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First drive: Genesis sedan shows Hyundai genius

High praise: If ever there was a car to change Australians’ perception of the Korean budget brand, it is the Genesis sedan.

Classy new Genesis sedan proves Hyundai is far from a one-trick pony

9 Nov 2010

HYUNDAI’S enormous advances in the areas of quality, refinement and design in recent years have played no small part in booming sales of the i30, Santa Fe and new ix35, which no longer attract large numbers of Australians due solely to the Korean car-maker’s core attribute of value for money.

As evidenced most unequivocally by the mid-size i45 sedan, however, Hyundai’s mainstream models still struggle to combine solid styling and first-class refinement with the sort of handling dynamics offered by its most direct Japanese rivals, let alone the German-engineered benchmarks to which Hyundai says the i45 aspires.

At least Hyundai has demonstrated responsiveness to customer and media feedback, rushing out an upgraded ‘MY11’ version of the i45 with suspension upgrades that are claimed to also improve the car’s steering, although GoAuto is yet to find out first hand if the changes eliminate the i45’s pronounced steering rack rattle and kickback.

1 center imageEither way, the i45 remains the most stylish, competent medium sedan Hyundai has ever produced, notwithstanding the steering shortcomings that will likely go unnoticed by the vast majority of i45 buyers.

But if ever there was a car that can completely change Australians’ perception of the Korean budget brand, it is the Genesis sedan.

We’d seen the accolades heaped on the 2009 North American Car of the Year since its 2008 launch in Asia, Europe and the US, and we’ve lamented the fact the Genesis sedan won’t be produced in right-hand drive guise for Australia until the second-generation model launches around 2014.

But until we drove an MY11 version ourselves this week in South Korea – over a twisting 140km tourist road loop north from Seoul towards the Demilitarized Zone – we didn’t really believe the conservatively styled Genesis could be that much superior to the rest of Hyundai’s model line-up.

How wrong we were. Far from being its Achilles Heel, the Genesis sedan’s electro-hydraulic steering system is agile, responsive and communicative, offering a tight 10.97-metre turning circle, less than three turns lock to lock and consistently sporty weighting without a whiff of rack rattle or kick.

Along with the variable Sachs dampers in the sophisticated five-link front and rear suspension systems, the steering firms up appreciably when you press the Sport button, but at all times the Genesis sedan tiller feels precise and alive in your hands, responding instantly to subtle driver inputs and following road cambers like, dare we say it, the BMW 5 Series at which it takes most direct aim.

Combined with consistently strong, progressive brakes and a chassis that not only feels bank vault-solid but comes with a near-perfect ride/handling compromise, the four-door Genesis delivers impeccably compliant ride quality on all manner of road surfaces yet changes direction at any speed without undue bodyroll.

Certainly, although it has a unique Asian flavour of its own, in terms of dynamics the booted Genesis feels nearly as accomplished as BMW’s benchmark 5 Series, while being as quiet as a Lexus GS and offering the interior fit and finish of an Audi A6, albeit with a slightly more minimalist execution.

Interior quality and noise suppression is equally impressive within the surprisingly large cabin, which features soft-touch surfaces in all the areas that matter and enough front and rear leg, head and shoulder room to satisfy five full-size adults for a full day’s drive – and all their luggage in a boot that’s as luxurious as it is commodious.

Unlike the Genesis coupe - which rides on a different (shorter-wheelbase) platform, is wrapped in a unique two-door bodyshell and comes with either 2.0-litre turbocharged or 3.8-litre V6 engines, the sedan is available with only V6 and V8 power.

Alas, we can only imagine how good the flagship Genesis sedan would be with Hyundai’s award-winning 4.6-litre ‘Tau’ V8 under the bonnet, combined with ZF’s slick six-speed automatic transmission.

Matched with an Aisin six-speed auto (also with manual-shift mode), Hyundai’s lusty 216kW/358Nm 3.8-litre alloy V6 makes the Genesis a rorty, responsive and flexible drive, but remains refined all the way to 6500rpm.

As part of next year’s 2012 Genesis sedan facelift, which is officially “extremely unlikely” to be available in right-hand drive form in Australia, the latter will be made even better via an upgraded 325kW/510Nm direct-injected 5.0-litre version of the current model’s 280kW/451Nm 4.6-litre V8, matched with an eight-speed auto.

An all-wheel drive version is also under consideration, although air suspension is already an option. Of course, an electric hand brake and electrically adjusting steering wheel is standard.

Hyundai says its first large, rear-wheel drive sedan combines BMW 7 Series interior space and 5 Series handling performance with 3 Series pricing and, with a $US33,000 ($A32,578) North American starting price for the entry-level 3.8-litre V6 we drove, the Genesis certainly spells value alongside BMW’s smaller–engined 328i, which costs $US33,650 there.

Super-competitive pricing doesn’t come at the expense of standard equipment either, with inclusions extending to eight airbags, electronic stability/traction control, leather trim, power front seat adjustment, heated and ventilated front seats, foglights, heated side mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate-control, cruise control, a leather steering wheel The Genesis sedan we drove also came with a Technology pack that costs $US5500 ($A5435) and adds satellite-navigation via and an eight-inch colour touch-screen, 18-inch alloys, rain-sensing wipers, dynamic Xenon headlights with washers, an electric sunroof, rear-view camera, Bluetooth connectivity and a high-end Lexicon sound system with 17 speakers, which Hyundai says before now has only been available from Rolls-Royce.

For the record, the Genesis sedan is big for its class both inside and out, at 4976mm long, 1890mm wide and 1476mm high. Wheelbase is a rangy 2936mm, aerodynamic drag is a slippery 0.27Cd and kerb weights range from 1700kg for the base V6 to 1870kg for the fully-optioned V8.

As Hyundai’s first attempt at a full-size luxury sedan, the Genesis offers a purity of execution that belies its lack of heritage and a driving experience that’s so undiluted it’s hard to believe the more avant-garde looking but fundamentally flawed i45 is produced by the same company.

But the Genesis proves the world’s fifth-largest car-maker now has the ability to produce a top-class global sedan, matching its ambition with capability for the first time and potentially offering formidable flow-down technologies for its mainstream models.

If the Genesis sedan becomes available here, Australian buyers of large premium sedans will be significantly short-changed if they don’t look beyond this car’s Hyundai badge – or beyond the badge of their own German or Japanese luxury car.

Even if it attracts only a small number of luxury car buyers here, Hyundai needs the Genesis in Australian showrooms, where it stands to do more for the giant-killing Korean brand than any model before it.

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