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Hyundai luxury brand’s UK launch continues with a rear-driven executive saloon

The main question with any new model from a new brand like Genesis inevitably is: what is it?

With the G70, Hyundai’s premium luxury spin-off brand wants to take the fight to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. So the short answer is ‘a compact executive saloon’, but it appears that even Genesis itself has gone back and forth on what exactly it wants the G70 to be.

Thin, quad LED lights front and rear are a Genesis signature, and much more distinctive than the pre-facelift car’s more traditional projector items. You will need the Innovation Pack for these matrix LED headlights

You see, even though it is introduced as an all-new car over here, it is actually a facelift – albeit a pretty major one – of the G70 that was introduced in the US in 2018. That was very clearly positioned as the keen driver’s choice, even offering the option of a manual gearbox, which, especially in the US, still shows you’re serious about appealing to the driving enthusiast.

The trouble is, making a car with a dynamic chassis that appeals to the driving enthusiast is by no means a guarantee of commercial success: just ask Alfa Romeo and Jaguar how the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE are doing. Consequently, Genesis’s other offerings in Europe, such as the Genesis GV80 SUV we road tested in September, have been positioned squarely in the luxury corner.

As the G70 undergoes our full road test, we ask whether it has the ultimate luxury to trouble the C-Class or the poise to out-handle the 3 Series, or indeed whether it will be filed under ‘likeable also-rans’ with the Giulia and XE.

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The G70 line-up at a glance

Genesis doesn’t do hybrids and plans to stick with petrol and diesel until it can go fully electric. As such, G70 buyers can choose between a 2.0-litre petrol, which comes with two different power outputs, and a 2.2-litre diesel. There are three trim levels, or ‘lines’: Premium, Luxury and Sport.

The low-output petrol engine can only be had with Premium Line, while the higher-output petrol demands at least Luxury Line. All come with the same in-house eight-speed torque-converter automatic.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Genesis G70

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Genesis G70 2021 road test review side pan

From the off, it’s looking like the G70’s sports saloon ambitions have taken a back seat. That much-touted manual gearbox is nowhere to be found, and nor is the potent 3.3-litre V6 that is offered in the US. Instead, we get to choose from 194bhp and 241bhp versions of a 2.0-litre turbo petrol and a 197bhp 2.2-litre diesel, as tested here. All are rear-wheel drive and paired with an eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox that was developed in-house.

Despite the modest 18in wheels on our Luxury Line car, there are plenty of sporty cues. The slightly generic headlights of the pre-facelift model have been replaced with Genesis’s signature twin LED slits and, together with the ‘crest’ grille and multitude of character lines and creases, there is a certain arachnoid aggression to the design. Regardless of the detailing, in a world of SUVs, there is something refreshing about a classically proportioned three-box saloon with a long bonnet and a low profile. To show that Genesis is serious about succeeding in Europe, there is also a Shooting Brake version, even if the rear end looks a little tacked on, with more than a hint of mid-noughties Subaru Impreza estate about it.

The chrome tips may be a little oversized, but at least the exhaust is real. Diesel G70s get two pipes, while petrol models get oval ones either side of the bumper.

Mechanically, there are a fair few holdovers from the G70’s sports saloon ambitions, too. Genesis’s literature proudly talks about how the G70 underwent confirmation testing at the Nürburgring and, while our 197bhp diesel is not going to set any new lap records there, all G70s come on fairly sporty tyres. Base models get Bridgestone Potenzas and Sport Line petrols’ 19in wheels are shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, the same as on a Porsche 911 GT3. On those Sport Line trims, Genesis will even throw in a limited-slip differential and upgrade the single-piston brakes to Brembo four-pot items on the front and two-piston calipers on the rear.

The core platform is a relatively known quantity. Developed specifically for Genesis models, we actually first saw it in Europe under the Kia Stinger. It is fundamentally the same in all other current Genesis models, with MacPherson struts at the front, a multi-link at the rear and rear-wheel drive. The platform does allow for all-wheel drive, but all G70s in the UK are rear drive only.

The structure uses mainly high-strength steel, and while there is some aluminium in the bonnet and suspension strut tower reinforcement bars, our diesel G70 with half a tank of fuel still weighed in at a porky 1751kg on Millbrook’s scales. It’s worth bearing in mind that modern compact saloons aren’t actually that compact any more, but it’s still more than 100kg heavier than a comparable BMW 3 Series 320d.

INTERIOR

15 Genesis G70 2021 road test review cabin

Nowhere is it more apparent that the ‘new’ G70 is actually a facelift of a four-year-old design than the interior. Where the brand-new 80 series and the G70’s SUV cousin, the Genesis GV70, have a very distinct and original style of their own, the G70’s interior is slightly reminiscent of an Audi from about 10 years ago.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course: the materials are generally beyond reproach, while all upper surfaces are covered in leather, synthetic leather, aluminium or at least plastic that does a passable impression of metal. If there is anything to complain about, it’s that the non-nappa leather is a little coarse, and some might miss the option of wood trim.

