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First drive: Hyundai Genesis to slip under LCT

Premium player: Hyundai's first luxury offering, the Genesis sedan, should roll into local showrooms this November.

Hyundai to storm premium league with a fully equipped and Genesis luxury sedan

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Hyundai logo27 Jun 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in SOUTH KOREA

HYUNDAI’S upcoming Genesis, finally locked in for a November launch in Australia, will hit the local market at well under the Luxury Car Tax.

While the South Korean company is yet to reveal exact pricing and specification levels for now, Hyundai Motor Corporation Australia’s chief operating officer, John Elsworth, hinted strongly that even the more expensive version would be below the $61,884 threshold.

“That would be a safe bet,” he told the Australian media at the first drive event for the Genesis sedan in Korea this week.

This further fuels speculation that the entry-level model will be in the low-$50,000 bracket, particularly as HMCA has already stated that the Genesis will be “…at the price of a 3-Series”.

The least expensive variant in that range, the 316i, kicks off from $52,800, plus on-road costs.

That also puts the five-metre Korean-built four-door on a similar price/size ratio as the locally built Holden Calais V and Ford Falcon G6E large cars, as well as the US-built Chrysler 300.

Further tangible details beyond what was revealed at the luxury sedan's global unveiling at the Detroit motor show in January this year are scarce beyond limited Australian-specific information.

Certain things on the left-hand drive models will not make it to right-hand drive versions due to limited engineering resources, such as the head-up display and an automatic slowing-down function when the adaptive cruise control system is on and a speed camera is detected.

However, we now have a more complete picture of what the Genesis is and how it represents a coming of age for the corporation that builds it.

Even five years ago a Hyundai like this would have seemed like an impossibility.

Speaking of that time-frame, with work commencing four and a half years ago, Hyundai had four goals in mind in developing a successor to the BH-series original that surfaced primarily for the South Korean and North American markets in 2008.

Basically the second-generation Genesis had to improve on the old model’s styling, premiumness, dynamic prowess and technological advancements.

Getting the ball rolling, the Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language was developed, striving to refine and modernise the original themes created when the outgoing YF Sonata mid-sizer debuted during 2009.

A ‘long bonnet/cab backward’ silhouette with a sleeker roofline rake and reduced overhangs is the outcome.

Being 5mm longer at 4990mm does not mean much on its own, but a 75mm stretch of the wheelbase (to 3010mm) alters the car's proportions dramatically compared to before. Width (1890mm) and height (1480mm) remain the same.

The result is a handsome design with real road presence, bolstered by an imposing hexagonal grille detail, a muscular stance and a welcome relief from the overly fussy styling elements that dated some of the company’s existing range of vehicles. Bentley meets Aston with a dollop of Audi anybody?A regal feel is also evident in the rear – A6-esque sums it up – but the profile is perhaps a tad too generic Lexus/Infiniti-like for the Genesis to really stand out.

But the real surprise is just how far into the luxury sphere Hyundai has gone in the vehicle's interior presentation.

Make no mistake – even the most cynical onlooker ought to be impressed by the sheer upmarket opulence inside, as well as astounded at how shamelessly derivative every single element is.

Not a skerrick of originality in sight, it’s as if Hyundai ripped off the best bits of a BMW (dashboard and controls), Audi (console detailing and trim), Lexus (instrumentation and precision build) and Volkswagen (material look and finish).

It might sound like a convoluted mess, but unbelievably the execution is both classy and cohesive. In the up-spec version the cabin wouldn’t look out of place in a $100,000 plus luxury barge. It even smells expensive. Now that’s a first in any Korean car.

It’s a quiet and isolating experience, bar some occasional road noise intrusion, with excellent ultra-adjustable electric seats, room to stretch in every direction, and gadgets galore to play with in the loaded examples we drove.

The latter stretches to quite a few advanced pieces of technology, including radar-based autonomous emergency braking (a demonstration at Hyundai’s research centre proved its effectiveness), adaptive cruise control (it also works seamlessly), blind spot and lane-departure detection (helps overcome those vision-impeding fat pillars), lane-keeping assist warning, rear cross-traffic alert, high-beam assist, CO2 cabin sensors.

This is all impressive stuff, but how much will make it Down Under we’re yet to know.

A sizeable 9.2-inch high-def touchscreen multimedia and satellite navigation interface added to the posh air, as did a high-end audio system of reasonable sound reproduction, heated and cooled front seats, double-stitched leather upholstery, A massive double sunroof and airline-style reclining rear seats with individual controls for media and climate control.

