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Think rear-wheel drive, V8-powered, full-size luxury sedan and Hyundai Genesis is unlikely to be the first make/model pairing to swerve figuratively into Aussie minds.
That won't change anytime soon, either, because this generation of the Genesis we tested in the US will not come to Australia, and the next all-new model due in 2015 is unconfirmed.
But we’re driving the current, five-year-old, five-metre-long Hyundai Genesis sedan in California to see whether Hyundai’s local arm should bring the next-generation car here. It’s the first opportunity the Australian operations have to do so, as the next Genesis will for the first time be produced in right-hand drive.
In North America, the Genesis sedan has sold quite well since its launch in 2008. Americans are clearly used to expensive Hyundais, with the mid-sized Azera (nee Grandeur) and extra-large Equus having long been positioned either side of the Genesis range Stateside.
The current Genesis sedan is available with a choice of 248kW/395Nm 3.8-litre V6 and 320kW/510Nm 5.0-litre V8 engines, both hooked up to an eight-speed automatic.
Fully independent suspension front and rear with Sachs adaptive dampers are common to both engine derivatives, but the V8 gets a sports-tuned set-up dubbed ‘R-Spec’. While hydraulic power steering is standard on the V6, an electro-mechanical system is also reserved for the V8.
In some ways the Genesis sedan feels dated, but in many ways it feels very un-Hyundai-like. And really rather good.
Subjectively, the styling is all a bit anonymous-luxury, but the interior finish is excellent despite the dated controls and average plastics. The Genesis sedan is superbly quiet, very roomy and rides road bumps brilliantly – three big ticks for any luxury conveyance.
Equipment extends to a cooled driver’s seat, heated front seats with full electric adjustment and active front head rests, electric-adjust steering column, quality leather trim, adaptive cruise control, swivelling xenon headlights, an electric rear sunshade, rear-view camera, 14-speaker audio, satellite navigation, and eight airbags – front, front-side, rear-side and curtain.
The Genesis sedan clearly plays the game long favoured by Japanese sedans – to out-equip and out-size the Germans for less money.
The rear seat in the Hyundai Genesis is very spacious, with quality leather seats and rear air vents, but no separate climate settings for back-seat riders. It’s more spacious than a Commodore, but not quite as lengthy as a Caprice. The front seats are comfortable, soft and likewise trimmed with quality leather, but they lack support for your sides.
As expected, the boot is large and there’s carpeting on the inner side of the bootlid so luggage doesn’t get scratched – or heavy objects don’t dent the bootlid (which from a distance looks conspicuously like that of the current E-Class, which actually launched after the Genesis sedan).
Performance from the big V8 is effortlessly swift, the soundtrack mute in the low part of the tachometer, and pleasantly growly when the throttle is pushed.
The eight-speed auto flutters through its ratios adeptly, and will subtly go back a gear or two under brakes. But using the left steering wheel paddle manually doesn’t correlate with a rev-matching downshift – that is, you get a lurch from the car when manually selecting a lower gear if the revs spike too high.
It takes until 5000rpm for the full torque figure to arrive, with peak power delivered at 6400rpm. Yet this engine is happy to work in the lower part of the rev range as much as it enjoys exploring the top part.
The Hyundai Genesis has that wonderful comfort that once typified a luxury car before many were sent to be tuned at the Nurburgring. It floats over genuinely large compressions, but the car doesn’t come back to the ground with a crash. The body of the Genesis doesn’t move around too much, and comfort over small bumps is excellent, especially considering the large 19-inch wheels – typically, the thicker the sidewall of the tyre, the better the comfort.
The softness of the Hyundai Genesis sedan also reveals surprising balance. It’s easy and enjoyable to find a rhythm at an undemanding pace, but start to push harder and the Genesis sedan starts to feel like it wants to push through bends and not go around them.
Raise corner-entry speed and the tyres grip, the body rolls, and the driver hangs on. Quickly change direction – as the brilliant roads between San Diego and Palm Springs demanded – and the roll turns into lurch, with weight shifting from side to side clearly felt.
The Genesis sedan is rear-wheel drive, though the car doesn't capitalise on the expectation that cars sending their drive to the rear wheels are more dynamic than those sending power to the front wheels. Accelerate out of corners early and the car pushes at the front; attempt to push the throttle later and the stability control aggressively shuts down proceedings anyway.
Arguably the Genesis sedan's main disappointment is steering feel. The electro-mechanical system is slow, vague and sticky to self-centre – completely off-pace with luxury rivals.
It reinforces that this Hyundai simply prefers to be kept within its middle-pace sweet spot, where a Holden Calais, for example, can transition from comfortable cruiser to genuine driver’s car when the tempo is raised.
In its Japanese and Australian – let alone German – rivals there is simply a greater breadth of ability than that offered by the current-generation Hyundai Genesis. But this is a car that gets the basics right – it is quiet, roomy, rides the bumps well, and is seemingly well made.
Pricing will likely dictate whether the next-generation Hyundai Genesis sedan finds an Australian customs stamp in its passport. Despite being sized like a Holden Caprice, and equipped better than most cars under $100K, the Genesis sedan will need to play a strong value card to be a contender, while also widening its talent base with the new generation.
It’s a tough double-ask, and it will be interesting to see if Hyundai rises to the challenge.