Voted 2009 North American Car of the Year at the 2009 Detroit auto show, the Hyundai Genesis 4.6 sedan that arrived in our garage had a lot to live up to. We were ready to cast aside biases based on our experience with previous Hyundai cars and see if the Genesis really could come up to the level of luxury set by brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Apparently, Hyundai is aware of its image problem, as there is no H badge on the front of the car. It seems Hyundai wants you to judge the car for what it is before you know what kind it is.
The Genesis does an excellent job of asserting Hyundai's new image, with cabin materials consistent with a luxury car and a very smooth-running power train. But it does have a few shortcomings. Cabin tech is equivalent to Lexus circa 2005, and is blown away by the similarly priced Lincoln MKS. The suspension is fine on smooth surfaces, but reveals harshness when the road gets rough. The handling is fine for a luxury car, but it doesn't come up to the level of sport luxury.
On the road
Although we drove the 2009 Hyundai Genesis over a number of roads, we're highlighting one particular road test here, a drive through San Francisco to the Presidio. The Genesis proved very maneuverable in the crowded downtown streets of San Francisco. The steering is tuned to require a little effort to turn, which may not be completely luxury-oriented, but we liked the deliberateness it gave to our quick lane changes.
Doing the zigzag course that is downtown SF, the power from the 4.6-liter V-8 came in handy. Moderate power was always on tap to push us easily into traffic openings, but quick launches were held back by the transmission's hesitant kickdown. Moving away from the heart of the city onto clearer roads, we enjoyed the peace and quiet in the cabin. That is, until we grabbed the console controller, an iDrive-like joystick/button/dial, and explored the music on our connected iPod.
Just like on the Hyundai Sonata we tested last year, the 2009 Genesis has an iPod/USB connection that gives full browsing capabilities. We selected an album encoded in Apple's lossless format and were blown away by the audio quality from the car's Lexicon stereo system. Sounds were coming from the speakers that we rarely heard on these tracks, background and layered sounds that get lost in lesser systems. Its bass was strong, without being overwhelming, and the clarity was amazing. Of course, with 17 speakers, a 525 watt amplifier, and the same Logic 7 audio processing as you get in BMWs, we would expect it to be good.
We also admired the maps on the navigation system, which used high-resolution graphics on the large LCD. It was a sunny day, but glare wasn't a problem. As we paralleled Lombard Street, which also serves as Highway 101 through San Francisco, green indicators on the map showed traffic was flowing freely, although it got yellow just before the Golden Gate Bridge, meaning traffic was moving between 20 mph and 40 mph.
The quality of the streets varied substantially along the route we took, from smooth asphalt to pock-marked pavement that looked as if a tank had driven over it. Although the Genesis damped out the bumps quickly, keeping the car from bouncing around, we felt quite a few harsh jolts, with one particularly strong bash when we got a little playful with the acceleration. A Mercedes-Benz S-class floats over rough stuff like this, but the Genesis revealed that it's not quite up to that level.
In the cabin
A mixture of wood, leather, and metal adorns the cabin of the 2009 Hyundai Genesis, giving it a look like no other Hyundai, and strengthening the luxury impression. The soft plastics on top and bottom of the dashboard bring the quality quotient down just a little, and it gets worse when you run your hand over the simple cloth headliner, which on a Lexus would be a nice velvety material.
We were impressed by the metal switchgear on console and stack, with a controller new for Hyundai. Buttons surround the multidirectional knob, giving you quick access to navigation, telephone, and different audio sources. From that list of functions, you can tell the Genesis is loaded with tech. The onscreen menus for controlling the cars applications look good and are intuitive to use, with a vertical cascading architecture for drilling down to particular functions. The controller is complemented by a voice command system, which works reasonably well. Saying "help" shows you available commands, making it possible to learn the system as you use it. Entering an address, it only took a couple of tries for it to understand the street name "Tehama."