It's like taking a big gamble. In introducing the 2012 Hyundai Genesis
5.0 R-Spec, does Hyundai mess with a generally well-received design in hopes of attracting more customers, or do they leave well enough alone?
That's the dilemma Hyundai faced with v2.0 of their Genesis sedan.
Hyundai holed us up in Las Vegas' Mandarin Oriental hotel, one of just a few in Sin City to not feature a casino, in order to grab our undivided attention to explain the rationale of moving in both an upwardly mobile and outwardly sportier direction with the Genesis R-Spec.
So join us in tipping our waitress,and double-down as we test the R-Spec to find out if this Hyundai is a sinner""or a saint.
It's all about image
The simple Genesis sedan has been one of our new favorites as far as contemporary design is concerned, even more so with the substitution of the winged logo instead of the stylized "H" for its Hyundai parent company.
With the 2012 model, there have been a few nips and tucks (but then, in Vegas, who hasn't seen a little here and there?) A more aggressive grille and front fascia are joined by the addition of LED elements in the headlamp housings. New rocker panels add character to the sides while asymmetrical exhaust finishers bring up the rear by exiting the newly revised rear bumper. Other subtle cues add a degree of freshening. Case in point: The brushed aluminum trim that helps to subtly define the darkened daylight opening of the greenhouse on the Genesis.
Those were all subtleties in design. The one immediately noticeable feature that had us at first glance was the paint. Sick
would be the word and that's not illing. Almost three dimensional in appearance, we haven't seen this much metal-flake on a body since George Barris did some of his best hot rod work in the Sixties.
More than that, it's a case of shooting more testosterone into an already decent performer. A new 5.0-liter version of the existing 4.6-liter Tau (in Hyundai-speak) engine pumps out 429 horsepower - enough to make Hyundai's drift and Pikes Peak hill climb pilot Rhys Millen grin, no doubt.
Of course, Hyundai will also continue to offer 3.8-liter V6 and 4.6-liter V8 Genesis models, but our attention was tuned to the big poppa for this evaluation. Squaring off against some of the segment's heavy hitters - think BMW 550i and Mercedes-Benz E550 - the Genesis R-Spec forgoes turbos for solid, traditional grunt.
With a simple elegance, the Genesis' interior essentially continues on from the 2011 model into the new model year - but it is not without fault. TFT screens assist in the gauge binnacle, while single-needle stitching enhances most of the interior surfaces with leather-over-soft touch materials. The Lexicon audio kit is a top-shelf, eardrum-threatening system that punched out the hits.
We find the leather-wrapped steering wheel with its redundant controls expected in this segment. That it is not as elegant or sporty as one found in some of its competition is slightly off-putting. So too the front seats, which offer heating in both, but only ventilation and adjustable lumbar support on the driver's side. To which the person in the passenger seat might ask, "What's up with that?"
We know we did.
The beast underhood
That the Genesis R-Spec is outfitted with the 5.0 liter Tau direct-injected V8 bears noting: As the most powerful engine ever offered by the firm, it will soon find a home in a multitude of vehicles including the top-of-the-line Equus. All in good time, we say. Based on the 4.6-liter V-8 that it joins in the lineup, the 5.0 offers more power with a reasonable drop in fuel economy to 16/25 mpg (from 17/26 for the 4.6). At 85.8 hp per liter, it is more powerful than normally-aspirated competitors but it's a touch behind the turbocharged 550i and (for 2012) E550.
By the numbers, this engine puts out like a "Vegas call girl to the tune of 429 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, 300 of which comes in at just 1,500 rpm. As a result, the automaker says that 60 mph blinks by in about 5.1 seconds - an impressive figure that's nonetheless just behind the Germans, even if it's a little ahead of the Lexus GS460 and Infiniti M56
Having boat-loads of power does nobody any good if you cannot efficiently deliver it to the wheels. To that end,. Hyundai went in-house to design a new eight-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic (Hyundai-speak for a manual shift gate). The transmission is standard with all engines in the Genesis sedan line, and along with the 5.0, it will find its way into the new Equus model at the end of the summer.
The R-Spec's sport-tuned suspension is an improvement over the kit in the outgoing model. Comprised of an independent five-link setup at both ends, with stiffer front and rear springs as well as Sachs ASD shock absorbers with higher damping rates, they do their part to firm things up between the body and the road. A lightweight hollow-type 19 mm rear stabilizer bar is in place to tighten up the turns in back, while the front end stab-bar measures up at 25 mm. Steering calibration, according to Hyundai, has also been beefed up with an electro-hydraulic setup corresponding to the improved suspension. Finally, 13.6-inch front brake rotors replace the outgoing 13-inch models found in the previous Genesis.
Out and about
Putting the Hyundai Genesis on the pavement right outside of Lake Las Vegas and onward to the Valley of Fire State Park, fifty miles northeast of the Strip, is a trip that combines speed, spice, a touch of heat and some great roads.
The Genesis R-Spec is a vast improvement over the standard 4.6-liter model, but all is not totally right with the world. Power from the 5.0 was dialed in precisely so acceleration was smooth and progressed in a linear fashion. The eight-speed offered smooth shift points without a bit of chatter.
Unfortunately, the tuned-for-Korea suspension is the weakest link in the equation. Typically designed for that floaty, cushy feel, Hyundai America ride engineers tried their best to get the setup tuned to a firmer feel than the domestic-market vehicle sold there. The end result is a sedan that does not begin to approach the taut driving characteristics found in the Audi, BMW and Mercedes performance divisions.
Steering offered great feedback while negotiating the sweeping turns and tight radius jobs that we found ourselves on while riding through the Red Rocks. But hit a left-right-left combination and you have the potential to land back in floaty-boaty land.
Don't get us wrong. If you are a builder of economical cars and are trying to move upmarket, bringing a car to the U.S. luxury market requires stones the size of basketballs. Especially when the vehicle is being marketed as part of a company's performance division. It's a good first effort, but one that has us eagerly anticipating what's next.
Leftlane's bottom line
Hyundai gets their feet wet in the bespoke performance division wars alongside AMG, M, and S-departments at Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, respectively. Those German engineers know that it takes more than just a big honking engine to do the trick, which is basically where we are now: A slightly better handling, big-motored example of Hyundai's well-equipped Genesis.
Hyundai has some work ahead of them if this is the path they plan to pursue. We can't wait to see the results.
2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec
base price, $46,500.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.