Having lots of buttons in the centre console is a plus in our book. As with all the other materials, they feel pleasing to the touch

A big benefit of looking slightly less modern is that the centre console is populated by rows of chunky buttons for infotainment shortcuts, the climate controls and the heated and cooled seats and heated steering wheel, so they’re easy to prod on the move. Apart from the infotainment, those don’t come as standard on the entry-level Premium Line, though, so expect an old-fashioned row of blank switches in the cheapest G70s.

As is the norm in a premium saloon, the materials in the back mirror those in the front. Also typical are the leg and head room, which are pretty tight in absolute terms. Six-footers will be brushing the headliner and, despite the cutouts, will have their knees against the seat in front. But that’s normal for the class and very similar to a BMW 3 Series or Audi A4.

The boot offers marginally more surface area than German rivals, but there’s not as much height, so the total volume measures only 330 litres. The estate will obviously remedy that but, at 465 litres, it’s still on the small side. To make matters worse, the boot opening is quite narrow in both versions. The rear seats do fold flat as standard, with almost no step and a fairly even opening, but the seatbacks can only be released from the cabin using some flimsy-feeling handles.

One feature we particularly liked was the hands-free boot opening function. There is, of course, a button to electrically open the bootlid, but instead of a system where you wave your foot under the bumper, the G70 detects if you are approaching with the key and after a few beeps and flashes of the lights will open the boot. We found it worked very reliably.

Infotainment and sat-nav

When we drove the Genesis GV80, we thought the multimedia system was a model of usability, aping the BMW strategy of combining a touchscreen with a rotary controller and plenty of shortcut buttons. The G70 has largely the same system but loses half a star because it is touchscreen only and because it can be a little laggy.

Other than that, it looks slick, the screen is big and everything works logically enough. The built-in navigation is worth using, with directions showing in the head-up display as well, but there is also Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay, which are well integrated. You get three programmable buttons, too, but sadly none of them can be programmed to turn off the intrusive lane keeping assistance.

Our car had the £790 Lexicon audio system with its classy metal speaker grilles. However, we’d probably save that money as it sounds a little thin for a pricey premium sound system.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

With its slightly higher power output but more weight to lug around, the G70 diesel gets very close to the 320d’s performance figures under similar dry conditions. Torquing the engine on the brakes in Sport+ mode activates a launch control function, which gets the car off the line very effectively and on to 60mph in 7.2sec. It also falls just 0.2sec short of its quoted 0-62 time of 7.4sec.

Those are respectable if unspectacular numbers, and that bears out subjectively, with the engine feeling willing and not sounding strained throughout most of the rev range but running out of puff a little at the top end. It’s not the quietest diesel around, sounding quite clattery on a chilly morning, but once warmed up, it didn’t bother our testers.

Genesis no doubt hopes the 3 Series rival will appeal to those seeking something different, but its brand of ‘refined performance’ offers little that’s not been seen before

However, where BMW has the calibration of its eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearboxes down to a fine art, the transmission in the Genesis is a less willing accomplice to the engine. It shouldn’t have to be that way; the company develops its own gearboxes and the unit in the Genesis GV80 was near faultless.

In general, it’s perfectly smooth and responsive, but when you gradually ask for full power rather than matting the pedal in one go, the software can be reluctant to take the low gear that it should. Selecting the Sport driving mode doesn’t make much of a difference, while Sport+ will just keep the engine spinning 1000rpm too high in normal cruising.

Using the paddles isn’t the most dynamic experience, either: they feel nice and hefty, but there’s no dedicated manual mode and the software will eventually take back control. Using the paddles in Sport+ also introduces a weird lurch to upshifts, presumably to simulate the excitement of fast shifts, but the best automated gearboxes don’t need to resort to such overcompensation and just get on with it.

Judging by our numbers, the standard braking set-up with single-piston calipers will be enough for most people. Its performance is very close to the 320d’s and the pedal felt responsive and reassuring at all times without being too soft or grabby.

RIDE & HANDLING

27 Genesis G70 2021 road test review cornering front

At the start of this road test, we wondered whether the European G70 would stay true to its original billing as a sports saloon or follow its more recent range-mates and prove to be a comfy cruiser. In practice and on British roads, it’s a slightly muddled recipe.

There is without a doubt a talented and balanced chassis hiding in there and rear-wheel drive and performance tyres mean you rarely worry about traction or grip on dry roads, either. However, it lacks the ultimate polish of the BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE.

The ‘blind spot view monitor', which replaces the tacho with the view from a camera down the side of the car when you turn on the indicators, is so elegantly useful that you wonder why no one else does it.

The G70 turns in keenly, but the steering is the first element that lets it down. It responds in a linear fashion, but it’s too light, slightly vague and on the road fairly mute, which can leave you second-guessing your inputs.

Most road surfaces are dealt with in a natural fashion, with body control that is generally tight, particularly resisting roll well. On bad road surfaces, it will start to fidget and shimmy where an XE would glide calmly over the same bumps. Luxury Line and Sport Line cars get adaptive dampers, but the effect on either ride or handling of changing the driving mode is close to imperceptible.

