As new Genesis G70s tear around the track at the Inje Speedway outside Seoul, there's not a BMW or Mercedes-Benz in sight – but both are definitely in mind.
"When it comes to driving talent we looked at this car from Bavaria [BMW], and when it came to luxury we looked at a car coming from the Stuttgart [Mercedes] area," said Albert Biermann, formerly with BMW's M division, now executive vice-president of engineering for Genesis, Hyundai and Kia. "We drove all kinds of cars in the segment – but in the end, you have to do your own thing."
With the G70, Genesis is adding a compact sports sedan to its mid-size G80 and G90 flagship sedans, with the goal of attracting younger buyers. The car is expected in Canada in the spring.
The unveiling included a free Gwen Stefani concert for 15,000 in Seoul's Olympic park. The day of the launch, Hyundai shuttled 60 journalists to the Namyang R&D centre, an hour from Seoul. As we entered the gates, men in suits came aboard and covered our phone cameras with Genesis-branded stickers to guard against revealing secret projects accidentally – such as the SUV that Genesis has in development.
The centre, with 11,000 researchers, is another sign that Hyundai has come a long way since the Pony – and is serious about getting even better. A stark, modern room that looked like Bruce Wayne's garage in The Dark Knight is where Genesis works on test concepts. Genesis executives, including division head Manfred Fitzgerald and design head Luc Donckerwolke, both from Lamborghini, talked about their lofty aspirations. Although a latecomer to the luxury market, the company aims to be the leading luxury brand in South Korea, and worldwide.
"By 2021, we will have six models," Fitzgerald said.
In building the G70, the goals were to balance looks with performance, safety and comfort for people who like nice things, and also like to drive. After much talk of passion and inspiration, the walls parted, revealing an outdoor courtyard with 10 G70s gleaming in the sun. At Genesis, they know how to make an entrance.
Hyundai Canada believes the typical buyer will be a two-income couple, perhaps looking to the car as a demonstration of career stature. The price, packaging and exact features haven't been announced – but it is projected to be "competitive" with the BMW 3 Series, starting around $42,000.
Still, why would a Canadian consumer choose a Genesis if they can afford a BMW or an Audi? That's the omnipresent question, as Hyundai battles to establish its luxury brand.
One solution is to reel in buyers with an Amazon-like service model. It will bring the cars to you for a test drive, let you order the car online and deliver it directly to you in a transparent truck. When you need service, Genesis brings you a loaner and takes away your car. And the set purchase price – there's no haggling – includes service for five years.
- Price: TBA
- Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged, inline four-cylinder; 3.3-litre, turbocharged V-6
- Transmission/drive: Six-speed manual (2.0-litre Sport only) or eight-speed automatic/rear-wheel (2.0-litre Sport only) or all-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA
- Alternatives: Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Jaguar XE, Acura TLX, Infiniti Q50, Mercedes C-Class, Volvo S60, Cadillac ATS, Lexus IS
The Nuerburgring-tested G70 shares the same platform and powertrain as the fastback Kia Stinger with a 249-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 365-hp 3.3-litre V-6. All models except the 2.0-litre Sport will be all-wheel drive with eight-speed automatic transmission.
We tested the V-6. When we first take it out – at 6:50 a.m. on a Saturday in a failed attempt to beat the traffic – it was a good time to take feet off the brakes and gas to test the adaptive cruise control and lane departure assistance. Both worked as advertised, even in stop-and-go traffic and along curves.
When we finally got to 100 kilometres an hour – the Navi system warns of police speed cameras, although that feature won't be available in Canada – on highway curves, the G70 was composed. When switched from comfort to sport mode, there was power when needed, but not a lot of exhilaration – generally, the transmission seemed to hold the engine back.
Genesis said the 3.3-litre G70 can go from zero to 100 in 4.7 seconds and hit a top speed of 270 km/h, which several journalists tested at a track. Most prospective buyers in Canada likely won't care too much about the G70's track cred. Preliminary forecasts have four-to-six trims being made available in Canada, with emphasis on luxury and sport models.
It's handsome and less generic than the 3 Series and Audi A4. It's got style but isn't flashy, aside from the boomerang-shaped fender vents. Interior design is clean and simple with a driver-centred cockpit. There's nothing glitzy, but the soft surfaces and leather render a classy feel.
With the eight-inch floating touchscreen, the dash may remind you of other sedans – but everything is within the driver's reach. The Lexicon sound system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and snug Nappa leather seats made the ride comfortable, although there was some wind noise.
The G70 doesn't beat BMW for thrills or Mercedes for luxury – instead it's a balance of both.
"Korea is called the land of the morning calm," Biermann said. "Genesis for me is when performance meets the beauty of the morning calm, when you drive up here on a Saturday morning in the beautiful mountains with the fog coming down."
Genesis executives know that perception and image are core to success in the luxury market, especially for a new brand.
"We want to be seen as a luxury lifestyle brand," said Fitzgerald, the division head. That means sponsoring PGA Tour events and the Michelin Guide in Seoul, but what of the younger target market?
The free concert in Olympic Park also featured South Korean rapper CL and Grammy-nominee Andra Day, who sings the theme in Genesis ads. "We deliberately chose Seoul, as this is our place of origin," Fitzgerald said. "This is where we are coming together with our customers and friends in the music industry to celebrate as a people's festival."
There wasn't much talk of the G70 during the concert, where people sat on the grass or danced – most in the crowd seemed too young to afford a G70. But maybe some day.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.