Some might argue this is a pointless test. They’d say there’s not a chance in a fiery underworld that luxury car buyers entranced by the German badges could be swayed by one wearing the Hyundai ‘H’.
Yet if it were accepted that unexpected upstarts couldn’t challenge the Germans, then everyone might have ignored a car that in 1989 spooked Audi, BMW and Mercedes with its remarkable build quality and regal levels of refinement. That was the Lexus LS400.
Here, we swap Japan for South Korea – and the new Hyundai Genesis (so no luxury off-shoot brand, either). Lexus was unable to provide either a GS or ES in time for this comparison, while Mercedes-Benz was also shy of an E250 on its press fleet, but thankfully we have arguably the most important car to compare: the BMW 5 Series.
BMW passenger cars were central to Hyundai’s positioning of the Genesis, which is pitched as being about the size of 7 Series, having the dynamics of a 5 Series, yet priced like a 3 Series.
The Genesis is indeed a long car, measuring just a millimeter short of five metres. That’s 91mm longer than a 5 and 89mm shorter than a 7.
At a starting price of $60,000 exactly, the only 3 Series cheaper than the Hyundai is the 316i.
Here, we have the Everything-We-Could-Throw-At-It Genesis, officially known as the Genesis with Ultimate Pack. It lifts the cost to a far more daring $82,000, and closer to the comparable 5 Series we’ve pitched it against: the $97,900 528i.
We’ll start with the common ground on standard features. The Hyundai Genesis Ultimate and BMW 528i both come with a head-up display, front/rear sensors, around/surround view monitor, leather upholstery, 19-inch alloy wheels, rear-view camera, electrically adjustable steering wheel, rain sensors, high beam assist, cornering headlights, dual-zone climate and satellite navigation. In the audio battle, the Korean contender offers a 17-speaker Lexicon to the German’s 16-speaker Harman Kardon.
From there, the $15,900-cheaper Genesis runs away on the equipment front: radar cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, tyre pressure monitoring, 12-way electric front seats (driver only 528i), heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, panoramic sunroof, rear window (electric) and rear side window blinds, sound-deadening glass, soft-close doors, auto bootlid, metallic paint, and a CO2 sensor that automatically adjusts the fresh/recirculated air mix to help avoid drowsiness.
You can start to imagine how much more the BMW 5 Series would cost to match the Hyundai by looking at the extra gear on our 528i test car: metallic paint $2000, auto bootlid $1300, rear blinds $1500, heated seats $900, lane change warning $1400, soft-close doors $900 and sunroof $3200.
Over five years, the Hyundai Genesis is covered under warranty and won’t cost you a penny in servicing (up to 75,000km) and roadside assistance.
BMW’s warranty is the three-year average, while the company’s Service Inclusive package costs $1290 for five-year/80,000km coverage.
Resale experts Glass’s Guide are actually forecasting the Genesis will depreciate slightly slower than the 528i, though with such a new unknown as this Hyundai luxury car this has to be taken as the roughest of guides.
Regardless, the BMW 5 Series simply can’t compete with the Hyundai for value.
Korea’s biggest car maker is being far more ambitious than this, however. The Genesis is designed to transcend the Hyundai badge’s reputation for simply being a good, rational buy.
The Genesis has been engineered with the intention of taking the fight to the Germans in terms of both driving and cabin refinement, with the 528i and E250 among specific testing benchmarks.
To ensure we run through the full gamut of driving scenarios, associate publisher James Ward plots us a course that takes in a lap around Port Phillip Bay starting and finishing at CarAdvice’s Melbourne office in Cremorne.
On the freeway run to Geelong, the noise refinement of the Genesis impresses immediately; there is negligible tyre rumble and minimal wind whistle. The noise-reducing acoustic glass also helps quieten passing traffic. You could close your eyes (not for too long, of course) and easily imagine you’re behind the wheel of a 7 Series.
Even the indicator turn signal is pleasantly subtle as it’s engaged for lane changes.
There’s a lovely loping ride to the Genesis, too (especially appreciated as I write this comparison on my computer in the back seat of our Hyundai test car on the way to Melbourne airport).
Life at 100km/h is hardly noisy in the BMW 528i, though. You hear a bit more from the wheel arches on coarser sections, and the M Sport suspension fitted to our car – part of a $4700 M Sport package – is undeniably firmer without being uncomfortable.
You also notice, though, that the German’s steering isn’t quite as settled as the Korean’s. It’s a little stiff around the straight-ahead and more minute hand inputs are needed to trace the subtle curves of Victoria’s M1.
You also can’t set and forget the cruise control like the Hyundai, which has the more advanced system capable of maintaining a set distance from the vehicle ahead.
Interacting with the respective user interfaces is a superior experience in the BMW, though.
The iDrive system is the world benchmark for intuitive menu operation, backed by smart presentation and our favourite nav set-up.
Maps are detailed, can be placed in a clever split view, and zooming in and out is performed simply by rotating the iDrive dial on the centre console either left or right.
The Genesis lost its rotary controller in the switch from left- to right-hand drive, and it is a loss because trying to use the nav functions via the touchscreen can be a fiddly and distracting affair.
Shortcut buttons are also further away from the screen than you’d expect – where they surround the rotary controller in the Bimmer – though you get to learn their positions quickly enough.
As we veer off from the M1, pass through Geelong and head down to Queenscliffe the variations of roads already reveals the 528i’s four-cylinder turbo delivers more responsive performance.
It’s actually the Genesis’s non-turbo 3.8-litre V6 that feels laggy initially, taking longer to apply incremental requests for speed via increasing pressure on the throttle pedal.
The V6 likes to rev, though, and there’s a pleasant snarl that dovetails purposeful acceleration.
