The 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec was easily one of my favorite cars of last year. With a great blend of power, handling, and most importantly value, the last-generation Genesis was a fantastic alternative to the more established sports car choices.
This year, the 2013 Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec rolls onto the scene with even more power, more efficiency, and a healthy dose of refinement. Whether you consider its new-esque front fascia, boy-racer hood vents, and more organic taillights to be improvements or not is subjective, but the new horsepower and torque numbers speak for themselves. At least on paper they do, but how does she ride?
Transmission fixes and handling upgrades
The R-Spec is only available with a six-speed manual transmission, keeping in line with the "everyday track car" message of this trim level. The EPA estimates that the Coupe's 3.8-liter engine and gearbox combo will average 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, up a single mpg on both cycles despite offering more power across the board. I ended up near the top of that range with a combined average of 25.9 mpg on a test cycle that skewed probably too heavily toward highway cruising for a car that tackles corners like this one does.
I loved the first-generation, but ran into a few issues with the gearbox, which occasionally ground its gears on the 4-5 shift. I'm happy to report that transmission issue appears to have been sorted out since that last test. The Coupe's shifter still has the mechanical feel that I raved about almost a year ago to the day, only without the occasional bouts of grinding and swearing.
The shifter is only half of the shifting experience; the other is the clutch pedal. I found the Genesis Coupe's clutch takeup to be immediate and direct. It's a bit like an on-off switch once you hit the take-up point in the pedal's travel without much room for slipping gears. Don't be surprised if you accidentally chirp the tires as you attempt to ease out of your parking spot on your first trip around the block in the Coupe 3.8 R-Spec. Quickly, however, tickling the Coupe's clutch became second nature and I was blipping downshifts and locking in upshifts with the greatest of ease.
There is one situation where the almost-digital clutch becomes an annoyance: in stop-and-go city traffic, where the slightest bit of hesitation with the left pedal or not enough of the right one will cause the engine to lug or stall. Perhaps it's just me. Perhaps it's the bizarre driving habits of my fellow San Francisco Bay Area drivers and pedestrians, but I found it rather difficult to drive this car slowly without stalling out at least once daily during the first few days of my testing. This is compounded by the fact that the Coupe's quieter cabin makes it difficult to hear the 3.8-liter engine over the stereo to gauge its revs by ear, even at moderate volumes. My solution? I simply stopped driving slowly.
However, the Genesis Coupe R-Spec's native environment isn't crawling among family sedans, econoboxes, and minivans during rush hour or droning down the freeway at a steady 70 mph clip (although it is perfectly capable of both). No, you choose the R-Spec trim level for tackling the twisties, either on your favorite back road or, better still, your local racetrack.
Straight-line speed is good, but to tackle corners you need to be able to shave off speed just as quickly and grip around the bend. The Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec steps up to the plate by wrapping its 19-inch wheels with sticky summer tires (225 width up front, 245 out back) and putting big Brembo brakes at all four corners. Up front, four-piston calipers grab 13.4-inch rotors, and out back, single-piston grabbers clamp down on 13-inch rotors.
The springs and dampers of the R-Spec have been calibrated to be firmer than the Grand Touring trim's and are matched with thicker stabilizer bars on the front and rear axles. Because Hyundai knows that many prospective R-Spec owners will be looking to take the car to the track or to an autocross event, the automaker has built a bit of adjustment into its suspension. Those with the know-how can tweak the front camber adjustment bolts to dial in up to 1.5 degrees of negative camber to the front wheels for a boost in responsiveness and reduction in understeer. On the other hand, if you don't actually know what "camber" is, you should probably just leave those bolts alone.
Even at its base setting, the Genesis Coupe R-Spec is just as grippy as it ever was. The hydraulic steering is still extremely communicative and the chassis is extremely rigid (the Coupe still slightly lifts a rear tire when entering the Car Tech garage, it's that stiff!) which allows the suspension components to work effectively. The wide tires offer loads of mechanical grip and the Torsen limited-slip differential maximizes the Coupe's ability to put power to the ground and adjust its midturn attitude during a fast sweeper with a slight finessing of the throttle.
More powerful than ever
That's all well and good, but I know that most prospective Genesis Coupe 3.8 buyers are interested in the power. For 2013, Hyundai has upped the power ante with a retune of its 3.8-liter gasoline direct-injected V-6 engine that brings an additional 42 horsepower and 29 pound-feet of torque to the party. The result when burning premium-grade fuel is 348 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. (Cheaping out and filling the tank with regular-grade gasoline drops those numbers to 344 horsepower and 292 pound-feet.)
The 2011 Coupe 3.8 R-Spec with its 306 horsepower was a great car. It was a sort of sharper alternative to the Mustang V-6 and low-cost alternative to the Nissan 370Z Track. The 2013 Coupe's 348 ponies transform this car into much more than just an "alternative." It's now a genuine player. The R-Spec has a power-to-weight ratio (10 lbs/hp) that slots right in between the current(about 9 lbs/hp) and the Infiniti G37 Coupe Sport 6MT (a bit over 11 lbs/hp).
