With its all-new Genesis luxury brand, Hyundai Motor Co. is entering uncharted waters where the entrenched players all carry the one thing the new kid on the block can’t manufacture: brand name recognition.
So, while the Genesis badge – an attractive, if not the most creative logo – isn’t powerful enough to sell cars by itself, it shouldn’t conjure up negative first impressions either. What it might do, however, is pique the curiosity of prospective buyers.
Those that are willing to give Genesis a shot will find that it offers a compelling luxury package, one that is driven by plentiful amenities, style, comfort and value.
Take the flagship G90 sedan, for example, a car I recently spent a week driving.
At first blush it doesn’t look all that remarkable. It’s handsome inside and out, sure, but it also embodies a hodgepodge of luxury design elements, ideas and branding touches, many of which feel like they’ve been lifted from elsewhere.
Put it this way, Genesis designers have spent a great deal of time studying the competition and it shows. Hints of Audi, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz are scattered throughout the G90. It may fall short of outright mimicry, but there's little doubt those brands provided some inspiration.
From the hexagonal grille and creases in the sheet metal, to the shape of the tail lights on the outside, to the analogue clock and the large (12.3-inch) horizontal navi screen on the inside, it's clear Genesis product planners know who the players in the luxury segment are and they are intent on pushing the G90 into the conversation.
Now, it must be said that both the G90 and its slightly smaller G80 stablemate aren’t entirely new when recent Hyundai history is taken into account.
Both cars are based on sedans that were in the Hyundai family for years, the Equus (G90) and the Genesis (G80), respectively, a reality that becomes clear not only in terms of the overall aesthetic but also concerning powertrains, which I’ll get to shortly.
Given that Genesis needed to quickly add cars to its lineup after it was first announced as a standalone brand in late 2015, it isn’t surprising that its first two entries are derived from models already in existence.
Not only does it make sense, but with the respect to the G90, it's also creates a good value proposition.
Allow me to explain.
The Genesis G90 comes fully loaded with two engines to choose from. The base car, like my tester, retails for $84,000 – which is about $2,000 less than a base Audi A8, $10,000 less than a Lexus LS and almost $20,000 less than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class – and is equipped with a 3.3-litre turbocharged V6 (365 hp / 376 lb-ft.) mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the only gearbox available. Both engine and transmission were previously available in the old Hyundai Genesis.
For an extra $3,000, you can step up to a 5.0-litre V8 model (the same engine used to power the Equus, albeit with different power numbers), which delivers 420 hp and 383 lb-ft. of torque. The company’s HTRAC all-wheel drive system is standard on all G90s.
V8 models also get a few extra bells and whistles, such as full LED headlights, ventilated rear seats, 14-way power-adjustable right rear seat, 12-way power-adjustable left rear seat and power-adjustable rear seat headrests.
Regardless of which engine you opt for, the G90 comes – in fine Hyundai tradition – with a very long list of standard equipment.
There are way too many to list here, but among the more noteworthy are 19-inch aluminum wheels, adaptive control suspension, multi-view camera system with dynamic parking guidelines, soft-close doors, bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, head-up display, 22-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a 12.3-inch 720p HD navigation system.
And that list barely scratches the surface of what’s included.
Genesis executives realize a lot of amenities is but one requirement for serious players in the full-size luxury sedan segment - the car has to also deliver an engaging driving experience.
And while the G90 might not have quite the brand pedigree, sophisticated style or the originality of its competitors, it offers up a quiet, refined and powerful driving character.
First off, the touch points I encountered on my tester had a rich feel of quality, from the door handles to the metallic push button starter, to the soft leather seats and the controls and switches on the centre stack, with nary a cheap plastic tab or button in sight.
Every surface I ran my hand along had a pleasing tactile feel, which is something that really matters in this segment. I view large luxury vehicles as immersive experiences, and nothing breaks the feeling of immersion like bad panel fits and cheap switches. I’m pleased to report I didn’t encounter any immersion-breakers in the G90.
The cabin of the G90 envelops its occupants in an environment that both looks and feels the part – quiet, comfortable and ready to cater to your every whim. The heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats offer great support, comfort and an incredible amount of adjustability.
The centre console / stack area contains a multitude of interfaces, but the buttons and switches that control their functioning are clearly marked, logically positioned and don’t require 15-30 minutes of familiarization time.
The 12.3-inch navigation screen is simply gorgeous, offering pin-sharp renderings of roads and buildings and a main console-mounted interface knob that has great ease of use.
I was equally impressed with the G90’s road manners, which felt very much in keeping with those of its intended competition.
Selectable driving modes (eco, normal and sport) can change the nature of the G90’s character at the margins, but the core experience remains the same – quiet and pretty serene, where the outside world rarely intrudes thanks to an impressive amount of sound suppression within the cabin.
Yes, turning the drive mode selector to sport and hammering the accelerator will make the 3.3-litre turbo V6 growl, enough to launch the 2,170-kilogram G90 with impressive haste, but that’s not really what this car is about.
Power is necessary, yes, but it’s more about knowing it’s there if you need it, rather than extracting it at every turn.
The HTRAC all-wheel drive system offers a variable torque split to deal with varying road and weather conditions, but it’s a rear-biased system and it feels like it. It doesn’t make the G90 a track car, but it helps to deliver smooth acceleration and confident handling.
All told, the G90 is a pretty impressive first foray for a brand that is just getting started.
While the car may not, by itself, instill fear in the hearts and minds of entrenched players, the Genesis marque could become a segment disruptor, especially if its tailor-made, concierge ownership experience finds favour among consumers.
SPECIFICATIONS – 2017 Genesis G90
BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $84,000 / $84,128.75 (before taxes)
ENGINE: 3.3L twin-turbo V6
HORSEPOWER: 365 hp @ 6,000 rpm
TORQUE: 376 lb-ft. @ 1,300 – 4,500 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 2,170 kg
CONFIGURATION: front engine, all-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 13.7 / 9.7 / 11.9
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 60 / 100,000
ALTERNATIVES: Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Photography by Lee Bailie