In the past, if you were a successful executive in the market for a big saloon that reflected your position the choices were somewhat limited. You could follow the herd and go German while those of a more rebellious nature made a beeline for a Jag. The decision was based on some vague sense of connection, a unilateral companionship with a particular brand, something that reflected the desired public persona. This method of choice didn’t matter because all the choices were excellent: BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, they all created solid, powerful and luxurious flagship models. They are amongst the great names from the history of motoring, they have that most revered of qualities, a racing pedigree. They sit among the finest of the automotive aristocracy. Which is why I can’t quite believe I’m going to propose you add Hyundai to the list.
Stop mumbling about my sanity and let me explain myself. Hyundai make good cars, I recently drove six different models in one day and every single one of them was well designed, well built and drove well. This is all well and good but nobody would describe them as executive saloons so how can they possibly compare, it’s apples and oranges. Or at least it was before Hyundai produced an absolute peach. The new Genesis – it’s actually the second incarnation, the first wasn’t sold here – appeared in the showrooms of a select group of dealers in April so the chances are you won’t have seen one on the road. It’s highly likely to remain something of a rarity which is exactly why, if you want something a little different, you should give it serious consideration. Forget all your preconceptions, the Genesis is a contender.
The the Genesis oozes presence from every seam. The deep, chrome grille and sleek headlamps give it the kind of face usually seen surging from the deep attached to 20ft of Great White Shark. If you squint a little you can even make the LED running lights look a bit like gills. It’s a face that demands respect, a broad, powerful face with chiseled looks, effortless charisma and a slight hint of menacing ruthlessness. Imagine this face appearing in your rear view mirror, you’re not quite sure what it is but you know deep down in your bones that you don’t stand a chance.
At the first opportunity it pulls out to effortlessly glide past you and its sheer size begins to sink in. At almost five metres the Genesis is built on the long wheelbase essential for any flagship executive saloon. In order to create a truly luxurious environment you need space, because it’s space that defines a luxury car and a longer wheelbase gives you the space to play with. It also gives you a lot of bodywork to create some stunning lines. There’s an elegantly subtle curve that runs from the headlamp, under the windows before touching the opposing corner of the rear light cluster. Above it the roofline rises into a streamlined hump, it looks like it’s poised to launch into the attack. It sits quite low on its 19″ alloys but they are nicely balanced with just the right amount of overhang so it doesn’t look like the suspension was setup by an 18 year old with no belt and his hat on backwards. The size fits the Genesis like a Saville Row suit, this is an imposing and seriously good looking car.
Round the back your eye is immediately drawn to the fantastic chrome exhausts set discreetly into the body. Yes, I know it’s contradictory to say the first thing you see is discreet but if you see one in the flesh and you’ll know what I mean. It’s an understated sense of power. The sculpted light cluster wraps around the curve of the rear and draws your eye back along the length of the car. The long slope down from the roof, the window flowing seamlessly into metal until it rises into the elegantly curved spoiler. The Genesis is elegantly purposeful, it’s a photographers’ dream. Whoever designed this car knew exactly what they were doing and who they were doing it for. If the Genesis intends to take on the big boys it needs to tick a lot of very specific boxes and as far as looks are concerned it more than meets the grade. It’s not pretty but it’s certainly striking.
There’s a favourable comparison on the inside too. Acres of beautiful cream leather, suede roof trim, perfectly polished wood trim, all combine to create a light and incredibly airy cabin. The seats are almost as comfortable as your bed on a Sunday morning lie-in, and infinitely more adjustable. It’s an interior that exudes quality. As you would expect, the Genesis is packed with all the latest gadgets, driver aids and safety systems: Smart cruise control; lane assist; blind-spot monitoring; automatic emergency braking; head-up display; 8″ TFT colour touchscreen; park assist and around view monitoring that shows an overhead shot of the car when reversing so you can clearly see the smallest obstacle; all of this and much more is wrapped up in one luxurious package. Getting into the Genesis is like turning left when you board a plane – I’ve never flown First class but this is how I imagine it feels – there’s a sense of calm efficiency, attention to detail and refined elegance that is just…special. It’s the little things that make the difference. The way the wing mirrors automatically angle downwards when you select reverse to improve your view. The doors that close automatically if you don’t pull quite hard enough. The huge expanse of glass in the roof that lights up the interior. The separate controls hidden away in the rear armrest that allows passengers to not only adjust the climate control and the entertainment system but also move the front passenger seat if the legroom isn’t quite enough.
Not that legroom is an issue in any case. As I said before, it’s the space that defines a luxury car and the Genesis has all you will ever need. The rear seats wouldn’t look out of place in the first class lounge, you just sink into luxurious leather and let the Genesis waft you to your destination. That it achieves this without compromising on boot capacity makes the package even better. If you were so inclined you could carry a fifth passenger in there and still have room for your overnight bags. It’s obviously a bit of an outdated cliche given how far Hyundai have developed over the years, but you really do have to remind yourself that you’re sitting in a Korean car and I can’t think of a better compliment than that. Is the Genesis better than its direct rivals when it comes to luxury? In all honesty, no it isn’t, but it’s certainly as good as and that makes it one of the best.
