2015 Hyundai Genesis first review: Premium sedan still has something to prove
When Hyundai introduced the Genesis for the 2009 model year, it wasn't just launching a new sedan -- it was doing something that at the time seemed audacious. It was entering the upscale market. Yes, Hyundai, which for decades had been known for making economy cars that emphasized, well... economy, was going primo. The experiment no doubt had its naysayers, but all it took was one drive of that original Genesis to realize Hyundai's high-end sedan was the real deal. Its biggest validation came soon after introduction when it went on to win the North American Car of the Year award, which is the automotive equivalent of the Oscar for best picture.
In the five short years since introducing the original Genesis, Hyundai has made significant strides as an automaker. Improvements have been made in everything from design to crash-worthiness, all while the automaker has introduced several new models and seen its sales numbers soar.
Part of that time -- and considerable money -- has also been spent prepping the next generation of the Genesis sedan, set to launch in the second quarter of 2014 as a 2015 model.
Hyundai invited us to its South Korean headquarters to take an advanced look at this forthcoming car and even tour its steel plant to see firsthand some of the processes that go into making this new sedan.
Before we get to our actual -- and albeit brief -- time behind the wheel, we must mention our initial observations of the 2015 Genesis at rest. In short, it ebbs quality before you even have a chance to sink into the plush leather seats or appreciate the genuine wood trim. That's because your first indicator is the door, more precisely the sound it makes when you close it. The Genesis' doors close with authority, emitting a satisfying and assuring thud that speaks well of the quality steel that goes into their formation.
Then there are the switches, handles and other points where your hands and fingers touch. At the presentation of the car last month to select U.S. media, Hyundai executives said a lot of thinking went into the tactile nature of the Genesis, and it shows... er, feels.
We're glad to report it's not just drivers who will be comfortable in the new Genesis. Back-seat passengers will feel equally coddled thanks to comfortable seats, armrests and an expansive window frame that offers a good view out. That last feature may seem simple, but more and more modern cars are trading swoopy exterior design at the sake of interior visibility.
Of course, the true test of any car is on the road. For this initial demonstration in still-camouflaged test cars, Hyundai offered us the chance to drive the 2015 Genesis sedan on a straight-away track, a high-speed oval, and a road course. Here's how it went.
Our first road-going impression of the 2015 Genesis was on a flat, wide track ideal for testing the car's acceleration. While we weren't able to hook up instruments for precise measurements, we didn't need a computer to tell us that the next-gen Genesis is quick despite the sedan's modest weight gain over the current model. The sedan's two engine choices remain from the prior model -- a 3.8-liter V6 or a 5.0-liter V8 -- which currently make 333 and 429 horsepower, respectively. Hyundai is keeping mum about specific horsepower figures in the 2015 Genesis, but in our initial drives, both engines still had a lot to give. Not surprisingly, the V8 enabled the 2015 Hyundai Genesis to accelerate effortlessly. We were just as pleased with the smaller V6, which was eager to rev and still made the Genesis surprisingly spry. Both engines are mated to a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission and easily got the big sedan up to triple-digit speeds with power to spare.
More important than speed to most of the Genesis' buyers will be its refinement. We've already lauded the new car for its interior quality, which was spot-on in our initial experience with pre-production models. While we didn't have a chance to test the 2015 Genesis' ride quality on rough roads (don't worry -- we will as it gets closer to going on sale) we were surprised at how quiet the sedan's cabin was. All the more impressive was the Hyundai's hushed nature despite our test car being draped in camouflage cladding before its official unveiling at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show.
On this straightaway we also had a chance to see a demonstration of the 2015 Genesis sedan's automatic braking system. The system can apply the brakes in emergency situations when the car's radar and camera sense an impending collision and the driver fails to apply the brakes. Using a barrier with a Hyundai Tucson printed on the side as a stand-in for a real car, the Genesis stopped itself autonomously without driver intervention.
Up next was taking the 2015 Genesis for a spin on a banked oval track (think NASCAR, without the crowds). Chances are slim that a Genesis owner will be throttling their premium sedan on such a track, but prospective buyers should know that if they happen to find themselves doing their best race-driver impersonation, this Hyundai is up to the task.
Screaming along at 120 mph and at an angle far beyond flat, the new Hyundai Genesis was far less nervous than yours truly. At these speeds the big car hunkered down and remained remarkably poised.
Here's where we got to see how the Genesis performed beyond quick acceleration and braking. It was on this course, using a V8-powered all-wheel-drive Genesis, that we got a taste of the new Hyundai's grip and confidence at corner carving. The big sedan felt like just that -- don't expect to fling it around like a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Subaru BRZ, in other words -- but it never lost its composure.
In our first run we tested the Genesis in normal mode, then for the next lap in sport mode, which among other things tightens the suspension, quickens throttle response and adjusts steering sensitivity. We wish we felt more of a difference when adjusting to sport mode, but came away smiling still after romping the 2015 Genesis around both laps.
That enthusiastic expression is also fitting for our overall first impression of the Genesis. It's looking like a real contender among luxury midsize sedans, and this initial taste has us hungering for more.
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