None of this is at all bad. The Genesis is a pleasant car to drive down a twisty road, and drivers coming from lower segments or SUVs will still perceive it as a step up, but in the face of competition like the Alfa Romeo Giulia, XE or 3 Series, the G70 fails to bring anything new to the table.

Track performance

The G70 is not a track car, but the Kia Stinger has proved their shared platform’s potential. Indeed, a few laps of Millbrook revealed a balanced, if not especially engaging, chassis. Thanks in part to ContiSportContact 5 tyres that are the same 225 section front and rear, it turns in eagerly and can be adjusted on a trailing throttle through longer sweepers.

Big compressions are taken without fuss and without upsetting the stability control, and you can be confident that the car is always on your side, even though you won’t feel it through the steering. Loading it up in corners means some feedback eventually filters through, but it’s just too light and mute. With everything on, the traction control is cautious to the point of being intrusive, but it is possible to just relax the traction control without defeating everything. That will allow some wheel slip without letting the car go sideways, which is a better compromise. You can also turn everything off using a button on the centre console.

Ride comfort and isolation

If the G70 doesn’t convince as a sports saloon, it does do better as a luxury cruiser. The tight body control means the G70 can feel busy on rougher surfaces. It’s not excessive, though, and far preferable to the lolling floatiness of the Genesis GV80 SUV. The secondary ride is imperfect too, but not to a bothersome degree.

Noise insulation, meanwhile, is on point. On our test car’s smaller wheels, it was a few decibels quieter than the 320d at every speed except at full power in fourth gear, where it matched the BMW. That’s consistent with our subjective impressions of a car that is very quiet at a cruise but has a diesel engine that is marginally noisier than some others.

The seats contribute to the luxurious picture. They’re broad and supportive, and lumbar adjustment comes as standard. The driving position is sound, with plenty of adjustment, though you can’t get the seat all the way down on the floor. Taller drivers should consider the Comfort Seat Pack, which adds electric cushion extension.

All G70s get Genesis’s full suite of active safety features with the exception of the optional but very useful ‘blind spot view monitor’, which replaces the speedo or tacho with a blindspot camera when you turn on the indicator. On the motorway, the lane keeping assistance and blindspot assistance work imperceptibly until they are needed. On rural roads, the lane assist is particularly meddlesome, though, and it takes two button presses, three taps of the screen and a swipe to turn it off. We’ll reserve judgement on the adaptive cruise control, as our car had some error messages and didn’t perform entirely consistently. Previous experience of Genesis systems suggests it should work reasonably well, though.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Genesis G70 2021 road test review hero front

At £35,860 for a diesel in basic Premium Line trim, the G70 looks like fairly good value as it’s fitted with a reasonable level of standard equipment (a comparable 320d costs a few thousand pounds more). However, certain desirable options come only as part of very expensive packs.

If you don’t want leatherette upholstery or gloss black trim, you’ll need to pay £5450 more for Luxury Line, though that does also add 18in wheels, heated seats and steering wheel, an electric bootlid and adaptive dampers. Meanwhile, the seat cushion extension only comes as part of the £1850 Comfort Seat Pack, which itself is not available with Premium Line. Spec a 320d to match our car and it’s barely more expensive. It doesn’t get better on PCP finance, with particularly pessimistic residual values explaining the G70’s expensive monthly rates.

CAP’s experts project that the BMW will be worth more in its second year than the Genesis in its first year.

The fuel economy doesn’t make up for it, either. During our test, we managed an MPG in the low 40s. Not a disaster, but we’ve come to expect better in this class.

Genesis’s unusual way of selling cars might appeal to you, though. It has no dealers but a brand store in London, with a few more on the way, where the prices are the same as online and the customer service reps don’t work on sales commission. Test drives can be arranged at home, though only in select regions for now.

If you buy a Genesis, you are also assigned a ‘personal assistant’, who can help with any enquiries and who will arrange home vehicle collections for servicing, which is free for five years or 50,000 miles. The warranty also lasts for five years but is not limited by mileage.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Genesis G70

VERDICT

29 Genesis G70 2021 road test review static

The compact premium saloon class can be very lucrative, which is why so many manufacturers have tried, and generally failed, to challenge the German three. But where the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE at least offered superior driving dynamics, and the Lexus ES the promise of iron-clad Toyota reliability, the Genesis G70 wants for a USP. Genesis’s more personal way of selling cars could be one but, on balance, the lack of an easily accessible dealer network might be as much of a downside.

Other than the challenging price point, there is very little about the G70 that should stop you from buying one. The design language is original, the ride and handling are tidy, it has a sumptuous interior that’s well put together and there is a small but straightforward and convincing range of engines.

The base Premium Line represents the best value for money, but you miss out on leather, the option of better seats and the more powerful petrol engine. A lightly optioned Luxury Line is a good compromise

The G70 is a characterful take on a familiar recipe, but that’s unlikely to be enough to convince the notoriously loyal buyers of German saloons to try something different, as it doesn’t offer any knockout reasons why it’s better than what we know already. File as likeable also-ran, then.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Genesis G70

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Genesis G70 First drives