Hyundai’s inhouse eight-speed auto is up to the task of providing smooth shifts, though the BMW’s ZF eight-speeder’s shifts also brings virtually imperceptible gearchanges though with far more intuitive timing when needed – such as changes in gradient and direction.
Aboard the ferry at Queenscliffe, the 40-minute boat trip is a great opportunity to compare cabins in more detail (and make bad jokes about the Genesis and 5 having choppy rides on the way across to Sorrento!).
There is a greater sense of expense to the 5 Series even if it’s level of tactility and detail isn’t quite the match for that of the rival Audi A6. The wood trim in the BMW, for example, is real, where it’s fake in the Hyundai.
The 528i’s instrument cluster looks more premium, and the quality of its switchgear feels higher.
Yet there is much to admire about the Genesis’s cabin (which doesn't feature a single Hyundai logo). Yes, the design falls short of giving the big Hyundai its own distinctive luxury car flavour, but there is some devil in its details.
The damping is excellent all round for buttons, as well as the various lidded compartments integrated into the centre console. The power windows also have an anti-pinching function, slowing in the final part of the opening process.
Genesis puts the three-metre gap between its front and rear axles to good effect to create plenty of legroom even if back seat space has more in common with a Holden Calais than a Caprice.
The centre armrest also features its own control panel for the likes of audio functions, seat heating and front passenger seat adjustment.
Above: BMW 5 Series (top), Hyundai Genesis (bottom).
The 5 Series and its 42mm-shorter wheelbase isn’t far behind on legroom even if some knee clearance is aided by the scalloped front seatbacks. The Genesis also needs some scalloping itself – in the rear rooflining – to aid headroom, though the BMW still leads here.
Overall, the Hyundai adds a more comfortable rear bench to take back-seat honours. The BMW has the edge on practicality, though, due to being the only car of the two to feature folding rear seatbacks.
Both have large boots, with the BMW prioritising length and the Hyundai going for width.
Above: BMW 5 Series (top), Hyundai Genesis (bottom).
Ferry docked, it’s time to roll onto some of the Mornington Peninsula’s finest roads to find out whether the Hyundai can please those who love a good drive as much as a good bargain.
First to remind ourselves of the capabilities of the 528i – the very car Hyundai’s local engineering team targeted for body control.
As with the 3 Series, we know the 5 is best with optional adaptive dampers, though it still shines with the fixed M Sport suspension.
It takes only a few interesting corners to appreciate the BMW has been engineered to satisfy the discerning driver.
You can sense the car’s eagerness to turn into corners through its quick steering and responsively light front end – the 5 Series nothing less than planted and grippy.
This gives the driver all the encouragement they need to press on and choose the speed they’re comfortable with, as do the excellent brakes that have spot-on feel and modulation.
The Hyundai Genesis just doesn’t have the same sports-luxury duality. Where the BMW can be both athletic and comfortable, the Genesis prefers to stick strictly to a suit of the business rather than jogger variety.
It’s better at being hustled along in the base and mid-spec Sensory models that sit on 18-inch wheels where the higher unsprung mass of the top-spec Ultimate’s 19-inchers seem to make if feel less wieldy.
Challenging country roads are still not this car’s forte. Over sharper bumps, the Genesis’s wheels send little quivers through the suspension where the 5 Series on same-size-19s glides over them. The Hyundai’s front end initially bounces more than the 5’s on entry to bumpy corners, and is then is slower to recover as the car is committed to the corner.
There’s then a far greater degree of body roll and the Hyundai’s back end doesn’t feel as planted as the BMW’s.
It’s still a car, however, that can still be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace on a winding drive to the golf club, with steering that is good beyond its on-centre stickiness.
Back onto the freeway – the M11 heading back to base – and the Genesis is back in its true comfort zone, proving to be the masterfully relaxing tourer. It would be our pick of the two cars if our lives involved crunching thousands of freeway kilometers every week.
Over Melbourne’s suburban and urban streets, it remains comfortable though more bumps manage to be felt through the suspension than they do in the more firmly suspended 528i (as well as in comparison to other Genesis models).
Calculations after filling up at the end of our Tour de Bay also revealed the Hyundai Genesis used nearly 40 per cent more fuel than the BMW 528i – using 12.0 litres per 100km compared with 8.6L/100km. And that’s without the BMW getting to sufficiently use the advantage of its stop-start system.
There’s no shock, underdog victory here, though neither is this a no-contest result.
The extra outlay required for the 528i is not insignificant, and the gap of our test cars was more than $30,000 with the BMW's options added in.
Some of that can be offset by the way the BMW rewards in a number of tangible measures the Genesis can’t match. And if you’re a motorist who lists ‘driving’ as one of your hobbies, there’s a greater depth to the BMW’s engineering that enables it to be as much a sports sedan as a luxury four-door.
The Genesis is more one-dimensional in this respect, and some of the areas where the big Hyundai would welcome more polish are easier to overlook at the market-baiting $60,000 entry point (our favourite variant at 8.5/10) than they are at the $82K Ultimate level.
The range-topper is still unrivalled for features. It's just a shame it couldn't add the V8 available in left-hand-drive markets to better justify the $22,000 jump, while the smaller wheels of the base and Sensory models bring a better all-round ride.
Yet in all guises, what is only the second (but first right-hand-drive) Genesis to date is an impressively refined car that has the quietness, comfort and smoothness to cast itself as a genuine alternative to the usual luxury car suspects.
The Germans, long shaken out of their complacency, may not fret about the Genesis like they did that LS400, but ironically it’s now Lexus, as well as Japanese counterpart Infiniti, who should glance worryingly over their shoulders.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.