The Japanese are always worried about what the North Koreans have up their sleeve, but if the writing on the wall were legible, they would be more concerned about what’s going on in the south. If the 2009 Hyundai Genesis was a shot across the bow of Lexus and Infiniti, then the Genesis 5.0 R-spec may be a torpedo hit below the water, and speaking of which, even the Germans should take notice. Of course, we heard this before with the likes of the VW Phaeton, however that model tanked, so is the top-line Genesis biting off more than it can chew? Lets find out.
In my mind, the Phaeton was doomed to failure when VW decided to equip their new full-on luxury sedan with a full-sized price tag. Instead of following the same model, Hyundai stayed true to their value roots and created a luxury sedan with a Hyundai-sized price tag with the Genesis 3.8 and 4.6. What could be next from the boffins in Korea? The Genesis 5.0 R-Spec, a value-priced performance luxury sedan of course.
From the outside, the Genesis (in all trims) strikes most of the right cords with luxury shoppers that prefer flowing lines to sharp creases. While previous products from Korea have been more imitation than innovation, the Genesis both deviates from the theme yet clearly draws inspiration from Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Unlike some Kias we could mention, the overall look is distinctive enough (in my mind) that nobody would confuse it for anything else on the road. Neither however, would the casual observer ever confuse it for a Hyundai if it didn’t have the stylized H logo on the trunk. Styling mission accomplished (but like many buyers, I might remove that H badge when I got it home).
Of course, we’re here to talk about the performance part of the equation. The 5.0 R-Spec is an all-new trim in the Genesis family. AMG and M have little to worry about however as the Genesis 5.0 as Hyundai has no intention at present to compete head on with the balls-out performance sedans from Germany. So what is an “R-Spec”? Think Audi S rather than RS. While there is little outside to differentiate the 5.0 from its lesser models, a closer look reveals unique wheels, lower profile rubber, and upgraded brakes. Also new for 2012 are some new headlamps with a distinctive LED accent strip, new bumpers with integrated exhaust (ala the LS460) and new power-folding mirrors. The real change however, is under the hood where an all-new 429HP 376 lb-ft 5.0L direct injection V8 is mated to an all-new 8-speed automatic transmission. While that sentence sounds right at home in a review about a new Mercedes E550 or BMW 550i, the novelty in the room is that we’re talking about a Hyundai. This new engine and new transmission (the rest of the Genesis line-up also receives the 8-speed transmission for 2012) shows just how serious Hyundai is about playing with the big boys. Readers will probably recall Hyundai recently designed an all-new 6-speed transmission, now circular-filed in favor of this new octo-cog-swapper. That’s some serious R&D spending. For those who enjoy gear counting, note that this makes the 5.0 R-Spec one cog ahead of Mercedes.
If we digress for a moment, an open question to our readers from me: how much does the price tag change your perception of a car, all things being the same? Sound out in the comment section below.
On the inside, the Genesis R-Spec wears the same duds as the other Genesis models except that the color selection boils down to black or black: black-on-black dash, black faux wood and black seats with black carpet. The overall monochromatic theme struck me as an odd choice as I found it cheaper looking to my eye than the Genesis 3.8/4.6 models with the two-tone burgundy interior. Cost being a factor, the stitched pleather goodness found carefully sprinkled throughout the interior doesn’t extend to the dashboard top which looks a touch cheap when put right next to the stitched trim. Fortunately the fake wood is kept to a fair minimum and in some ways I don’t know if I mind too much as there are plenty of $100,000 luxury sedans sporting wood stained so dark it looks like plastic.