On the road, the 14 percent increase in power translates, predictably, into much more straight-line speed. I complained earlier about not being able to drive the 3.8 R-Spec smoothly at slow speeds, but who would want to when grin-inducing velocities are just a quick blip of the throttle and bark of the engine away?
Reach down and give the Traction Control button a tap and the already rather unintrusive driver aid system backs off and gives you more freedom to slip the rear tires. Power oversteer is now at your command and is backed up by an extremely communicative chassis and responsive steering so you never really feel out of control. (At the very least, I didn't. Your mileage may vary.)
A flat torque curve means that shifting becomes less of an issue if you're just cruising your favorite back road and not driving at 9/10 on the track. Hyundai is so proud of the 3.8-liter engine's output that it has put a torque meter on the center stack to let you know just how much grunt the engine is giving it. This gauge is more for the passenger's entertainment because it's located fairly low on the center stack, making watching it while driving a dangerous endeavor. Keep those eyes on the road, kids, and let the ol' butt dyno measure the power for you.
Cabin tech: What you get and what you don't
The R-Spec trim level is defined as much by what creature comforts you don't get as by the go-faster additions that you do. You'll find no cruise control buttons on the Coupe's steering wheel, and the exterior rearview mirrors lose their heating elements and turn-signal indicators. The R-Spec doesn't get the Track trim level's Xenon HID headlamps or its proximity keyless entry with push-button start. While you're at it, go ahead and forget about navigation tech, a sunroof, Infinity premium audio, or power-adjustable heated seats. The manually adjusting leather buckets get red fabric inserts, as do a few other dash and door panels, but that's the extent of the R-Spec's luxury appointments.
However, as stripper models go, the Genesis Coupe R-Spec is still pretty well-equipped.
Hyundai's standard Bluetooth connectivity suite is present, with A2DP stereo audio streaming and hands-free calling with voice command and address book sync. Simply hit the voice command button and tell the system who you want to call, and the Genesis Coupe will handle the rest. However, when pulling entries from our test HTC ThunderBolt Android phone, the voice command system inverted the first and last names of the entries, meaning that we had to awkwardly say, "Call Goodwin Antuan at work" rather than the more natural "Antuan Goodwin." CNET editor Wayne Cunningham has reported a similar issue when testing other Hyundai vehicles with an iPhone. Whether you'll have this problem depends on how your particular paired phone stores and reports its entries.
Audio sources for the R-Spec's standard six-speaker audio system include a single-disc CD/MP3 player, AM/FM terrestrial radio, XM Satellite Radio, analog auxiliary audio input, and a USB port with MP3 playback capability. If you want to connect your iPod or iPhone to the audio system, you'll need to spring for the optional Hyundai iPod dock connector cable, which bridges the Coupe's USB and analog inputs to offer total control of the iPod's file system. It's a $35 option, but it's worth every penny.
By tech car standards, the R-Spec is sparsely equipped. But by track car standards, it's got everything you need and nothing you don't. Add a Bluetooth-connected smartphone running a navigation application and the Genesis Coupe R-Spec's technology will easily rival about any OEM technology package on the road today.
Pricing a 2013 Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec is simple because there are no options. The MSRP is $28,750 and you've only got four colors to choose from -- sadly, Interlagos Yellow doesn't make a return appearance in the Coupe's palette this year. Add $875 in destination fees and you're at our as-tested price of $29,625. Add $35 more bucks if you're an iPod or iPhone user for the cable, or skip it if you're not.
At that price, the R-Spec Coupe is offering the performance of something like a Nissan 370Z with the Track package for the price of a modern muscle car like the Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro V6. As I said earlier, the Genesis Coupe 3.8 is no longer just an alternative -- it's a genuine contender. And we haven't even discussed the 2.0T R-Spec, which is poised to wipe the smile off of the face of everyand owner it passes this year.
You may notice that the Coupe's total score has dropped since we last took a spin. That's because despite being fairly well equipped for a stripped-down performance variant, the R-Spec's rather basic level of cabin technology doesn't wow us the way that it did a year ago, resulting in a low-to-middling cabin tech score (the most heavily weighted of our three scoring criteria). We saw a similar thing happen with cars like the Mazda Miata PRHT and the : they're all great cars, but we wouldn't be Car Tech if we neglected the tech. The performance score has improved greatly thanks to the transmission fixes and, of course, the additional power and fuel economy, which helps to minimize the loss.
If you're looking for tech, consider the 2013 Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track. It's about 100 pounds heavier than the R-Spec and about $4,250 more expensive with the manual transmission, but it also comes standard with automatic temperature controls, navigation, and premium audio. It's definitely the car to go CNET-style in. But if you've got a GPS-enabled smartphone that you don't mind suction-cupping to the windshield, the R-Spec is a great way to get the go-fast goodies while saving a few bucks. It certainly delights my inner Luddite.