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Hyundai's premium brand arrives in the UK with a luxurious saloon to take on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class

What is it?

Some thirty-one years after Lexus famously tried to smash its way into it with a little-known and much-dismantled Japanese limousine called the LS 400, the European luxury car market must still seem like that toughest of tough nuts, just lying there uncracked on the table, for so many aspiring global car manufacturers that remain on the outside looking in.

Even after so long, Toyota’s aforementioned premium brand seems still to be engaged in the gradual process of establishing itself on our continent. After a couple of expensive attempts, Renault-Nissan’s latecomer equivalen, Infiniti, gave up trying. Cadillac and Chrysler both tried too, you may dimly remember. Neither stuck.

Back in the present, the view from the inside isn’t much rosier. The Stellantis group’s French luxury specialist DS is floundering to make headway, and yet it struggles on. Even established European brands with bigger names, such as Alfa Romeo and Jaguar, have to be content to tread water at the moment. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are just dominating the scene like never before, leaving so little room for others to find a chink of light in which to grow - athough one or two (Tesla, Volvo) are just about managing to do so.

Why, then, would the Hyundai Motor Group choose now to launch its own luxury brand, Genesis, in Europe? Why bother at all? The answer may partly be because Genesis is aiming to do luxury motoring differently than its competitors; and differently, also, from how Infiniti tried to do it not so long ago (some of the key people who were involved with Infiniti’s bid are now employed at Genesis Europe, funnily enough).

But there’s another reason; there would have to be. The European launch of Genesis is driven, at the highest levels of the Hyundai Motor Group’s management, by a desire for recognition.

Hyundai chairman Euisun Chung is Genesis's greatest advocate within his company, or so group insiders whisper - and he wants respect; not so much personally but for the firm he represents. He wants to operate in a world in which he can engage with his opposite-number executives from Toyota and the Teutonically controlled BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen groups as an equal. A world where Genesis has demonstrated that the conglomerate he controls can produce truly world-class, technologically sophisticated, desirable and commercially successful luxury vehicles, and his top-table seat in industry power-brokering is as secure as anyone’s. Luxury cars, as the big boss sees it, may be the final piece of the Hyundai Motor Group’s development puzzle.

The other key thing to know about Genesis is that it isn’t starting from scratch in its mission to succeed in Europe where so many have failed. Having been founded as a brand in 2015 in South Korea, it was worth 130,000 global registrations to the Hyundai Motor Group in 2020 - and that was before being rolled out in China.

It arrives on our continent with an initial range of two models - the Audi A6-sized G80 saloon tested here and the Q7-sized, seven-seat GV80 SUV - and its line-up is due to swell to more than five before the middle of 2022. Several electric options will be among them.

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What's it like?

Whether you’re the driver of a BMW 3 Series, a Land Rover Discovery Sport, an Audi A4 Avant or a Tesla Model S, then, there should soon be a Genesis for you. So, will you want one? One of the reasons you might is a simplified, customer-focused, online-led buying experience that has been designed for those left feeling undervalued as customers of certain other luxury brands - and we all know someone fitting that description. Genesis will be a service-led operator, it claims. It’s set to have a limited number of ‘studio’ dealerships around the UK, but owners needn’t actually set foot in any one of them, at any stage of their ownership experience, if they don’t want to. Genesis will come to you. 

Having configured your car online, you can have one brought to you for test drive; and then another one, if you like. Later, your 'Genesis personal assistant' will deliver your own car if you order one (and they won’t work on sales commission, apparently); then collect it every time it needs a service and leave you with a courtesy car when you need one. Time is the greatest modern luxury of all, according to Genesis’s philosophy - and no luxury car will give you back more of your own time or be easier to own than one of its own, it claims. Sounds… well, different, doesn’t it?

And what about the cars? Genesis claims that bold design, market-leading technology, outstanding onboard luxury and ‘refined performance’ will be the hallmarks of its products in daily use. The G80 represents most of them impressively well but, at heart, it isn't really a bold or innovative luxury car all; it's a conventional saloon with some interesting technology on it.

