, hooked my seat belt and toed the starting line.
I watched the gray-haired man in front of me raise his arms, and I felt a rivulet of sweat drip down my back. From the heat, yes, but also from the nervous sense of anticipation.
I had never drag raced before, and here I was pitted against a BMW… in a Hyundai.
I was focused on the man in front of me, left foot on the brake, right foot hitting the gas pedal, bringing the tachometer up to 1,500 rpm.
His hands dropped, and I simultaneously took my left foot off the brake and jammed my right foot on the accelerator. Pedal to the floor, I beelined for the finish line. Halfway through the quarter-mile stretch, I spared a quick glance at the white car next to me, and I was stunned. I was ahead of the BMW 7-Series by about 2 feet, and the gap was curiously widening.
I won my first drag race while driving an all-new 2009 Hyundai Genesis, which has a 0-to-60-mph time of 5.7 seconds.
I didn’t fare so well the second time around. Switching places with my colleague, I tried a turn in the 7. And lost. Time after time, I watched the competitive auto journalists take turns in both cars. Each time, the Genesis won the race.
Some might argue that the extra 900 pounds or the extra 2.5 inches in length carried by the 7 account for its noticeable sluggishness. I’d like to point out that the 7 also has more than 50 additional horsepower. And it still didn’t win.
While this newest Hyundai isn’t quite in the same league as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai wanted to prove that this Korean car could hold its own against the Germans. I’m pleased to say the automaker succeeded.
New for 2009, Hyundai introduces the full-size, rear-wheel-drive Genesis as a kind of halo car with a base price of $33,000. But, in true Hyundai form, that base price gets you a whole lot of goods. From leather seating surfaces to front and rear side-curtain airbags, the Genesis is packed with standard luxury and safety features. Heated front seats, fog lights, iPod USB and auxiliary input jacks, Bluetooth and automatic headlights are all standard.
Base engine in the Genesis is a 3.8-liter V-6 that delivers 290 horsepower. To upgrade to the 4.6-liter V-8 engine, you’ll tack on $5K to the price tag, but you’ll also add some additional standard items, such as ultra-premium leather seats, power sunroof, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a Lexicon 14-speaker surround sound audio system.
While the V-8 model doesn’t require that you put premium fuel in it (thank goodness), Hyundai does, however, note that it will perform better with the premium grade fuel. Fill it up with regular and you can expect a respectable 368 horsepower. Fill it up with premium and you’ll go up to 375 horsepower. Personally, that’s not enough of a difference for me to opt for the $4.75 per gallon fuel vs. the $4.55 per gallon fuel.
During the press preview, which included more than 300 miles of street driving as well as a couple hours of track time, we had the opportunity to drive both the V-8 and the V-6 Genesis. My driving partner and I grabbed a fully loaded V-8 model for the first leg of the road trip. From twisty-turny mountain roads to desert straight aways, the V-8 was absolutely brilliant. Accelerating up hills, passing at high elevations and maintaining constant highway speeds were a breeze. My partner and I were both incredibly impressed with the road manners and performance of the V-8 model.
On the way back from the track, we grabbed a V-6, and we were no less impressed. Sure, there was a little more effort required to pass or accelerate up hills, but for a V-6, it did a darn good job. And, since it’s a little bit lighter, it was a little easier to fling the V-6 model around the twisty-turny bits.
On the racetrack itself, both the V-8 and V-6 were more than up for some spirited driving. I never would have thought of taking a large Hyundai sedan on a racetrack, but the Genesis was perfectly at home.
In addition to the drag race and actual track time, the folks at Hyundai prepared another comparison test for us at Buttonwillow, setting up a slalom course and bringing in a Mercedes-Benz E350 with a V-6 engine that delivers 268 horsepower. I started with the V-6 Genesis and took a couple turns on the course. I took the speed up between 35 and 40 mph and noticed that the V-6 model virtually glided around the cones. It was a smooth and continuous S-curve that the car just seemed to float through.
The V-8 model added some power to the slalom, and the course became a bit more aggressive. I pushed around the cones, keeping the speed closer to 40 mph. The course was more fun, and the car held the lines pretty well.
I finished with the E350, and in addition to being uncomfortable in the driver’s seat, I didn’t think the car held the line as well. I kept the speed between 35 and 40 mph, and it required a bit more effort to keep the E350 on course. Plus, there was some definite tire squealage that I didn’t notice with either of the Genesis models.
While the ride and handling of the Genesis are multifaceted and complex, its design is a study in simplicity. The exterior of the Genesis isn’t radical. It’s actually very conservative with long sleek lines. The turn signals on the side mirrors and bedazzling taillights give an upscale feel, but the most eye-catching feature on the Genesis has to be the grille. It’s an attractive chrome double waterfall, and Hyundai badging is noticeably absent. From the front or side, there is no way you’d guess this car is a Hyundai. The back simply has the circle H badge.
The interior, on several levels, is the real stunner, though. Both test vehicles had the two-tone saddle-and-black interior that reeks of high-end luxury. All of the touch points were solid and attractive, and the cockpit was well configured. I was able to get a great driving position with the power adjustable driver’s seat, and I loved the standard heated front seats that went all the way up the back of the seat.
My only quibble with the interior – and, in fact, with the whole car – was the headliner. The interior of the test vehicle was black and brown, yet the headliner was a light khaki color. This didn’t bother my male driving partner, but if I were choosing an interior I’d have to go with the Cashmere so that the headliner matched the seating surfaces.
The standard audio interface is simple yet attractive, and most of the controls on the center stack are within easy reach. The only dial I had difficulty reaching was the tuning dial, which is a lot closer to the front passenger than the driver.
The center stack is transformed when you upgrade to the Technology Package, which includes the 17-speaker Lexicon discrete audio system, DVD navigation and rear backup camera. The knob that controls the upgraded package looks frighteningly like the knob that goes with the oft-hated BMW iDrive system. So, it was with much curiosity that my partner and I spent some quality time in the parking lot tapping around the system.
BMW should take notes. The Hyundai system is phenomenal. Rather than peeling through layers of screens to get where you want to go, there are clearly labeled buttons surrounding the knob that cut out two or three layers of distracting info screens. The screen itself was brightly colored and the lettering on the screen is san-serif and easy to read.
Hyundai opted to keep the pricing and packaging simple on the new Genesis, and the V-6 model has three main packages: Premium ($2,000), Premium Plus ($3,000) and Technology ($4,000). Since the Premium Plus package includes the Premium package, a completely decked out model will top out at $40,000. The V-8, which starts at $38,000, only has one package available: Technology ($4,000). Thus the top-of-the-line, fully stocked Genesis will cost $42,000.
2009 Hyundai Genesis
Engine: 3.8-liter V-6; 4.6-liter V-8
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Horsepower: 290 (V-6); 368 (V-8 with regular fuel); 375 (V-8 with premium fuel)
Torque: 264 lb-ft (V-6); 324 (V-8 with regular fuel); 333 (V-8 with premium fuel)
Wheelbase: 115.6 inches
Height: 58.1 inches
Length: 195.9 inches
Width: 74.4 inches
MPG (city/hwy): 18/27 (V-6); 17/25 (V-8)
Pricing: $33,000 (V-6); $38,000 (V-8)
July 1, 2008
BY JILL CIMINILLO SearchChicago – Autos Editor