But enough with the art appreciation waffle, what you really want to know is how does it drive? There’s not much point of all the style and luxury if the engine sucks, the gearbox is rubbish and the ride is terrible. Not a chance. The Genesis doesn’t disappoint because tucked away between the front wheels is a 3.8L, 24v, V6 that produces 311bhp and almost as much in torque. That power is transmitted via an 8 speed automatic gearbox straight to the rear wheels for better weight distribution. 0-60 takes 6.5 seconds, top speed is what I suspect is an artificially restrained 150mph. These are impressive figures that put the Genesis right up alongside it’s rivals, all the more so because the car weighs just a couple of passengers short of two tonnes. I won’t bore with you the fuel economy (25-30mpg is reasonable given the contents of the engine bay) but I will make a prediction – anyone who worries about fuel figures won’t buy a Genesis, anyone who seriously considers buying one won’t care too much about them.
It’s not just powerful either. The engine is beautifully smooth, quiet and refined. It moves off almost silently – although that may be partly down to the soundproof glazing – and when the revs build the gearbox flicks up instantly with a barely noticeable drop in power. If you aren’t paying attention you won’t notice the gear changes at all. Hyundai claim this smooth change is due to the engineering technology that goes into the gearbox, I think it’s more to do with magic than mechanics, the gearbox is that fantastic. You can waft along at 30 miles an hour and the engine will purr along quite serenely as you wallow in the soft leather and savour the moment. Even at speed the pull of the engine is effortless, and the worst of the bumps and lumps are swallowed up by the incredibly smooth ride. You may notice I used words like serene and waft, and with good reason. The electronically controlled air suspension adjusts according to the road conditions and that makes driving the Genesis is a bit like riding a feather on a light breeze. I can’t imagine a journey, however long, that wouldn’t be a comfortable pleasure in the Genesis. Unless madness strikes and you press a particular button.
It’s nestled next to the gear selector and it bears the words, “DRIVE MODE”. Touch this and things happen, good things, because as well as the usual comfort and economy modes there’s a sport option. Select this and the little display icon turns red, the suspension stiffens up, the throttle response sharpens and the whole car tenses up. If, at this point, you feel the need to bury your right foot into the shag pile please take note: If there is a police officer within 100 yards you may as well just give them your license and ring a taxi. Planting your foot down hard in sport mode engages the hyperdrive. There’s a low growl from the engine, the back hunkers down and the horizon explodes through the windscreen in a blur of Tarmac and adrenaline. Flick the paddle on the steering wheel and it just keeps on coming, again, and again, and again. The growl of the engine is now a full-bore V6 howl from the twin exhausts, your eardrums are singing and the head-up display shows no sign of slowing it’s advance. Three figures appear in a matter of seconds (I imagine) and you realise the corner that just a few seconds ago was miles away is now significantly closer.
Hit the brakes and the speed instantly drops off as the front turns into the corner. The steering is precise, the front wheels do exactly what you tell them to. There’s no fuss, no sense of uncertainly, the Genesis plant itself on the road and refuses to let go. The only sense that anything out of the ordinary is occurring is when the seat bolsters suddenly tighten around you and hold you in place as you hit the apex. As you straighten up and get back on the throttle there’s a little chirp from the rear as the tyres get to grips with the surge of power then the car sorts itself out before hurtling onwards to the next corner. If you want an event, the Genesis is definitely a good place to be. The figures speak for themselves but they don’t accurately reflect the way the power is delivered: Inexorable is a good word.
At some point in this review I am obliged to highlight any negatives or I wouldn’t be able to stake my claim on the impartial high ground, so sit down and brace yourself for bad news – I don’t like the badge. Yup, that’s it, the only thing I could find about the Genesis that I didn’t like was the badge. Hyundai will no doubt disagree which probably explains why they are a hugely successful, multinational company and I’m an opinionated, regional motoring writer. My problem is that from a distance the badge is too reminiscent of Aston Martin and that strikes me as a little bit like cheating. I completely understand why it doesn’t have a Hyundai badge, it makes perfect sense commercially and every company is ultimately in business to make money. Hyundai wouldn’t be the first car maker to develop a high-end model with alternate branding and I doubt they’ll be the last. I just think that a car as good as the Genesis should really be sporting a badge that’s unique to the brand, it deserves much more than a vague facsimile borrowed from elsewhere.
On the plus side, if the only issue is the badge then it proves what an excellent job Hyundai have done with the Genesis. Without question this is an outstanding car, the best I’ve driven for a long while and a genuine alternative to the usual suspects. Not only is it a worthy rival but at a fiver over £48k on the road it’s likely to be better value for money too. In the hypothetical world of the motoring writer the big test is always, would I spend my own money? In the real world of the Genesis the answer is a resounding, yes. Not that I have the money to spend, but if I did. It’s as good as the others in every respect but it has one crucial advantage that makes it the clever choice. It’s not one of them and for that reason alone it’s the one I’d have.