Genesis: Flawed yet still formidable

What kind of challenge does Hyundai’s luxury sedan throw down?

Pros: Impressive refinement, strong specification, roomy, comfortable.

Cons: Derivative styling, conservative interior, heavy. 

Our road test rating 3.5/5

The odds facing Genesis, Hyundai New Zealand’s first uber-luxury product here and, at $99,990, the dearest model they’ve ever offered, are diverse. It’s entering a lion’s den where the resident big cats give no quarter to each other. So what chance for an upstart newcomer?

Hyundai isn’t doing a Lexus; it differentiates from the Japanese way by insisting Genesis is a part of their general family, rather than a separate entity brand (as Lexus is to Toyota) and is selling the sizzle with a ‘value’ argument that definitely cannot be ignored. But ultimately, as always, you don’t just go to a fancy restaurant to enjoy the ambience and being seen. You’re there to eat. So how well does the Genesis tempt the tastebuds?

Design and engineering:

Look at the Genesis and what do you see? Consensus from those who laid eyes on the test example was … a lot of cars. The grille and winged bonnet emblem is ‘Aston Martin’. The back end and side profile? It shouts of the Audi A7 being a reference. A touch of BMW’s trademark Hofmeister kink to the C-pillar, a dab of Americana (Buick or Lincoln) to the wheel arch shape.

Inaccurate identification is not helped by the company name being sited in just one spot externally, potentially the last place you’ll look: The boot lid.

The shape might be considered a compilation album, but in isolation it stands as a good-looking car, with the right sense of authority. And even if it struggles to coherently distinguish from premium competition, this is at least an imposing car through sheer size, the especially XL length coming to the fore when slotting into any park.

Rating 2.8/5

Powertrain and performance:

Restricting to a 3.8-litre V6 in a sector in which bigger guns are regularly fired is a risk; certainly with 231kW and 397Nm it is not overly-muscled. But, wow, the silkiness and reactivity (0-100kmh in 6.5 seconds) are definitely worth experiencing. Korea’s first eight-speed auto also issues schmoozy, well-timed shifts yet there’s a smart side, too. This is a powertrain that can do nice and quiet when cruising, but bury the throttle and a sound box amplifies the noise and the shift moves faster in association. To a point, at least.

What obviously pins the Genesis back in a straight line, has effect in cornering, and clearly impinges on economy (a claimed 11.2 litres per 100km is not a high point) is the porky two tonne kerb weight. Crikey, it doesn’t look that fat. Yet the scales don’t lie.

Rating 3.6/5

Driver appeal:

That luxury ultimately prevails over sport is a logical conformity given the clientele that Hyundai believes is most important. Accordingly, you’ll get more satisfaction from the utter refinement from wind, tyre, and road noise being at barely audible levels than from racing down a winding road.

With this car it’s potentially more about a different kind of satisfaction. The obvious use of smartware (that high-tech instrument panel) is balanced by generous application of good quality materials. The wood, the leather, the metal: All are the real deal. Living with it, too, you get to like the straightforward ergonomics. Against this cohesion, though, is an ambience of conservatism.

Don’t believe the ad, those sun visors don’t remotely adjust. Yet there’s much clever gear. A CO2 sensor twigs when levels rise then adjusts to avoid drowsiness. Autonomous emergency braking allows self-braking to a complete halt at less than 80kmh.

The single specification offers lane departure warning, blind spot detection, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, head-up display, around view monitor, power tilt and telescopic steering, electric adjust and air ventilated seats front and rear, premium leather, LED front fog lamps and dual zone climate control, 19-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, sound reducing acoustic glass, illuminated scuff plates (and lights in the wing mirror that splash the word ‘Genesis’ on the ground), soft-close doors and powered boot lid, manual door curtains on the rear doors and 7-inch TFT LCD display. The key is a card that detects when you’re near the car and prepares accordingly, starting by untucking the door mirrors (disconcerting if you’re passing by the car at night without intending to enter it).

Rating 4/5

Ride, refinement and quality:

Programme engineers knocked on the door of a renowned British gun for hire. You don’t see “handling by Lotus” badges but the British firm’s expertise certainly shows in the dynamic demeanour. As said, they gone for finesse ahead of the fast lane, focusing primarily on a ride recipe that eradicates bumps. Yet, while wafting, overall effect is well above waffly. It has convincing body control, nice balance and relatively decent steering feel.

Fair dues, the car’s demeanour doesn’t simply result from it attending a good finishing school. More than half of the body is advanced high-strength steel and there’s impressive attention to engineering detail. Corner bracing all the way around the engine compartment and cast aluminum strut mounts that allow Hyundai to use two parts where its predecessor used 22 steel stampings welded together.

Rating 3/5

Practicality and packaging:

Size and specification are seductive. This is a lot of car for the money – a five metre length and three metre wheelbase means it is dimensionally right up there with the Prime Minister’s 7-Series limo – and even with a fastback shape it is generously roomy, with a humungous boot.

Reminder of the Genesis’ position, at home at least, as a limo is provided by the generously proportioned back seat and also the centre console with satellite audio and air con controls.

Rating 4/5

How it compares:

The challenges are obvious. It’s muscling into a miniscule segment; large and medium sedans costing $70,000-plus accounted for just 680 sales last year. The lack of provenance has pros and cons, but to me providing it with the same warranty and after-market support as any ‘regular’ Hyundai is a lapse. Buyers in this league feel special and wanted to be treated that way.

On that note, sad to say two glitches with our car would surely have been a sales killer. First, the sat nav failed to operate. It transpired the test example had missed out on a software update without which the system would stop working  – how’s this for timing? – on the morning of April 1. More inexplicably, the windscreen washer was kaput; only noticed on a grimy day. Empty reservoir? Detached feeder pipe? Failed pump? No, no and no.

When a maker spruiks total excellence even a niggling glitch is bad for business and it mightn’t wash with the big man at the wheel or, just as likely, in the back.