If penny pinching is a status symbol at your country club, then the Hyundai Genesis ($39,999 base) is your kind of luxury car. And if performance on the cheap speaks to your personal net worth, then the Hyundai Genesis R-Spec ($53,499) just might be your kind of sports/luxury sedan.
But let's not kid anyone about the Hyundai brand. Owning a Hyundai does not buy you a status the equal of, say, a BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lexus or Infiniti. Pull up to the parking valet in a Genesis R-Spec and you'll most likely get an inquisitive stare, rather than a knowing nod of admiration and approval – as you might when tossing the key fob of a BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, Infiniti M or Lexus GS.
Yet the dollars and cents story is worth something, and we should explore it. The rear-drive R-Spec, all 429-horsepower of it from a completely modern V-8 engine, stickers for about $10,000 less than BMW 535i ($64,900) and a Mercedes E350 ($63,400) – and the latter two both are powered by six-cylinder engines, not V-8s. Your local Hyundai dealer will find a few more bucks in discounting on the R-Spec if you bargain hard, too.
The thing is, the Genesis sedan delivers a very good ride and comes with all the luxury features you'd expect from an understated yet upscale sedan. The 5.0 R-Spec tops the Genesis lineup and the essence of the story is the engine. But don't overlook the updated face – from facia to grille to sophisticated LED headlights – and who doesn't like the R-Spec's standard 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels (versus 17-inch wheels on the base Genesis)? In back, the taillights are a tad slicker and the tailpipes have prominent chrome tips. Take note of the brushed aluminum trim added around the windows, too.
The engine, though, is worth the longest look and all due consideration. The 4.6-litre V-8 is powerful and smooth and modern. Talking points include dual continuously variable valve timing, high-pressure injection and other high-tech features. The standard eight-speed transmission delivers the kind of precise gear changes you expect in one of those expensive German sedans.
The powertrain is the starting point for a very entertaining drive. And there's more. The R-Spec has a specially tuned five-link independent suspension, front and rear, and it delivers road manners that on the whole allow a reasonably big car (1,884 kg) to snake around corners like a smaller, ostensibly sportier car. Even the electric hydraulic power steering feels well-weighted.
But let's not go overboard. While this is the best-handling Hyundai with four doors we've ever seen, there is room for improvement. I'd like an even better-controlled, more sophisticated ride. The best auto makers manage to tune a chassis for a balance of comfortable ride and daring handling. Hyundai isn't there yet. The R-Spec is on the firm side of things and can at times feel harsh when the pavement is so-so. In quick manoeuvres the suspension gets a little sloppy and there are moments when the steering feels heavy, too.
The brakes, however, do the trick – 13.6-inch ventilated disc binders capable of scrubbing off speed in an apparent blink.
Truth be told, this Hyundai is happiest of all taking on the wide-open spaces of an empty stretch of highway. There, the ride feels refined and it's certainly quiet. Restful, even.
And the cabin is luxurious and roomy, with space for five adults and a trunk capable of holding all their luggage. Hyundai could make this even better by having the trunk open completely when you hit the unlatch button rather than just unlock. It's a small thing you'll notice when you have your hands full with luggage, groceries or golf clubs.
For features, the sound system is a 17-speaker Lexicon stereo and you'll find an eight-inch navigation screen mounted on the centre stack. Hyundai loads up this one with all its best luxury features, in fact.
The interior looks and feels like a $50,000-something car, too. Leather and wood and shiny accents dress up a cabin notable for being understated yet surprisingly elegant. In particular, take note of the leather panels on the dashboard – rich to the eye and pleasant to the touch.
Not quite as ideal are the screen controls and the central control knob on the console. Hyundai is not alone in consolidating everything from radio presets to climate control in a central system such as the one in this Genesis. That said, this system and all those like it are downright silly. Why is it necessary to navigate through several control knob actions to tune in to your favourite station? Simple and apparently ancient preset buttons on the dash would be so much simpler, right? Just asking.
While Hyundai does not sell huge numbers of Genesis sedans, the car is a success. We've started to put Hyundai in the same sentence as BMW and Mercedes, and who would have thought such a thing possible a decade ago. The R-Spec, for the record, is the best of the Genesis collection and a signal of more to come.
2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec
Type: Mid-size luxury/sports sedan
Price: $53,499 (freight $1,760)
Engine: 5.0-litre V-8
Horsepower/torque: 429 hp/376 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.1 city/8.1 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: a BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, Infiniti M or Lexus GS, Cadillac CTS, Lincoln MKS