Sitting in the cockpit of the (wow, this thing is quick) 2010 Hyundai Genesis 3.8 GT coupe - after squirting it through three gears and carving a neat, flat parabola through a highway on-ramp - my thoughts shifted back to a car the company once hopefully called the Excel and the serious amount of striving that separates the two.
Hyundai was beginning the process of bootstrapping itself into an international-calibre auto maker in the late 1980s and, with sales of its crude rear-drive Pony stumbling, badly needed a competitive front-drive replacement. But its new Excel, despite looking the part on paper, wasn't it.
Hyundai was earnest enough, but hadn't yet acquired the engineering and design depth and the international experience and exposure it needed. It soon began to acquire those necessary tools, however, and the cars that followed slowly evolved. To the point Hyundai now competes with the best and claims a rather astonishing 8.0 per cent share of the Canadian car market.
Further proof is its confident step up into luxury territory with the Genesis sedan for 2009 and following that up for 2010 with the new coupe that, while it may not excel in all areas, offers driving enthusiasts plenty of pop for the money they pony up.
Actually, the Genesis coupe is a "third-times-a-charm" sports model for the South Korean car maker. Its first try was the Excel-based Scoupe that lasted from 1991 to 1995. The best thing I can recall about it was its 115-hp Mitsubishi turbo-motor, which made it pretty quick for the day.
This was followed in 1996 by the Tiburon, which went through only two full generational changes before departing in 2009, but was certainly by then a more than decent sporting proposition - particularly for the price.
The Genesis coupe, or more correctly coupes, as their engine options give them very distinctive characters, take things a step further and can now compete with a more gifted group of sporting rivals.
They've also stepped up-market in price, but not out of reach of Tiburon buyers looking for a replacement. The base 2.0T - a 210-hp, 2.0-litre turbo-four-cylinder model - starts at $24,495 and the six-speed-manual Genesis 3.8 at $32,995 (or $34,795 with six-speed automatic transmission).
The model we'll look at is the V-6-engined manual transmission 3.8 GT with navigation, which lists at $36,495 ($38,295 with ZF six-speed paddle-shift automatic).
Typical of Hyundai's high-value approach, the base models are very well-equipped and the GT more so, with leather-clad heated seats (the driver's is powered), automatic climate control, sunroof, Infiniti audio system, Bluetooth, trip computer, cruise and stability control, xenon headlights, 19-inch wheels, limited-slip differential, aluminum pedals, front strut tower brace, specially tuned suspension, Brembo performance brakes and, on my tester, a navigation system.
The rear-drive coupe is based on a shortened, and very stiff, version of the Genesis sedan platform and Hyundai stylists have draped this in sculpted two-door bodywork with knock-your-socks-off visual appeal. It encloses a two-plus-two interior - adult back-seat passengers will not be happy - and a usefully sized trunk.
Unfortunately, way too much hard plastic cheapens an otherwise nice-enough design. It's livable, being functional, reasonably quiet and the seats fit is just fine, but it's a bit of a letdown given the exterior's promise.
Nothing wrong with how the GT goes and handles though.
Given that the 3.8-litre engine also does duty in the Genesis sedan and the Veracruz crossover it feels and sounds zippier in the coupe, likely thanks to tweaks that pump it up to 306 hp at 6,300 rpm (versus 290 hp in the sedan) and 266 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm.
The six-speed gearbox's shifter feels a bit heavy and reluctant when cold and, even when warmed up, isn't the slickest, particularly when downshifting through the lower gears. Throws are short and quick and accuracy of selection is no problem.
There's also a little lack of refinement apparent in the driveline, a little lost motion likely here and there that results in a slightly clunky feel reminiscent of older Camaros and Mustangs. Clutch effort will pump up your thigh muscles a bit, too, although engagement is progressive.
The V-6's willingness to rev to the redline will keep you busy yanking on that heavy shifter and results in 0-100 km/h times (according to Automobile Journalists Association of Canada testing) averaging 6.6 seconds, with 80 km/h to 120 km/h requiring just 5.5 seconds. It sounds pretty good while all this is going on, too.
Given the output, fuel economy ratings aren't too bad at 12.0 L/100 km city and 7.6 highway - on regular gas. A taller top gear would reduce Highway 401 cruising revs, though, improving economy and reducing motor noise.
The front suspension is by MacPherson struts, not the more sophisticated setup found on the Genesis sedan, with a multi-link system in the rear. Springs, anti-roll bars, bushings and dampers are set up with one thing in mind - handling - and get the job done aided by a power steering system with enough heft to make you feel you're fully involved in what the front tires are doing. And that, by the way, is turning into corners with a surprisingly degree of sharpness and accuracy, and negotiating them with minimal body roll.
Ride, however, is on the punishing side of firm, although the lack of clattering and banging from underneath reveals a degree of suppleness that takes some of the sting out and will help keep the low-profile, 19-inch tires in contact with the pavement. Those Brembo brakes work great and will likely stand up to the demands of days at the track.
Overall, the Genesis Coupe 3.8 GT disappoints only in lacking some of the refinement that has garnered the Genesis sedan so many kudos. But it more than replaces it with solidly competent performance chops you'd have to pay considerably more for if you shopped elsewhere.
2010 HYUNDAI GENESIS COUPE 3.8 (NAVIGATION)
Type: Sports coupe
Base Price: $36,495; as tested, $38,060
Engine: 3.8-litre, DOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 306 hp/266 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.0 city/7.6 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: BMW 128i, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Infiniti G37 Coupe, Mazda RX-8, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Nissan Altima Coupe, Honda Accord Coupe
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