The mid-sized saloon comes with the choice of a 2.2-litre, 207bhp four-cylinder diesel engine in a rear-wheel-drive chassis or a 2.5-litre, 300bhp turbocharged four-pot petrol engine mated to four-wheel drive (we tested the latter). An all-electric version with 365bhp is slated for launch later this year. All cars are steel-coil-sprung and get active dampers managed by cameras that read the road surface up ahead.

The G80 is unlikely to feel like a sports saloon to anyone, however it’s configured. Genesis is quite clearly leaving the luxury market’s ruling powers to cater to those with a taste for faster and more entertaining driving and is instead going after customers who would rather be cosseted, couched and eased down the road than hurried or stimulated.

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The G80 is a modern luxury saloon, like the Lexus ES, Mercedes-Benz E-Class or Volvo S90, then: not a sporting executive option like the A6, BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF. It’s spacious and feels lavish, particularly so if you’re travelling in the back seats of a high-end version with nappa leather and rear seat entertainment screens. It has really substantial tactile quality and material richness, and all of the very latest digital infotainment and display technology that you would expect of it. It’s gentle-riding and isolating on the move, with fairly light and moderately-paced controls.

Genesis offers double-glazing for the car’s frontal side windows as standard, and for the rear ones as an option (which our test car had). It’s a car with active noise-cancelling electronic refinement measures also; and in four-cylinder petrol-engined form, it sets a very high standard indeed for mechanical isolation. Rolling refinement in our test car’s case, which rode on 20in alloy wheels, was generally good, if a little subject to the slightest coarseness and the faintest fidget over poorer surfaces around town. But overall, the sense of calm apparent within the G80’s cabin is genuinely striking. Few saloons in the mid-sized class feel quite as dedicated to a detached, relaxing, easy driving experience as this. 

The G80’s 2.5-litre petrol engine is flexible and smooth, making for a fairly strong outright performance level when called upon, and always for easy drivability. The eight-speed automatic gearbox it’s partnered with, meanwhile, matches it for smoothness. It can be managed on the paddles in manual mode, but the occasions when you would likely feel the need to do so ought to be few.

The G80’s handling is secure, contained and predictable; a little unexciting and lacking in sporting poise, with roll building quite markedly as you approach the chassis’ limits. It’s sufficiently grippy and composed, however, to allow you to use as much of the car’s gently potent performance level as you feel inclined most of the time. It isn’t engaging to drive, but it certainly doesn’t suffer with body control so loose or unchecked that it seems encumbered by its apparent preference for a laid-back style of operation.

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Should I buy one?

The G80 seems, in so many ways, like a luxury car for those who’ve had their fill of so many modern premium options; who are ready for something that fits into their life a bit more easily and discreetly than they’re used to, but which defines them a bit less starkly than others might, and that could even make them feel a bit wiser and more grown up for choosing it. That's much too sensible a prospect to ever catch on in a big way, clearly. But it’s different.

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Nicholas Pike 10 June 2021

Based on my experience of owning the previous model for 5 years, I cannot wait to get my hands on the new G80, and especially the very powerful EV version. But what an oportunity lost. The rest of the world gets a 3.5L, V6 twin turbo engine, and we get an in-line 4. WHY???? Also, I hope there is a choice of wheels as the one's shown look aweful.

 

spencerfaber 9 June 2021
The generations of the 60s, 70s and 80s had a dream: to study, work and earn a lot of money to buy a nice car, enjoy life, then get married and have children. His idols were Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd, ACDC, The Rolling Stones, U2, jazz bands and other geniuses of musical and political history. Today this new generation idolizes Greta Thunberg. How horrible.
spencerfaber 9 June 2021
Today's Genesis cars are really amazing, with great quality and high technology. But beating the German trio BMW, MB and Audi is mission impossible. But it has a good chance of surpassing Volvo and Lexus. Too bad this new generation of young people are alienated and don't care about cars. This new generation of young people only thinks about TikTok, bums, they don't care about making money and they are politically correct. It's the end of the World.

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