2009 Hyundai Genesis 3.8 V6 Review
By Chris Haak
Anyone who follows the car business – even those who don’t follow it as closely as we do here – is aware that Hyundai has been making serious strides in the real and perceived quality of its products over the past few years. Folks also seem to be very aware of the newest Hyundai, the Genesis sedan. It’s the first rear wheel drive Hyundai to be sold in the US, the first V8-powered Hyundai to be sold in the US, and represents Hyundai’s flagship model. Just as I said last year that the Lexus LS600hL was, by default, the absolute best car that Toyota was capable of building, I believe that the Genesis represents the best car that Hyundai is capable of building.
Before I even unlocked the door for the first time, I could tell that the Genesis was something built to a different set of standards than any other Hyundai or Kia product. The styling has grown on me over the past year; where I was once annoyed at the obvious cribbing of styling cues from other manufacturers (it borrows most liberally from the BMW 7-series and Lexus LS), I now can appreciate the Genesis for at least stealing the best features of other cars. It’s really a good-looking car, and I consistently admired the detailing on the front end as I approached it each morning enroute to the office. The proportions are attractive and modern, and the detailing such as body color moldings and door handles with chrome accents, projector-style headlamps (albeit not xenon HIDs as you’d expect in most luxury cars), and a taillamp design that looks really neat at night, with horizontal lines across the bottom and LEDs covering the upper two-thirds. The design certainly isn’t groundbreaking in any way, but it’s a handsome, clean design that wouldn’t look out of place with any luxury brand’s logo on the grille (which, incidentally, has no logo on it).
As I spent a week in the Genesis, I found myself paying attention to two different kinds of fellow motorists – those driving other Hyundai products, and those driving tier-one luxury brands. I kept wondering if folks driving a Sonata noticed that a Genesis was passing them; honestly, I saw little indication of this. I was next to a BMW 745iL at a traffic light at one point, and felt that the Genesis was not out of place visually next to a car like that. Other expensive-car features like dual exhaust outlets, 18 inch wheels with 235/50R18 tires and tight, consistent panel gaps also gave off a luxury-car vibe.
Opening the door, the interior is – again – the best I’ve seen from Hyundai. The protruding center stack reminds me a bit of the Honda Accord’s shape, but it seems less obnoxious and flows better with the rest of the cabin’s design. I believe the wood accents on the console, door panels, and dash in my test vehicle were fake, but at least they were fairly convincing fakes. The nicest luxury touch in the interior was the on the face of the dashboard; my tester’s otherwise monotone charcoal interior was offset by about a four-inch swath of brown leather (or leather-like material), complete with stitching on the seams. While I’m not sure if it was real leather or not, it felt more like the leather covering the Jaguar XF’s dashboard than the stitched vinyl covering the dashboard of the Cadillac CTS. Unfortunately, above and below the leather section, the dashboard was made of soft material, but that material was shiny and coarsely-textured. This tended to shift my perception of the interior to that of a more downscale effort than Hyundai clearly wanted.
I found the interior to be remarkably quiet, even at highway speeds. It was quiet in spite of the car wearing Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires on all four corners. The only exception was that over the first few days that I had the car, at any speed over 70, the sunroof would whistle loudly. I opened and closed the sunroof once or twice a day for the next few days, and eventually, the noise went away, even at speeds much higher than 70. (Note: the car in these photos has the same interior as my test vehicle – color and all – except that my tester did not have navigation).
The leather on the seats was soft and had a premium feel, and the driver’s seat remained a comfortable place to sit for drives long than an hour. I found the leather on the steering wheel to be unusually smooth; the only vehicle that I can recall with a similarly smooth steering wheel leather was the Infiniti M35 (a vehicle against which the Genesis directly competes). The V8-powered Genesis models have some wood on the steering wheel, but my lower-end V6 model did not. The gauges were very clear, premium-looking electroluminescent ones, and a trip computer was nestled between the speedometer and tachometer. The climate controls were mostly button-actuated, and the only gripe about the way they worked was that the “off” button was much closer to the passenger than the driver. Also, at night, the “OFF” on the passenger airbag status light is the only part of that indicator that is illuminated, and it’s located to the left of the climate controls. Consequently, I found myself fruitlessly pushing a non-button to turn off the fan, assuming that the bright orange “OFF” indicated an “off” button for the fan.
The Genesis also had some other nice luxury touches. The steering column had a power tilt and telescope feature; the audio system had standard iPod integration that worked fairly well (it recognized the iPod quickly and did not need to index as my CTS does, but controls weren’t as easy to use as they are on Infinitis with a navigation system); side window glass is laminated; the car had a power rear sunshade. Hyundai made a big deal about the optional Lexicon 14-speaker premium sound system in the Genesis (which my tester was equipped with), since Lexicon also supplies the audio system in the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Frankly, I wasn’t very impressed by it. I’m no car audio expert, and it probably sounded better than a similar Bose system, but it just seemed to lack power, particularly in the low range. I had the bass jacked up to 10 (the maximum level) and simply was not impressed by the system’s output. Its clarity, however, was good. Both rear seat space and trunk space were excellent; remember that this is a large car. As someone who’s 6’4″, I had no trouble sitting in the back seat behind a driver’s seat adjusted to my comfortable driving position. My only gripe about the rear seat was that my head brushed the ceiling, but at least my legs were happy. The trunk had goosneck hinges, but they were covered in plastic trim and shielded in compartments on either side of the trunk. In spite of giving up luggage space to the compartments that hide the hinges, the trunk was very long (which is hard to visualize when looking at the car from the side) and was able to hold a gigantic cardboard box with our new mailbox with a few inches to spare in either direction.
