Voted 2009 North American Car of the Year at the 2009 Detroit auto show, the Hyundai Genesis 4.6 sedan that arrived in our garage had a lot to live up to. We were ready to cast aside biases based on our experience with previous Hyundai cars and see if the Genesis really could come up to the level of luxury set by brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Apparently, Hyundai is aware of its image problem, as there is no H badge on the front of the car. It seems Hyundai wants you to judge the car for what it is before you know what kind it is.
The Genesis does an excellent job of asserting Hyundai's new image, with cabin materials consistent with a luxury car and a very smooth-running power train. But it does have a few shortcomings. Cabin tech is equivalent to Lexus circa 2005, and is blown away by the similarly priced Lincoln MKS. The suspension is fine on smooth surfaces, but reveals harshness when the road gets rough. The handling is fine for a luxury car, but it doesn't come up to the level of sport luxury.
On the road
Although we drove the 2009 Hyundai Genesis over a number of roads, we're highlighting one particular road test here, a drive through San Francisco to the Presidio. The Genesis proved very maneuverable in the crowded downtown streets of San Francisco. The steering is tuned to require a little effort to turn, which may not be completely luxury-oriented, but we liked the deliberateness it gave to our quick lane changes.
The Genesis hides its Hyundai origin from the front.
Doing the zigzag course that is downtown SF, the power from the 4.6-liter V-8 came in handy. Moderate power was always on tap to push us easily into traffic openings, but quick launches were held back by the transmission's hesitant kickdown. Moving away from the heart of the city onto clearer roads, we enjoyed the peace and quiet in the cabin. That is, until we grabbed the console controller, an iDrive-like joystick/button/dial, and explored the music on our connected iPod.
Just like on the Hyundai Sonata we tested last year, the 2009 Genesis has an iPod/USB connection that gives full browsing capabilities. We selected an album encoded in Apple's lossless format and were blown away by the audio quality from the car's Lexicon stereo system. Sounds were coming from the speakers that we rarely heard on these tracks, background and layered sounds that get lost in lesser systems. Its bass was strong, without being overwhelming, and the clarity was amazing. Of course, with 17 speakers, a 525 watt amplifier, and the same Logic 7 audio processing as you get in BMWs, we would expect it to be good.
Map resolution from the navigation system is excellent.
We also admired the maps on the navigation system, which used high-resolution graphics on the large LCD. It was a sunny day, but glare wasn't a problem. As we paralleled Lombard Street, which also serves as Highway 101 through San Francisco, green indicators on the map showed traffic was flowing freely, although it got yellow just before the Golden Gate Bridge, meaning traffic was moving between 20 mph and 40 mph.
The quality of the streets varied substantially along the route we took, from smooth asphalt to pock-marked pavement that looked as if a tank had driven over it. Although the Genesis damped out the bumps quickly, keeping the car from bouncing around, we felt quite a few harsh jolts, with one particularly strong bash when we got a little playful with the acceleration. A Mercedes-Benz S-class floats over rough stuff like this, but the Genesis revealed that it's not quite up to that level.
In the cabin
A mixture of wood, leather, and metal adorns the cabin of the 2009 Hyundai Genesis, giving it a look like no other Hyundai, and strengthening the luxury impression. The soft plastics on top and bottom of the dashboard bring the quality quotient down just a little, and it gets worse when you run your hand over the simple cloth headliner, which on a Lexus would be a nice velvety material.
This controller, although similar to BMW's iDrive, works much better because of a better onscreen interface.
We were impressed by the metal switchgear on console and stack, with a controller new for Hyundai. Buttons surround the multidirectional knob, giving you quick access to navigation, telephone, and different audio sources. From that list of functions, you can tell the Genesis is loaded with tech. The onscreen menus for controlling the cars applications look good and are intuitive to use, with a vertical cascading architecture for drilling down to particular functions. The controller is complemented by a voice command system, which works reasonably well. Saying "help" shows you available commands, making it possible to learn the system as you use it. Entering an address, it only took a couple of tries for it to understand the street name "Tehama."
As we mentioned, the maps in the navigation system look very good, with high resolution and readable street names. The navigation system refreshed quickly as we pushed the cursor around the map. You can enter destinations by the usual means, such as address or point of interest, but there aren't many options beyond that. Route guidance works well, too, although it lacks text-to-speech, so it won't read out street names. Integrated traffic is one advanced feature we're happy to see here. It shows traffic flow on major roads, and incidents such as accidents and road construction. However, we found that the system won't automatically route you around bad traffic. During one drive, the system verbally warned us of bad traffic ahead, but didn't offer a detour to the programmed route. We zoomed out the map and could see a section of red traffic flow on the freeway, so we quickly exited, letting the navigation system recalculate the route.
