We are running pretty hard through the twists and turns of the Sespe Gorge and over the 5,100 foot pass through the Caliente Range-in the very lap of silent luxury. As the tires approach their limits, even the Dunlop grip is silent. Acceleration is robust and soundless. What is this thing?!! A Hyundai. Really!
Rushing up the San Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway (California 33) is a tradition with southern California sports car and motorcycle fans. It is a challenge at any speed and the more you ask of your machine the more it asks of your talent–and judgment; Route 33 is ruled by production European machines and Asian tuner cars. Hyundai isn’t a name one hears in the regular gathering zones. A Tiburon may appear from time to time. They are cool in spite of limited performance perceptions among the zealots. The artful coupes are better than that, but the Hyundai name remains a mask over real quality. Until now.
The 2009 Genesis represents Hyundai’s exodus from cheap, amusing sedans and inexpensive, if handsome, SUVs, Veracruz accepted, as its corporate norm. Since the company’s recent much publicized decision to move its corporate perception onto a new plateau, the products have both lived up to the promotion and delivered profit to the dealers. Even those retail outlets have been compelled to raise their public presence with a new, Bauhaus-moderne corporate facade.
A luxurious Hyundai sport sedan (hmmm) would have been a tough sell–until July of 2008. Now the word is out. The Genesis introduces so much to the Hyundai brand in one fell swoop that the mind boggles. A 100,000-mile warranty underscores Hyundai’s perception of its own ability to deliver on the marketing surge, and with that promise is the reality that the company, together with Kia, is now the fifth largest auto manufacturer in the world; ahead of Honda and Nissan.
The base Genesis is far beyond what that word implies. Most interior appointments are matched for both the V6 and V8 models. Only the feature package differs. Both include all the current luxury car tech: proximity key, airbags everywhere, leather seats with all over the place electric adjust and heat, fully automatic climate control, auto-dim lights and mirror, Bluetooth and iPod/USB and auxiliary input jacks. But the V8 includes a Lexicon (previously exclusive to Rolls Royce) 15-speaker sound system, the ones we had were equipped with a big screen nav system that was universally loved, a power rear sunshade, and a power adjust, wood-rimmed steering wheel.
The steering is as eloquent in its communication as the best of the Germans and the NVH and soundproofing is as good as the best from Japan. The ultimate Japanese product group created a sensory deprivation chamber for all passengers, including the driver. It then introduced an electronic simulation of what the engineering staff research suggested steering loads and surface communication should feel like. But it was never much loved by performance drivers and that group remained steadfastly devoted to the German manufacturers with decades of motorsport and high performance road expectations in their development programs.
Hyundai accomplished a remarkable ride and handling chassis with honest steering wheel communication–right out of the box. How’d they do that? We asked project engineer Michael Dietz.
“The design was done in Korea at the sparkling new, state-of-the-art design center in Namyang, with regular design reviews from both our American and European design staffs. That was also true for the chassis development you asked about. Sachs in Germany was directly involved in suspension design and tuning. There were Sachs engineers at the Hyundai Kia America Technical Centers in Irvine, California, and Superior Township in Michigan every few weeks to finish the five-link geometry, springs and Sachs ASD amplitude adaptive damping details. Wendell Collins was our lead chassis engineer and we are very proud of what he accomplished. The final set up includes a 35mm anti-roll bar at the front of both models and 18mm rear bar for the V8 and 17mm for the six. TRW co-developed our electro hydraulic power steering components and I saw a lot of the country during the testing and refinement process. I would be driving with two TRW engineers in the car with laptops making incremental changes in the programming.”
The power steering is a hydraulic system with adjustable valving and powered by an electric motor that takes one element of power drain off the engine.
Genesis’ entry level 3.8-liter V6 is a modern DOHC delivering 290 horsepower with a mid-range torque of 264 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm that makes everyday driving effortless, and there is a weight advantage that makes it a strong competitor to its upscale sibling. The DOHC V8 edition produces 375 hp at 6,500 revs and 333 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 from 4.6 liters, but has to carry 264 additional pounds, mostly on the forward end of the chassis.
Both engines are essentially new. The six is the second generation of Hyundai’s Lambda engine, but is mostly new, and the V8 is a corporate first that uses some of the V6 engineering and components. Both include a dual stage intake system along with variable valve timing for clean performance throughout the rev range. The six uses Hyundai’s Aisin-sourced B600 transmission and a sporting Shiftronic gate. The V8’s torque required a shift to a ZF 6HP26 automatic that also makes use of the manual Shiftronic mode. On the track the manual mode was not as quick as some of the recent paddle shift Europeans, but it worked well and was the equal of the best of the journalists at the limit.
Curious is the engine data panel that includes performance figures for both premium and regular fuel. The V8 power goes from 375 to 368 by lowering the octane rating from 91 to 83 and the torque is only reduced by 9 lb-ft. So Hyundai’s focus on inexpensive ownership remains intact, even with a beautifully finished, high performance luxury sedan. The V8 delivers fuel consumption of 17 city and 25 highway while the V6 delivers 18 and 27 respectively; acceptable numbers for a modest mid-size sedan, impressive from a very luxurious high performance car.
The car was a surprising delight on the track. With 4-wheel, 4-channel, 4-sensor ABS and EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) switched as near to off as it would allow, the car was nearly as much fun as a Miata. It could be pitched into dramatic slip angles and brought back with a slight lift of the power pedal. It never seemed out of reach. The V6, with its P235 /50R 18 Dunlops (standard on the V8 and optional with the V6) allowed soft limits and easy return. You could feel the scrub of rubber on pavement, but very little sound until they were well over the limit.
Repeated hard runs up to tight corners had no affect on the “big _ _ _ brakes.” Ventilated front rotors were 12.6-in diameter on the six and 13-in on the eight. Rears were the same on both, with solid 12.4-in discs.
Hyundai has delivered a surprise. The company promised to raise its own bar for both quality and reliability, but no one expected this. It is a very difficult car to criticize. It has a larger interior than a BMW 5 Series and is best in class in every quantifiable target. The corporate exodus from cheap and amusing is well underway with a Genesis to lead the new line of less expensive and exceptional.