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Check out Hyundai's first rear-wheel drive car!
Shubhabrata Marmar in New Delhi | May 31, 2008
Fortunately, we're nowhere near a port, else there'd be towering Hyundai ships. Oh, and that yellow, caterpillar-thing is in fact also a Hyundai. A company that spans such a range has to be ambitious and forward thinking, right? Of course it does, and now, meet the Genesis. A bit of rear-ward thinking from Hyundai!
The new Hyundai halo car (for the international markets, if you consider the Equus as the Korean equivalent) is perhaps the most significant of Korean car launches. Especially when you look at the Genesis as a weapon for Hyundai's sustained - and increasingly successful - assault on the US market.
While the Azera was the big Hyundai in America, it was still, um, not really American. So Hyundai went all traditional big-car style with a brand-new rear-wheel drive platform, bristling with newly minted five-link front and rear suspension, the newest in passive safety tech, sumptuous trim levels and all that sort of thing. And the car it resulted in is the Genesis.
So why go for rear-wheel drive? Well, Hyundai has realised that in the luxury car mart, these machines have to be pushed rather than pulled. Rear-wheel drive cars also offer the option to shoehorn mighty big, powerful engines (as is the case here), as opposed to front-wheel drive cars which need a bit of all-wheel drive help. When it comes to size, luxury, and of course performance, front-wheel drive cars just don't make the grade. Which is why the brand-new Genesis is more than just a rear-wheel drive platform, it is a new way of thinking at Hyundai... an indicator of where they want to be in the future.
The Genesis' design brief was heavily American accented, and required a car that would be able to stand on the same hallowed ground as many Lexii (Lexus', Lexuses?), Infinitis, Acuras, Merc E-Class and BMW's 5 Series cars. Ambitious? You don't know the half of it. Forget the money angle, Hyundai wants the same respect, prestige and attention that big brands like those get. And it's no surprise that the Genesis documentation claims, repeatedly and endlessly, that the new car is stiffer, lighter, faster, stronger, etc than all of those cars...
And is it? Well, I'm hardly a great judge of chassis stiffness, but the Genesis isn't a car you can take lightly and dismiss easily. In short, Hyundai's first rear-wheel drive application is pretty impressive. I must note here that we're used to a more European feel from our cars, so initially I was a bit blinded by the way the car felt. I was thinking, um, not impressive. I mean, just look at it. The grille is a bit bling-brash for me and various parts of the car seem to evoke flashing images of other cars. It looks big and butch, but it's neither pretty enough to draw in a second glance, nor original enough to be appreciated for its uniqueness.
But later, driving down an arrow-straight city street, arm resting on the sill, music blaring (Mallika, I Hate You, I'm a little embarrassed to admit) at some 30 mph, the car sunk in. That's when the inherent American-ism in the Korean car dawned on me. Sounds a bit ludicrous, I know, but from that point on, the Genesis felt far better.
You see, the Genesis is a big, plush car. It has some very likeable motors � and we were lucky enough to score the top-of-the-heap 4627cc V8 which brings a near-segment-top 375 bhp, thanks to variable intake (two-step) and valve timing (continuous). Hyundai's first V8 sounds good, is smooth and revs to a heady 6500 rpm. The V8, in this application, has been engineered to offer power in a refined manner and make this luxury saloon cruise at three-digit speeds without breaking into a sweat. I am sure Hyundai's engineers at Namyang can give it a more sporty, trigger-happy nature when it powers the coupe. Not that the 270 bhp V6 is much milder, mind you. ZF supply the six-speed automatic that is standard (Aisin supply the 6-speed auto for the V6). No paddle-shifter, although a manual shift gate is offered.
The V8 is nicely throaty when you're on it and the transmission is just as happy to play along. Kickdowns are swift, upshifts are slick and in general, I found little to complain about. None of the cars get the paddle shifts, although truth be told, that paddle shifter makes more sense in the Genesis coupe, due December, than it does in a luxo-sedan, right?
But swing the thing around a corner and you know this car was pointed straight at Main Street USA. Unlike a sharp, responsive BMW, the Genesis feels um, capable. There isn't much feedback or the sensory crescendo that heralds a driver's car. But you get the feeling that the isolated feel is designed in. The first Genesis is a brand new thing and fine-tuning into a 'niche' car would probably blunt its appeal to a larger audience. Do all big sedan buyers want driver's cars? Probably not, right? The accent is on the plush feel and hence the ride quality is where the Genesis focuses. The car does offer a good ride, though it remains just a little floaty over vertical undulations at fairly elevated speeds. On the other hand, the plushness in the midzone also allows some small bumps to intrude just a little bit. In essence, we have a car that felt smooth and comfortable on the road, and handled a brutal, ham-handed slalom and double-lane change repeatedly with a straight face.
Perhaps the one area the Hyundai could probably be better is in the braking department. The brakes are a bit feel-less and require a fair amount of effort to work because they lack bite. Until you get used to this, the Genesis feels like it runs on a bit into corners. Once you get used to it, you realise that lighter pedal effort and a little more bite would probably have sorted this easily, and that the car can actually stop very quickly � Hyundai, to put this in perspective, claims braking times that are better than all but one of their benchmark cars.
What Hyundai does have sorted are the interiors. They do look upmarket, the layouts are easy to get used to and the materials feel good. I doubt that the Genesis cabin will overshadow, say, a Mercedes E-Class or BMW 550i cabin, but let's just say the Genesis comes close enough to worry them, especially when the price rolls into the equation. The 15-speaker music system (Lexicon, a la RR Phantom) sounds great, the Hyundai iDrive-like thing (DIS or Driver Information System) works pretty easily, the seats look and feel good (and have the ventilation gizmoids built in)... they've done a rather smooth job of this. Hyundai do claim an overtly spacious cabin, and there certainly isn't any lack of space inside, but frankly, it didn't look like there was all that much space. A 760Li beater? I suspect that the dark colour themes in both the Genesis' we drove short-changed our perception of space.
And perception is what the Genesis is really about. Hyundai's powertrain expertise is rapidly gathering a good reputation. Their cars are getting better and the Genesis should be the car that converts the stragglers who still think Korean cars aren't comparable to the more established Japanese-German brands. At first glance, the Genesis definitely has the arsenal and then, there is the fact that Hyundai is offering a significant lower price tag, the usual jaw-dropping warranty and impressive standard trim levels. Like the successful Sonata in the US, it's hard to imagine customers turning away from such an attractive package. Hyundai have announced that the V6 Genesis would cost $33,000 (Rs 14 lakh approx) while the V8 would cost $38,000 (Rs 16 lakh approx) in the US market
Unfortunately, Hyundai are saying that the right-hand drive Genesis is not really on priority for the company at the moment, which more or less rules out a forthcoming Indian launch. On the other hand, it seems that the Genesis coupe, which is supposed to be out later this year, will probably get a right-hand drive version shortly after sales begin in the US.
The author was invited by Hyundai to drive the Genesis in Chejudo, Korea.