Luxury flagship enters its second generation with more style and an electric supercharger

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The original Genesis G90 (or EQ900 in its native South Korea) was the first model to carry the Genesis brand name when it debuted late in 2015.

The saloon came to North America almost a year later as a rival to the established large-luxury big-hitters – the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class – but has never been sold in Europe.

Despite the subsequent arrival on European shores of smaller models like the GV60 and G80, the all-new second-generation G90 won’t make it here either, unfortunately.

The new model clothes the established strengths of cosseting luxury and cutting-edge tech in a more attractive exterior package. The front end marries the brand’s familiar two-row LED headlights with a huge ‘crest’ grille. At the rear, there’s a whiff of Bentley in the C-pillars and Mercedes in the tapering rear deck. But overall it’s a cohesive and distinctive design.

The 5.0-litre petrol V8 has been replaced by two versions of a twin-turbocharged 3.5-litre petrol V6. The higher-powered version, tested here, is further boosted by an electric supercharger, its 48V battery pack taking the place of the spare wheel under the boot floor. Maximum power is 409bhp, up from 375bhp for the base engine, but the real benefit of e-supercharging is that peak torque is available from a lowly 1300rpm.

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The G90’s greatest asset is its cabin, which is a clear step up even from the impressive G80's. The quilted Nappa leather seats are soft but supportive. The distinctive, repurposed-wood-and-newspaper trim around the dashboard and doors, microfibre suede headlining, deep-pile carpets, jewel-like rotary shifter and chevron-engraved aluminium switches all contribute to the overwhelming sense of quality.

There’s technology aplenty yet no clutter. A 12.3in digital instrument panel is aesthetically integrated with the main infotainment screen, while a third, smaller screen lower down takes care of the HVAC controls. Hyundai’s latest multimedia and driver-assistance technologies lurk beneath Genesis-specific graphics. Among the audio system’s 23 Bang & Olufsen speakers are tweeters at the base of the screen that rises stealthily from their housings upon start-up.

Rear passengers are naturally afforded the first-class treatment in a car made for chauffeuring, with acres of leg room, reclining seats with footrests and individual touchscreens. As you’re wafted from place to place, the Mood Curator changes the cabin ambience by adjusting the lighting, rear window blinds, music, fragrance and massage function. The prospect of tinkling piano or smooth jazz may sound kitsch, but in practice the function sets a relaxing tone that’s completely in keeping with the car.

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Dynamically, the G90 knows its job and executes to a tee. Progress is serene, even on 21in wheels. Isolation from the outside world is almost total and the air-sprung, multi-link set-up makes a surface showing decades of decay feel like it was recently repaved. The trade-off is a little roll in sharp cornering, but the G90 doesn’t wallow.

The steering is well-judged, with decent weight and a response that’s in keeping with the car’s size and mass. Rear-wheel steering aids stability and usefully tightens the turning circle. The G90 is made to be driven in, but if you choose to drive it, you won’t be disappointed.

The G90 has always been competitively priced against the established opposition, and despite a price rise for the new model, even the range-topper we drove remains cheaper than the entry-level S-Class. For the money, you get a handsome, opulent, beautifully built saloon that offers something different to the traditional segment heavyweights – perfect, we suspect, for Genesis’s professed hard-to-please target market of ‘luxury disruptors’.

Graham Heeps

More importantly: what is the Genesis G90 like from the back seat?

While the Genesis G90 is unlikely to come to the UK, it’s certainly selling well in its home market of Korea. Genesis doesn’t break down its sales numbers by model or region, but it has admitted that the bulk of its sales in its seven years of existence to date – which will top a million cars later this year – are made in its home market. During my recent trip there this week, the G90 was a regular sight on the roads.

This trip also provided a chance to spend many hours in the back of a G90 - where most owners will spend their time, as they're usually chauffeured around.

What strikes you first is just how much space there is back there, whether you're in the standard model or the gargantuan long-wheelbase one, which adds a further 19cm to the car’s length and provides Rolls-Royce-rivalling levels of leg room.

The materials, fit and finish are all top-notch too. From the deep-pile carpet on the floor through to massage seats and plump head cushions, the first impressions are very much on par with those of enjoying an S-Class – the current and long-time market-leader – for the first time.

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It really is that comfortable, and the experience is backed up by some superb technology, from the high-definition screen arrangements to the ultra-impressive 23-speaker stereo, created in conjunction with Bang & Olufsen. Its performance is extraordinary and as good an expression of intent as you could wish for.

The G90 has plenty of shove, too, power provided by a 375bhp 3.5-litre turbo petrol V6, boosted to 409bhp when accompanied by the 48V e-supercharger system on the long-wheelbase model. Along with its eight-speed automatic gearbox, it's smooth and reasonably refined in normal use, and it provides prodigious acceleration when needed. You should expect sub 20mpg, however.

Rear-wheel steering, meanwhile, helps manoeuvrability if you're dropped off in a tight spot and stability if you're weaving between lanes on the motorway.

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So far, so good. But where the cracks show is with familiarity; where the G90 is strong, often the S-Class (and rivals) is sublime. The established class-leader is a more complete package, the fact that it has been refined over many generations most evident in terms of its noise isolation, especially from the rear wheels, nearest to where the passenger sits, and ride comfort. On a Korean set-up and Korean roads (which frankly look much like ours), there were too many intrusions from lumps and bumps that a German luxury car would have batted off without breaking a sweat.

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Maybe you can be forgiving of that given the price, which ranges from about £62,000 to £115,000, depending on spec. That seriously undercuts German rivals, although - given what will likely be viewed among ultra-wealthy or privileged buyers as a commensurate deficit -  it also raises the risk of it being beloved by upmarket taxi firms more than the upper classes.

Genesis will make a final decision on whether to sell the G90 in Europe based on the cost of modifications required to suit the roads and customer tastes versus potential profits from sales and the marketing boost from pitching a rival against the flagship models from the German brands that have traditionally dominated the segment.

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Given that it has invested in a bespoke platform for the car, any extra volume would presumably be welcome. But if it's to be a brand-builder and a staple of the market, the company’s bosses will need to take the challenge seriously.

Genesis has produced several decent cars already, including the near-sublime GV60 electric SUV. The G90 is a worthy flagship for that line-up. But in this sector of the market the level of competition is something else again.

That it has produced a credible challenger so early in its existence is to Genesis’s immense credit, but for now the G90's capabilities are as much a reminder of the gap to the opposition that still needs to be spanned as they are of just how credible the brand has become in such a short space of time.

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