Aside from the non-premium, shiny, rough dashboard material around the leather strip, one other thing about the interior of the Genesis really bothered me: its Bluetooth integration. It’s nice to have Bluetooth integrated into a car, of course, for safety and convenience reasons, but Hyundai’s implementation of this just left a lot to be desired. The module was located in front of the sunroof in what appears to be the size and shape of a pop-down sunglasses holder. It had a small speaker on either side, with four buttons in the middle. The buttons emitted a loud, nasty clicking sound when pressing them, and the sound from the small speakers was predictably tinny. People that I had been speaking with on the other end of the line had no gripes about the microphone’s effectiveness, but considering that there are 14 other speakers scattered in and around the Genesis’ cabin, I was disappointed that Hyundai chose such an aftermarket-like Bluetooth solution. Even worse, the system did not have the ability to mute the audio system when a call was placed or came in. To top off my Bluetooth complaints, the entire module was ill-fitting and had between 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch of play where it could be pushed up and down.
Under the hood, the 290-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 is a fairly refined powerplant. At lower speeds – from idle to, say, 5000 RPMs – it’s quiet with the exception of a distant bark from the exhaust. Above 5000 RPMs, it’s a little noisier, but the noise is mostly induction noise and not harshness. I wasn’t a particular fan of the six-speed Aisin automatic connected to the V6; it did not have a sport mode in its software, and it was slow to kick down when calling upon extra power from the engine room. It did feature a manual shift gate, but did not hold gears to the rev limiter. Basically, while it shifted smoothly, it seemed to be somewhat slow-witted. I would be curious to see if the ZF six-speed automatic that comes with the 4.6 liter V8-powered Genesis models works any better. In spite of its dimwitted transmission, the V6 is a pretty good one and pulled strongly in most gears. It’s down 13 horsepower (4.3%) versus the M35 sedan, but felt a lot more than 4.3% slower than the M35. Part of the difference may be that the 2009 M35 has a seven-speed gearbox, part is the horsepower advantage the M35 has, and part may be the fact that Infiniti’s transmission was so much more responsive and intelligent than Hyundai’s Aisin unit was. The Genesis V6 isn’t a slug performance-wise, but its acceleration merely met my expectations rather than blowing me away as the M35 did.
Apparently in the Genesis’ home market of South Korea, buyers favor softly-sprung luxury cars, so Genesis models sold in the US actually have firmer suspension than models sold in Korea. They need to firm it up some more. While I never felt unsafe, there was significantly more body motion than I would have expected. Steering feel on center was somewhat vague, but beyond that, it felt appropriate for a luxury car that doesn’t really have any sporting pretensions. The ride was comfortable, but again, too soft for my preference. I had no gripes about the four-wheel vented disc brakes. Traction control cannot be disabled, although there is an “off” button, so while the car had enough power to do a burnout, the electronic nanny ruins the fun promptly.
In spite of the Genesis being a very good car, some folks just can’t get past the Hyundai badge. I spoke with someone who said that she wouldn’t pay more than $20,000 for any Hyundai. My test vehicle had an MSRP including destination of $36,000. Frankly, I think it is worth the money. The fact that I keep bringing up a $54,415 Infiniti M35 in comparisons – even ones in which I prefer the Infiniti – is pretty telling. While the Genesis may not be quite as good of a car as the M35, the M35 is also not $18,415 better. Including destination, the Genesis 3.8 has a $33,000 base price (including destination) and my test vehicle had only one option: the $3,000 Premium Plus Package, which included the 18″ wheels (instead of the standard 17s), 14-speaker Lexicon surround sound system, leather-wrapped dash/door trim, power sunroof, power tilt/telescopic steering column, integrated memory system (seats, mirrors, steering column), rain-sensing wipers, and auto-defogging windshield). Aside from a navigation system and the 4.6 liter V8, not much was missing from the option list. I would have liked to see some higher-tech features available such as lane departure warning/prevention (in spite of how much those features annoy me in Infinitis), laser or radar cruise control, and all wheel drive.
Hyundai did an amazing job with its first luxury car. There are a few rough edges, but it’s a lot of car for the money, it’s attractive and comfortable, and most importantly, shows what Hyundai is capable of. Now, if Hyundai could apply 7/8ths of the effort on the Genesis to cheaper cars like the Sonata (where the doors seem to emit a tinny sound when opened) and Elantra, and keep pricing competitive, they should be extremely successful.
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