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What is it?
This is the Hyundai Genesis, the rear-wheel driven executive saloon that the Korean firm is offering up to rival BMW’s 5-series, Mercedes’ new E-class, Audi’s A6 and Lexus’ GS. A brave car indeed, then. But is it a sacrificial lamb or a revelation?
Hyundai launched this car in other parts of the world a year ago, but because it won’t be officially sold in Europe, now is our first chance to drive one in Britain. It’s a range-topping 375bhp 4.6-litre V8 that Hyundai Motor Europe has brought over for evaluation purposes.
What’s it like?
Hyundai’s marketing material described this car as “5-series sized, with a 7-series-sized cabin and a 3-series-sized price tag”. It’s certainly roomy and, in the US, is priced from $37,250 – that’s just under £24,000 at the current exchange rate – where a V8-powered BMW 5-series or Mercedes E-class costs a clear $60k without options.
From the kerbside, the Genesis certainly looks a bit forgettable though. That’s not to say it isn’t smart and contemporary, but the aesthetic does absolutely nothing to attract your attention. But that’s probably exactly as Hyundai intended; it must want nothing more than for this car to be accepted as ‘one of the crowd’. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that they didn’t even bother to put a badge on the front of it.
But slide aboard and the driver’s door thunks shut behind you with an expensive-sounding air of authority. A large leather and veneer steering wheel juts towards you in front of a two-tone grey and cream dashboard wrapped in leather and soft-touch plastics. Every surface has a costly-looking grain; every stalk and button moves with tactile impressiveness. So far, so very good indeed.
Thumb the starter button and the car’s 4.6-litre ‘Tau’ V8 starts to spin away distantly. Drag the gearlever down into ‘D’, release the footbrake. The wheel feels slow, heavy and inert at low speeds, but it’s precise and consistent, and effectively reminds you of the size of the five-metre hulk you’re steering.
There’s remarkably little noise from either the chassis or the engine while you’re bumbling around town; little more when you’re coursing down the motorway. At both urban and cross-country cruising speeds, in fact, the Genesis produces the same vault-like feel as a petrol-powered Lexus LS or Mercedes S-class. Ninety-nine per cent of the time you simply can’t hear either its motor or its suspension in action; there’s a little road and tyre roar and the faintest suggestion of wind noise – that’s all. Thank what Hyundai describes as an exceptionally stiff bodyshell for that.
Head off the multi-lane stuff and seek out some curves and bumps to challenge this car’s dynamic repertoire that bit more. Our test car isn’t altogether happy to be hustled along a back road; it’s on US chassis settings that leave it too softly sprung and under-damped for British roads. Still, it turns in well, and has decent balance for such a big car. The powertrain’s commendable too, with plenty of power high up in the rev range, and the same excellent six-speed ZF automatic gearbox you’ll find in so many other premium saloons.
Go faster and the picture deteriorates though. The Genesis’ consistency of steering weight and precision disintegrates without too much provocation, kicking back nastily over surface disturbances, and its stability control system intervenes with all the subtlety of an angry customs official before it allows you to learn too much about the car’s limit handling behaviour. This is clearly not a car for particularly keen drivers.
Should I buy one?
Unless you get one on a personal import, you can’t. Hyundai’s projected European sales for this car don’t justify the costs of putting it through the type approval process, let alone converting it for right-hand drive. But that’s a great shame, because there’s a great deal to recommend the Genesis.
This car is very well-built, well-appointed, generously kitted out and much more refined than you’d credit considering that it’s Hyundai’s first proper luxury saloon. It’s nothing original, of course; in lots of ways it’s a pretty slavish copy of a Lexus LS.
But a Lexus LS460 costs £61,000 here in Britain, and were Hyundai to put the Genesis V8 on sale here, it would likely cost little more than half that.