If Hyundai brings all this stuff in for under $90K we’d be calling it a bargain – so at a rumoured $62K the flagship Genesis will indeed redefine luxury value for money.

Quibbles? Shockingly, only with the steering wheel itself – it feels cheap.

Otherwise the Genesis is German luxury-car lush combined with Japanese quality and precision. On the driveability front, the previous BH model’s rear-wheel drive platform has been carried over but thoroughly modified with the abolition of the old double wishbone rear suspension system for a multi-link arrangement.

Torsional body strength increases, as does the use of high strength and ultra-high strength steels (in both cases bettering the BMW 5 Series and Benz E-Class, according to Hyundai), for a far more rigid car. Expect a five-star ANCAP crash test rating.

Right now three petrol engines are available in most overseas markets, topped and tailed by a 207kW/347Nm 3.3-litre V6 and a 304kW/505Nm 5.0-litre V8.

Neither is coming to Australia – the latter due to not being engineered for right-hand drive – leaving a 3.8-litre direct-injection double-overhead cam ‘Lambda’ V6 delivering 232kW of power at 6000rpm and 397Nm of torque at 5000rpm.

We drove both V6s and found the smaller of the two was overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the Genesis – in overseas-spec 3.3L RWD guise the base car starts off from a leviathan 1877kg – the BMW 5 Series equivalent is almost 300kg lighter.

Adding to the fat on both examples as tested was an all-new variable-torque-split all-wheel drive option that is also a left-hand drive-only proposition for the time being – so irrelevant for Oz.

The heaviest US version of the Genesis 3.8L AWD is 2060kg. Thankfully, with nearly 400Nm of pulling power at its disposal, the latter at least displayed sufficiently lively off the mark acceleration for it not to feel gutless, but it does rely on a determined right foot and a trip right up the rev counter before things really hustle.

Once on the go, the power just surges through with sewing-machine smoothness, giving the Genesis an effortlessly brisk feel. But those brakes have to work overtime to haul the hefty Genesis up again.

The official 0-100km/h figure is 6.5 seconds – a 0.4s improvement over a 535i’s but also that much slower again against the outgoing Genesis 3.8L. Not pointing fingers but, we shudder to think what the fuel consumption will be like.

Though almost undetectably efficient, the eight-speed auto’s responses do not seem as rapid or alert as, say, the brilliant ZF transmission found in the corresponding BMWs.

Because the cars we drove were on Korean-spec suspension and (electric) steering tune – an ‘Australianisation’ program is near completion that will see modified springs and dampers as well as steering software – it seems unfair to judge the Genesis’ dynamic behaviour.

What we can ascertain is this. Basically the Genesis AWD in either specification feels heavy and a bit like a blunt instrument through corners, leaning quite a bit and running wide in the tighter turns.

Of the two AWD cars, the 3.8L again was the preferred option, since its electronic shock absorber control function felt better tuned to the conditions we experienced it in.

When pushed, the variable-ratio rack and pinion steering was a little remote and inconsistent, though through broader sweeps the whole package actually came together nicely in the 3.8L AWD, culminating in a refined, quiet and comfortable grand tourer.

Benchmarks included the 5 Series and Jaguar XF, with the latter’s supple ride quality supporting Hyundai’s assertions that the Genesis is quiet and relaxed.

Australian roads aren’t as forgiving as the smooth Korean surfaces we encountered, however, so – again – we’ll have to wait and see.

Dynamic development was carried out on the Nurburgring in Germany, among a host of other places that also included testing in other European locations, as well as in North America and South Korea.

So does the Genesis drive as well as it looks? In many respects, such as in the alluring design and extraordinary interior execution, the Ulsan-built luxury bargain obliterates expectations.

It is also a car of proficient if not outstanding dynamic capabilities. Frankly it will neither challenge nor confound the likely target audience Hyundai is aiming the Genesis at.

But the big story here is just how mature and accomplished the package is for the likely money the company will charge.

Clearly most of the projected demographic will move up from cheaper mainstream vehicles, rather than across from BMWs and Benzes (despite what Hyundai may think). And in this context, the Genesis looks, feels and drives nigh on incredibly well.

We look forward to really putting the Genesis through its paces on roads far more familiar than the beautiful alpine passes of South Korea.

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