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2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe (Hyundai)
2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe (Hyundai)

Hyundai Genesis Coupe

The Genesis of a new image Add to ...

Hyundai Canada's sales are up about 28 per cent on the year (impressive, with the overall market down 13.2 per cent), but don't give credit to the 2010 Hyundai Genesis coupe.

Good as it is, this coupe is a not a big seller and never will be - perhaps a couple of thousand a year if all the stars align perfectly.

But if the Genesis coupe does its job, which is to help change perceptions of Hyundai, then it will be worth more than all the Accents and Elantras ever sold.

While it's too early to pass judgment on the car's long-term reliability - it only went on sale earlier this year - we can say Hyundai is now a serious player in the reliability game. But again, that's not really the point. The same can be said for safety scores in crash testing.

The point is - with its adventurous, perhaps even extravagant styling, racy chassis and aggressive pricing ($24,495-$36,495) - the Genesis coupe takes Hyundai another step forward in terms of flushing your South Korean car prejudices away. Hyundai types think they've nailed down such sensible brand values as affordability and reliability and that explains why sales are up in a down year.

Now Hyundai wants to be seen not only as well built, but as desirable and sexy and daring and fun. The Genesis Coupe is all that, they argue, but still in a car at a price that leaves a few dollars in your wallet.

If you're interested, there are two main choices and several versions with those: the base model, complete with the exhaust-fed sultry whine of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, delivers more than enough rear-drive performance to satisfy most: 210 horsepower and 223 lb-ft of torque. The big step up is to the entry-level V-6 version ($32,995) rated at 306 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque.

Personally, I would stick with the turbo and pocket the cash. But regardless of engine, the Genesis coupe looks right, with clean exterior lines and a solid sports car shape.

Inside, again, the less-expensive versions may not have standard leather-faced seats, but they still have the smart, simple interior design and good material quality that makes the cabin very comfortable and easy to manage for the driver. The lighter 2.0-litre coupe also feels quicker and more nimble, too.

Nimble, I would add, in a way the Genesis sedan can never be; it's just too big. Yes, the coupe shares the rear-wheel-drive Genesis vehicle architecture, but its personality is completely different than the sedan's. The coupe is eager to get going, to be driven; the bigger, heavier sedan would rather go cruising.

Remember, the coupe has been shrunk down to an overall length of 4,630 mm, versus 4,975 for the sedan. The base coupe weighs 1,543 kg, versus 1,729 for the sedan. The rest of the dimensional story is similar. The point is, the coupe is not merely a two-door sedan. No, it's a real coupe with personal-size numbers.

It's solid, too. Hyundai types go on and on about all the high-strength steel in this package and even claim that this car is 24 per cent more rigid than the last-generation BMW M3, circa model year 2000. It does take some chutzpah for Hyundai to start mentioning its cars in the same breath as BMW, doesn't it? The world is changing.

In that sense, it's a triumph for Hyundai to have created a sporty car in which the driving position is completely natural. For the driver, well, the controls are centred right in front and your hands fall instinctively to the steering wheel. There is adequate leg room to stretch out comfortably. Sure, you're low and leaned back, but also in command of the car. The ergonomics - that man-machine interface thing - are first-rate here.

So you want to drive this car and when you get moving, that's when the lighter weight comes through. The 2.0T is much lighter than Hyundai's targets - the BMW 335i coupe and the Infiniti G37 coupe. Less weight, better performance.

Hyundai offers the 2.0T in three basic versions: plain, Premium and GT. Plain and Premium are available with either a five-speed automatic transmission ($1,500) or a six-speed manual, but the GT is available only with the six-speed manual. All very nice and perfectly acceptable for most buyers, right down to the standard Bridgestone Potenza tires.

But if you must push harder, the GT has the high-performance hardware: Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer-performance tires (225/40YR19 front, 245/40YR19 rear) on 19-inch wheels; Brembo brakes with four-piston front calipers and 13.4-inch front rotors matched with 13-inch rear rotors.

And there is a track-tuned suspension with higher rate springs and dampers, plus a significantly stiffer rear anti-roll bar to reduce understeer. GT models and all V-6 coupes get a limited-slip rear differential, too.

The 2.0T's balanced weight distribution overall (54.1 per cent front, 45.9 per cent rear) and quick-ratio steering makes for crisp and immediate responses. This is a quick little car that does not feel out of its depth on a race track.

The four-banger under the hood is, of course, a turbocharged 1,998-cc inline-four. The engine architecture was developed by Hyundai and adopted by Mitsubishi and then Chrysler as a part of the co-operative program known as GEMA (Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance). True gearheads will care that the pistons, connecting rods and crankshaft are cast rather than forged.

The "low-pressure turbo engine" is equipped with an air-to-air intercooler to maximize efficiency, and variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust cams. Here's the relevant number: 0-100 km/h in about seven seconds. As for fuel economy, it is rated at 10.1 litres/100 km city and 6.6 highway using regular fuel.

It's great to be in a car that leaps out of the chute, though it would be even better to have a six-speed manual transmission in the 2.0T GT that is more precise. If you are being aggressive with your driving, you'll need to be careful with your shifts.

It does go without saying that the stiff suspension is not for everyone, either. And if we're being critical, the four-banger gets pretty noisy when pushed. Forget about putting adults in the back seat, at least for any length of time.

A last note on standard equipment - there is plenty on the roster, even in the least-expensive car. Remember, Hyundai still has to sell itself as a "value" brand.

Hyundai will work hard to move this hardware, but not because the coupe will ever be a big seller. But as an image-builder the car matters a lot. And as an image builder it's a success.

2010 HYUNDAI GENESIS COUPE 2.0T GT

Type: Sports coupe

Price: $30,745

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, DOHC, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 210 hp/223 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Rear-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.1 city/6.6 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Nissan Altima coupe, Ford Mustang, Honda Accord Coupe, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Honda Civic Si, Chevrolet Cobalt SS

jcato@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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