The Genesis also has Bluetooth phone support to meet its tech car credentials, but we weren't impressed by the system. It paired easily with our Samsung SGH-D807 phone, but it didn't copy over the address book to the car. Instead, we would have to manually fill the phone book. Dialing actual numbers, those few we had memorized, was made easy by the onscreen interface, which uses a kind of oval track for alpha-numeric entry, or with the voice command system.
You can watch DVDs on the car's LCD, using the six-disc in-dash changer.
The stereo is really the high point of the tech in the Genesis. It features a six-disc changer that can play CDs, CD-RWs, and DVDs. There is also an iPod connector with an excellent interface that also works as a USB port, satellite radio (a necessity for the navigation's traffic reporting), and an HD radio tuner. This latter proved particularly good, as it receives multicasts, letting you choose from the various audio broadcasts from a single station.
This Lexicon stereo is so good, we just wanted to drive around and listen to music. Only a few other cars we've driven have had stereos this good, including the Lincoln MKS, Lexus LS 600h, and Jaguar XF.
Under the hood
One of the big surprises when Hyundai first announced the Genesis was its available V-8 engine. Asian automakers don't often come out with large engines, and Hyundai in particular was thought of as an economy car brand. However, the company has delivered, putting an exceptionally smooth 4.6-liter V-8 in the 2009 Hyundai Genesis, pairing it up with a six-speed automatic transmission. Variable timing on its 32 valves along with a double-overhead cam contribute to its efficiency, but it uses standard, port injection, rather than the direct injection system being adopted by many automakers.
Hyundai defies its image by coming out with this big, smooth-running V-8.
That engine produces 375 horsepower at 6,500rpm and 333 pound-feet of torque at 3,500rpm. According to Hyundai, the Genesis attains these numbers with premium fuel--you can use regular unleaded and only get 368 horsepower. Also, according to Hyundai, the car gets a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. As a point of comparison, the Lexus GS 460, which uses the same size engine, only makes 342 horsepower.
The Genesis gives a suitable push when you mash the gas pedal, after waiting a moment for the automatic to kick down. The cabin generally insulates from engine sound, although there is a palpable growl when the RPMs are up. The ZF automatic transmission generally kept its presence unobtrusive, quietly shifting from one gear to the next without a lot of drama. It's programmed to seek higher gears for better fuel efficiency, and won't actively kick down to lower gears for cornering, so we found ourselves lacking power when we tried to push the Genesis hard through a turn.
However, pushing the stick to the right puts the car in manual mode, letting us use the wide power bands in second and third gears. We could do a lot of work in the bends just using third gear, if the suspension was up to it. Unfortunately, it isn't. Although the car doesn't roll wildly when the lateral g-forces hit it, the front end feels very heavy in the corners, leading to serious understeer. The Genesis may have a big engine, but it's not a sport driver.
The EPA fuel economy for the V-8 Genesis is 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, which is about what we would expect. Our average fuel economy during our time with the car came in at 18.3 mpg, on the low side of the EPA range. Although it's not the most economical car around, it does earn a ULEV II rating for emissions, a good achievement for a high displacement engine. The Genesis can also be had with a 3.8-liter V-6, getting a couple of miles per gallon better than the V-8, but only putting out 290 horsepower.
Our 2009 Hyundai Genesis 4.6 came in with a base price of $37,250. Our only option was the $4,000 tech package, which includes the Lexicon stereo and navigation system, a must-have add-on. The $750 destination charge brought our total up to $42,000, an apparently low price that contributed to the Genesis' Car of the Year award. By comparison, the Lexus GS 460 is close to $60,000, but it handles a lot better, and when that model gets the update it is due for, it will get an impressive bundle of new cabin technology. The Lincoln MKS compares better with the Genesis, as both come in about the same price. The cabin of the MKS doesn't have the same luxury feel as the Genesis, but the tech is a lot better.
In our ratings for the car, we found both the cabin tech excellent, largely buoyed by the audio quality from the stereo. The navigation system could use a few more features, and the phone system is only basic. We considered the car's design excellent, with the cabin tech interface largely winning us over--the exterior isn't offensive, but isn't striking, either. Finally, the performance is good, but not spectacular in any way. The engine puts out the power we would expect from a big V-8, however, the suspension doesn't handle jolts as well as it could. The handling is fine for normal driving, but isn't designed for stress.