For 2012 the Genesis receives a new 3.8L V6, this time with direct-injection added to the variable valve train party. The new V6 cranks out a very respectable 333HP and 292lb-ft of twist at 6400RPM and 5100RPM respectively. The 4.6L Tau V8 is left unchanged for 2012, which seems like something of a pity since it still doesn’t benefit from direct injection. Of course the big reason for testing the mildly re-worked Genesis for 2012 is because of the new 5.0 R-Spec model, so let’s dive under that hood. The 5.0L V8 serves up 429HP at 6400RPM and 376lb-ft at 5000RPM, very healthy numbers considering it is tuned to run on regular 87 octane gasoline. Joining the new V8 is a sport tuned suspension and lower profile tires on 19-inch wheels. (The observant will note they are not any wider than the 4.6L V8’s rubbers)
Gadgets are an important part of any luxury sedan, and this is one area where Hyundai has left a few gizmos out to keep costs down. Compared to iDrive and Infiniti’s fairly slick touch screen system, Hyundai’s infotainment offering is a touch less functional and less intuitive. When pitted against Mercedes Command or Lexus’ aging system however, the Hyundai infotainment software scores highly for look and feel. Hyundai convinced Lexicon (purveyor of sound systems to Rolls Royce) to create the 528-watt, 17-speaker, 5.1-surround audio system. The stereo sounds great and the subwoofer certainly makes watching movies on the nav screen strangely entertaining, but it is a notch behind the maximum capabilities of the 1,000+ watt systems in the European competition.
Infiniti’s M can be had with more nannies than a pack of trust fund babies at the park, this is another area where the Genesis’ price point causes some compromises. The Genesis has lane departure warning but no lane departure prevention, radar cruise control but no blind spot warning system and of course it won’t park itself. Still, the gizmos Hyundai did select are a good balance in my mind. My only complaint about the cruise control system Hyundai used is that it will take you to a crawl but unlike the competition it won’t stop you or hold you at a stop. The integrated collision warning system is also a near miss for me, it’s not adjustable and by default it warns you so late by the time it beeps (faintly) and puts a small red logo in the instrument cluster (where it’s hard to see), it’s too late to do anything about the emergency. Also on the cutting room floor sits a cooled front passenger seat, heated steering wheel, and auto up/down windows for the rear. While these omissions bothered my esteemed co-worker Michael in his first take, I actually don’t mind as most people drive solo anyway and if I’m buying the car, I care about the driver most (me) and the bargain second. Option packages are a great way to drive up costs, so Hyundai decided to leave well enough alone making the R-Spec come only fully-loaded and in truth 98% of what luxury car buyers usually buy is there, and that’s saying something.
Out on the road the Genesis 5.0’s sport tuned active suspension (by SACHS) provides a ride that is noticeably firmer than the Genesis 4.6 yet is still on the softer side of the Euro competition. If you prefer floating on a cloud, you should opt for the softer riding Genesis 4.6 (or LS460) instead. If however you like corner carving, the BMW 550i is obviously your choice. Yet strangely enough the Genesis provides a good balance between the 550i and the LS460 with impressive BMW-like thrust and grip that’s somewhere between the two and fairly on par with the M56. The Hyundai 8-speed automatic is not as smooth as the ZF 8-speed Audi and BMW employ, but it is fairly similar in feel to the Lexus unit. Yet again the need to keep costs down and options non-existent means unlike the competition there is no AWD Genesis available. Driving purists will of course scoff at my love of four-wheel propulsion, but in the wet the Genesis has trouble applying all 429 ponies.
A comparably equipped Lexus LS460 Sport or Mercedes E550 easily crest $70,000, in this light the Hyundai is a screaming deal and gives up little for the $20,000+ delta in price (other than brand). The fact that you can even mention Hyundai, Lexus, Mercedes, Audi, Infiniti and BMW in the same sentence is something to behold. Saying that the Genesis 5.0 is better than the gaggle of luxury people-schlepers is something I just can’t say, but in many areas it is quite possibly just as good and yet I find myself saying a rare thing as I handed the Genesis back: this is a car I would buy myself. And that is where it departs from the VW Phaeton in my mind; the Phaeton is just too expensive for the badge, even for me.
The question we can’t answer here at TTAC is: can Hyundai convince luxury car buyers that they can get most of the same goodies on a $46K Hyundai as a $70K German or Japanese sedan? Even if that hurdle can be jumped, will the brand whores think twice? To those adventurous car shoppers who manage to look beyond brand perception however, they will find a car maker with the best warranty in the industry making reliable cars with a smidgen of style and a ‘whole lotta’ value. What kind of buyer are you? Are you buying that LS460 because it carries a $70,000 price tag, or because you like the way it coddles you? Are you buying the BMW for the roundel or for the 0-60 time? I would posit the Hyundai does all the above minus the badge.
Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Statistics as tested
0-60: 4.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.4 Seconds @ 106 MPH
Fuel Economy: 22.4 MPG over 689 miles