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2012 Hyundai Genesis

Review: Genesis offers luxury at a discount Add to ...

The first attempt at a South Korean Cadillac, a Mercedes for the masses if you will, met with critical acclaim and so-so sales.

In response, Hyundai has polished up its Genesis luxury sedan for a relaunch as a 2012 model.

The debut Genesis earned plaudits as 2009 Canadian Car of The Year, North American Car of The Year, a Consumer Reports magazine top-rated vehicle in the upscale sedan category, a Top Safety Pick according to the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2009-10-11.

But Canadian sales topped out the first year around 1,200, and fell to about 1,000 last year.

“We do okay, we need to do better,” Michael Ricciuto, Hyundai Canada’s national manager, product and strategic planning, said of the car’s share of luxury, rear-drive sales, responding to Globe Drive’s Michael Vaughan questioning the car’s significance at an introductory press conference.

“Our whole philosophy now is we can move people up,” added Steve Kelleher, company president and CEO. “We look at this almost as a relaunch of Genesis. We’re going to put a lot of effort into it. This now is a priority for us.”

How different is the 2012 model from 2011? Hyundai uses both “redesigned” and “refreshed” to describe what it has rendered. Significant engine and transmission developments are the major advances, with styling sleight-of-hand revisions a minor, if appealing, part of the story.

Whatever your reaction to the still rather generic luxury car appearance, the revised Genesis proves to be a treat on the high desert two-laners outside Sin City as well as the freeways closer to town. At $39,999, Hyundai undeniably is successful in delivering luxury at a discount.

Comparisons with competing models from Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Infiniti and Lexus are complimentary with Hyundai’s V-6 now rated at 333 horsepower – an increase of 43 hp over the 2011 model – and its larger V-8 at 429 hp, up 44. The European luxury marques’ base engines don’t come close, although Infiniti and Lexus do fall just short of the Genesis V-6.

The new eight-speed automatic transmission also was developed in-house and tops the Mercedes-Benz E350’s seven-speed in the race for more gears (contributing to highway fuel economy and, seemingly, luxury car cachet).

The V-6-powered model will be the better choice over the V-8 for most luxury buyers because its softer ride doesn’t come at the cost of sloppy handling and the power is ample. And with premium and technology packages added, stepping up the price to $44,999 and $49,499, this Genesis need not lack any of the features of the $53,499 V-8 R-Spec.

That said, the R-Spec is fast and fascinating. This car represents Hyundai’s first step toward developing a performance model brand, like BMW’s M cars or Mercedes-Benz’s AMG. R-Spec versions of other Hyundai vehicles, likely starting with Genesis coupe, are in the cards. This first R-Spec is inconsistent being partly committed to performance, partly to plushness, in its engineering.

Full marks go to the engine. Enlarged to 5.0 litres displacement from the previous V-8’s 4.6 and optimized with direct injection, its output of 85.8 hp per litre is claimed to better all non-turbocharged competitors. With tons of torque at your bidding even at low engine speeds – 300 of its 376 lb-ft maximum at only 1,500 rpm – this engine just plain feels great.

Steering is the next best attribute. Response is right-now and road feel distinct. Credit goes to the stiffened suspension with Sachs shock absorbers and 19-inch wheels. Some colleagues complained of a rough ride, evidence that Hyundai still is at an early point in its learning curve of combining pliant ride and precise handling (as exemplified by BMW).

Now the inconsistency. Slow throttle response seems out of place in this otherwise hard-edged R-Spec. Jam the accelerator pedal to the floor and the transmission does indeed instantly shift down as many as four gears for a stormy response, but before that in its initial movement the pedal travels too far without effect. Hyundai’s explanation is that the product planners wanted a luxury car feel in the throttle response, rather than the on-off characteristic of a Genesis coupe.

The absence of paddle shifters or a sport shift mode also may be explained by this being Hyundai’s first attempt at a luxury hot rod.

Other desirable features are conspicuous by their absence in either the V-6 or V-8 models despite a long list of standard equipment. What’s with only the driver’s seat being ventilated and the passenger seat not in the top-priced Genesis? Is this not destined to cause quarrels between husbands and wives? This writer even got grouchy while riding shotgun in the 103 F heat, as my colleague, a long-time co-worker, crowed about the comfort afforded by the driver’s seat’s cool jets.

A lane-departure warning system is optional, not standard. Power-folding mirrors, optional. Heated rear seats, optional. Adaptive cruise control, standard only with the top-priced models.

The lack of all-wheel-drive is Genesis’s greatest shortcoming because Canadian luxury buyers perceive its advantage in winter driving. AWD is under development, Hyundai says, it’s coming soon, but no arrival date is given.

For now, price – or more exactly value – remains the major reason to choose Hyundai’s luxury model over more established competitors. A BMW 528i commands nearly $8,000 more than a Genesis Premium, a Cadillac CTS more than $2,000.

The downside is in diminished badge appeal and dealership ambience. Buyers of Hyundai’s flagship model, the Equus, have their cars picked up for service so they never have to consort with the likes of Sonatas and Accents at humble Hyundai dealerships, but the Genesis exists to elevate the Hyundai image and its buyers become part of the process. It’s a work in progress.

Tech specs

2012 Hyundai Genesis

Type: Four-door sedan

Base Price: $39,999, R-Spec $53,499

Engine: 3.8-litre V-6 or 5.0-litre V-8, both DOHC, direct injection with variable valve timing

Horsepower/torque: 333 hp/291 lb-ft for V-6; 429 hp/376 lb-ft for V-8

Transmission: Eight -speed automatic with manual function

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.1 city/6.9 highway for V-6, 13.1 city/8.1 highway for V-8; premium recommended

Alternatives: Cadillac CTS, Infiniti M37; BMW 528i; Buick Lucerne CXL Premium, Ford Taurus, Lexus GS 350, Mercedes-Benz E350

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