Saturday, July 26, 2008

2009 Hyundai Genesis

The 2009 Genesis is out as are the reviews. Here is the National Posts' take on the 2009 Hyundai Genesis.

Trot out any tired old metaphor you'd like -- a deal changer, a seismic shift, a quantum leap. Whatever the verbiage, not since Lexus introduced its LS 400 in 1990 has so much luxury and performance been offered for so little money. For the first time in a very long time -- since that first Lexus, in fact -- mere proles can afford the same performance, luxury and amenities as all the yuppies in their BMWs can.

There was really no indication the new 2009 Genesis would be this good. After all, there is a Hyundai badge on its rear deck. Oh, sure, the company's Sonata now competes head to head with the Camry, but there's a huge gulf between benchmarking a Toyota and claiming that one's car is on an equal footing with a BMW.

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To Hyundai Canada's credit, it admits that with perception being so crucial to buyers in the car's snack bracket, its new Genesis has neither the pomp nor the circumstance to challenge the marketing might or brand status that BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi command. Indeed, Hyundai Canada is looking to prospect Lexus ES 350 and Cadillac CTS buyers with the Genesis V6's $37,995 base price.

That intention sells the Genesis's performance far too short. The car that compares most equally with the Genesis is BMW's 5 Series -- and not just any 5 Series, but the mondo-powerful and very expensive 550i. Yes, the Hyundai Genesis, in its $43,995,4.6-litre V8 guise, can keep up -- and occasionally trump -- BMW's finest sedan at roughly half the price. Don't believe me? Then take a gander at the specs for the Genesis's new 4.6L DOHC V8. At 375 horsepower, it out-muscles the BMW's 550i and, thanks to its smaller displacement, also gets superior fuel economy. Opting for a V8 when premium fuel exceeds $1.40 a litre may seem profligate, but the Genesis's fuel economy ratings of 12.6 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 8.1 on the highway border on economical.

But mere numbers don't do the Tau V8 justice. On the open road, the Genesis feels as quick as the 550i and just as sophisticated. Acceleration to 100 kilometres an hour from a standstill arrives in just 5.7 seconds, the same as with the 550i and quicker than the comparable Audi or Jag. Only the Mercedes E550, with one litre greater displacement, is quicker -- and then only by 0.2 seconds.

And the sound! Again, the comparison with BMW comes up. At idle, the V8 burbles with equal authority. There's the same ripping silk roar as the tach passes 4,000 rpm, not to mention the same eerie smoothness as the revs crest 6,000. It's all very authoritative without intruding into the cabin's calm.

Punch the V8 at any speed and the Genesis surges forward as fast --or faster -- than any of the mega-buck German sleds. It's smoother than the Mercedes and quicker than either the Audi or normally aspirated Jaguar V8. And it uses the same ZF six-speed automatic transmission as many $80,000-plus European sedans, meaning the entire powertrain is equal to the best from the continent. The closest I can come to a complaint is that the transmission, which offers manumatic shifting via the centre console-located lever, doesn't come with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

It would be natural to think there's no way the Genesis can keep up with a BMW in the chassis department. After all, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Jaguar, to name but a few, have all tried and -- to date -- failed. Yet, after spending a day terrorizing California's Highway 150 and scorching the tarmac at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, I can only assume Hyundai hired some BMW chassis engineers. At the very least, it bought some German suspension bits since the Genesis rides on Sachs dampers all round. As well, Hyundai has the audacity to claim that the Genesis's chassis is stiffer in both torsion and bending than its BMW, Mercedes and Audi counterparts are. Throw in the five-link suspension setup front and rear and you're looking at the beginnings of fine-handling sedan.

The suspension's tuning means the Genesis is nearly as well controlled as a 550i, with mid-corner bumps handled with an aplomb a Mercedes E550 can only envy. In the end, it remains a little behind the Bimmer in suspension performance. But, unlike the Bimmer, the Genesis doesn't come with an upgraded sport suspension. Still, you'll need access to a race track to feel the difference. Besides, the Hyundai has a slightly better ride.

After so obviously benchmarking BMW in drivetrain and suspension performance, it seems a little odd that the Genesis's steering most closely emulates Mercedes' propensity toward heavy on-centre damping. Turn-in requires more effort than in a BMW 550, and, in fast transitions between ess turns, the Genesis feels a little ponderous. It's the car's worst dynamic trait, although it's hardly a dramatic shortcoming. It's just that I had to find fault somewhere or nobody would believe me.

The surprises continue inside the cabin. The leather -- even the stuff used for the dashboard -- is top-shelf. Everything is simply laid out, ergonomically correct and easily decipherable. The one exception is Hyundai's answer to BMW's iDrive. Here, the emulation goes a megabyte too far and, although not unmanageable for us Luddites, it adds nothing to the enjoyment of the Genesis compared with the base model. The bigger problem is that opting out of the multimedia controller also means forgoing the excellent 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, which also makes up part of the Technology package.

All of this makes the Genesis a tremendous accomplishment for Hyundai. Price aside, the V8 model makes a worthy competitor for BMW's 550i. With a sticker price starting at $43,995 and topping out at $48,995, the 4.6L-powered Genesis gives incredible value. It's the best sedan you can buy for the money and a great car regardless of its price.

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