2009 Hyundai Genesis 4.6 Review

The Genesis Sedan is, by far, Hyundai’s most ambitious North American launch ever. Hyundai would like you to believe that this car can compete with other products that have names like 5, E, and in some cases 7 and S. I recently had the chance to climb into one, and couldn’t wait to see what new hotness Hyundai had brought forth.

Looking at the marketing positioning, this car is billed as a sports luxury sedan. It has the room and size of the aforementioned 7 and S, but is said to be as sprightly as a 5. That’s a tall order. (to see why here’s my 550i review). On paper at least, the Genesis 4.6 (V8 model reviewed) has the goods. Front engine, RWD, V8 good for 375hp, multi link suspension all around hunkered down on 19” wheels and taut body proportions. Yep, sounds like the right ingredients for a sports sedan pedigree.

Step inside and it is unlike any other Hyundai you’ve ever sat in. It’s especially revelatory if your last memory of their cars is from the ‘90’s. Luxury touches abound everywhere. All the toys you can imagine are there, especially in a tech package equipped car (reviewed here). Navi, in dash CD changer, iPod connection, all the power toys, keyless starting, memory seats, and 17 speaker Lexicon sound system. If you recognize the name Lexicon, then you know why that’s impressive in itself. Room in the back is abundant even with the front seats pushed all the way back in their travel.

The sport theme continues in the example I drove – especially with a black interior. Materials are of high quality, except the lower you go in poking around. The shifter shows a sport mode with manual selection of the transmissions six gears offered. Gauges are backlit, but looked like a slightly less expensive version of a Lexus dashboard, which for some reason should be unsurprising.

Time for the road test. I pulled out and noticed the firm steering. Firm steering isn’t a bad thing, but the Genesis is firm AND isolated. That’s not a good start for something billed as a sport sedan. It’s difficult to tell what exactly is happening with the front tires. Power was abundant, but felt slightly less exciting to me than what I expected from the 375hp rating. There was a pleasing, V8 growl from under the hood though to remind you of what you were driving. Somewhat paradoxically, at idle it seemed slightly ‘rough’. While perhaps appropriate in a sport sedan, it seemed very contrary to the luxury feel that the Genesis would like to claim.

Pushing the Genesis harder didn’t really reveal a playful side. What was really odd about that is that the suspension is Euro-firm. You feel the bumps in the road, yet the steering doesn’t translate whatever is happening at the tires. Don’t get me wrong – other sport sedans that I’ve looked at have stiff suspensions too, again pointing at the 550i. But the major difference is that all of the 550i’s components work together and feed you information. In other words I noticed it, but it didn’t bother me because I knew what was going on. With the Genesis, I could feel the suspension work, but it didn’t encourage me to play with it or offer nearly the same level of communication as the European competition. Honestly, I was pretty disappointed.

In comparing the Genesis to its other perceived Asian rival, Lexus, I’ll say that Lexus has the luxury part of the equation down pat far better than Hyundai. I suppose that shouldn’t really surprise anyone, but the Lexus is definitely more isolated than the Genesis. And while the Genesis can be regarded as sportier than the Lexus, again it’s still not a car that truly feels like it wants to play.

Bottom line – the Genesis seems to me to be a confused product with no real identity of its own. Say you’re in the market for a top level, luxury or sport sedan. Conventional wisdom would have you looking at a Lexus if luxury is your priority, and it fits the bill very nicely. On the flip side, if your priority is driving fun and feel, look no further than a 5. The Genesis tries to combine both of those worlds, and ends up doing neither particularly well.

Its one redeeming trait is the value equation – which Hyundai does execute very well. Loaded up this sample was at the $40k mark. But the stiff ride with no performance benefit, and the luxury touches spoiled by the stiff ride and rough at idle engine add up to nothing more than a nice effort. I’m just not sure who this car is for. As a driving enthusiast I can’t give it a nod over the established players, and as a luxury buyer I would just hop over to Lexus.

I really wanted to like this car, and wanted to see if Hyundai had brought about a gamer-changer like Lexus did with the original LS in 1989. My advice to Hyundai would be to pick a specific mission for this car and execute accordingly. All the right equipment is in place, but trying to cover all the bases has only resulted in a product that feels half-finished.

A person trying to live their life being all things to all people will never succeed, and that same philosophy applies to cars as well.

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