2009 Hyundai Genesis 4.6: Shocking competence

We were out taking some photos of the Hyundai Genesis early one morning. A woman passing by asked, “What kind of car is that? I don’t see a name badge on the front?”

My response was that, “It’s a Hyundai Genesis. They didn’t put a badge on front intentionally. They want you to see the car and do what you just did; that is, ask ‘What is it?’ “

Some of Hyundai’s earlier large-sedans bore resemblances to Jaguars (the XG 350), but the Genesis definitely causes you to pause a moment and notice resemblances to Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.

Hyundai designed the Genesis sedan to be in the image of BMW’s 5-Series, the Lexus GS, Infiniti M cars and Mercedes E-Class. However, it’s priced and sized to compete with Chrysler’s 300C, the Lexus ES, Cadillac CTS, and Mercedes C-Class.

There’s no question that today’s test car, the 2009 Hyundai Genesis 4.6, is an intriguing vehicle.

It’s a full-sized rear-wheel-drive sedan with a 4.6 liter, 375 horsepower V-8. That V-8, with 333 lb.-ft. of pulling power, is relatively fuel efficient, being rated at 17 miles per gallon city and 25 highway. It may have been a filling quirk, but we pulled 27 on a highway trip, perhaps thanks to the steep overdrive sixth gear in the six-speed automatic transmission.

After people find out that this vehicle is a Hyundai, and a very nice looking one at that, they generally ask how much it costs.

Our test car – the more expensive 4.6 V-8 – has a sticker price of $37,250. Ours didn’t have the only option, a $4,000 technical package, that turns out to be aptly named and well thought out. It adds xenon headlights, a trip computer, navigation, front and rear park assist, a cooled driver’s seat, rear view camera, Bluetooth and upgraded Logic 7 sound system.

Then they have a sticker-shock reaction. “Thirty-seven thou for a Hyundai! That’s a lot of money. Are they kidding?”

It is. And they aren’t kidding in the least. Hyundai is making a run at the upscale market, starting with this sedan and continuing with the coupe version.

Hyundai came into the North American market with a terrible small car. They were so bad that most observers (me included) concluded that the brand was finished in this country.

To its credit, Hyundai’s Pooh-Bahs went back to the drawing board – and did some serious marketing planning while they were at it. They knew they had one more shot at best and the only way they could convince American consumers that they had a worthy product was to make it long on quality. The result was the company’s then-amazing 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty, and a lineup of cars that could compete in the small and mid-sized segments.

And their big cars – the XG 350 and Azera – weren’t so bad, either. Now comes the Genesis. It’s a serious bid by Hyundai at expanding its market reach.

If you’re a brand snob, the Hyundai logo doesn’t have that cachet yet; however, if you buy one now, it may have that cachet by the time – many miles down the road – when you’re ready to trade it.

You’re starting to see buyers’ comments mentioning that the Genesis is a “value proposition” and has an amazing “price point.”

Sales of the Genesis (8,100 to date) are encouraging. Overall, Hyundai sales were up nine percent in May (over April’s numbers) as the auto industry starts to show signs of a modest rally.

Want to go fast? The V-8 will get you from 0-to-60 m.p.h. in just under six seconds. Handling? It’s fine. Hyundai has a five-link system, front and back, that gives you a comfortable ride. While not a sports sedan, it does OK when pushed to an avoidance maneuver.

I generally prefer to travel in the driver’s seat and really avoid rear-seat time; however, this is one vehicle I’d make an exception for. The rear seats and legroom are fine.

The two-tone leather treatment on the Hyundai dash – a feature that carries over to the door panels – is distinctively nice.

Hyundai used a distinguished award – the North American Car of the Year – as a jumping-off point for my favorite commercial from the last Super Bowl: The Angry Bosses. The spot showed furious executives at Lexus and BMW seeing the headlines that Hyundai (“It’s Hyun-Day, like Sun-Day”) had won the award.

A decade ago, members of the New England Motor Press Association generally agreed that the early Acura TL was dollar-for-dollar as good a buy as you could find. I’ve got no problem transferring that badge to this Genesis. After all, it needs something on that grille.

Boston.com

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