Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
Imitations are often just as good as name-brand originals. Rich people aren't always happy. Impressing others is a shallow and vain pursuit. If you're offended by any of the previous statements, the all-new 2009 Hyundai Genesis is not for you. If, on the other hand, you can admit that dollar for dollar, business class is just as good as first class and some chain restaurants actually have good food, you may be just who Hyundai has in mind for the new Genesis sedan.
Image and brand aside, the Hyundai Genesis stands up quite well on its own two feet as it is essentially a very competent, luxurious rear-wheel-drive sedan. When judged on its own merits, the Genesis is anything but a knockoff, and it's only the lack of brand cachet that gives it a slightly imitation flavor ? that and the fact that it looks a lot like a Lexus from certain angles.
Available with a V6 or a V8, the Genesis works well with both engines. Opting for the V6 does not mean you're getting a lesser car by any means. After significant seat time in the V6, we never once felt shortchanged or bonked our collective heads while shouting "I could have had a V8!" The 3.8-liter V6 is strong, quiet and smooth; Buick and Cadillac owners may even be jealous.
Although the 2009 Hyundai Genesis comes nicely equipped, those looking for a truly luxurious experience will want to check out the Premium Plus package. It adds significantly to the bottom line but helps push the Genesis to the next level in terms of luxury with features like a premium audio system and rain-sensing wipers.
All Genesis sedans are rear-wheel drive and come in either V6 or V8 trim, named respectively 3.8 or 4.6, after the size of the engine. The V6 version is obviously less expensive but does not feel second-rate. Power comes from a 3.8-liter six-cylinder that makes 290 horsepower. In our testing, 0-60 mph came up in 6.3 seconds, a respectable number for a large luxury sedan. Merging on to a fast-moving freeway is effortless and the engine never sounds harsh — even under full power. Six- and eight-cylinder versions route power through the same six-speed automatic transmission. It handles that power in a smooth and predictable manner — upshifts are positive without being harsh and downshifts are virtually imperceptible.
Handling is similarly impressive. The suspension is well balanced with a desirable combination of firm, sporty handling and simple comfort. There's just enough of an edge that, unlike competitors like the Hyundai Azera and Toyota Avalon, the 2009 Hyundai Genesis can actually be fun to fling through a tight freeway interchange.
Thankfully, the handling edge never translates into hard or harsh. Part of the credit here goes to the spacious and nicely padded seats. Power front seats are standard, but both the Premium and Premium Plus packages add a memory feature for the driver seat and the included tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. It makes finding the perfect driving position that much easier. Rear-seat passengers are treated just as well with ample legroom, plenty of headroom and a rear sunshade.
In addition to memory settings, that Premium Plus package adds rain-sensing wipers, a leather-lined dash and a great-sounding Lexicon 14-speaker audio system. While the optional stereo doesn't match up to Lexus' Mark Levinson system, it does sound very good and, again, gives the Genesis a special feel. (For 2010, Hyundai has renamed some of its option packages.)
And the Genesis cabin remains quiet enough to enjoy that Lexicon sound system. Even at highway speeds, very little wind or road noise makes its way into the cabin.
Many luxury automakers seem to equate high tech with a confusing array of buttons and switches. Considering this is Hyundai's first true luxury vehicle, the company has exercised a remarkable amount of restraint in that area. All dash-mounted buttons relating to audio and climate control are arranged in a sort of half circle in the center of the dash. The faux metallic surface is pleasing to look at but definitely feels like plastic. The audio controls that reside just above that have a soft rubbery feel and everything is well marked and well laid out. There's a symmetry to it that's very pleasing visually. Redundant steering wheel controls work well, too, and are labeled with large, easy-to-read lettering.
The trunk is very spacious, with 16 cubic feet of cargo space. That's more space than an Acura RL or Lexus GS 350. However, there is one drawback when hauling stuff: The rear seats don't fold down. Instead, you'll have to make due with a pass-through that's useful mainly for skis or 2x4s.
Design/Fit and Finish
Not only does the Genesis' interior work functionally, it's also filled with materials and textures that look and feel as if they're all orchestrated to elicit a "this is a nice car" response from your friends and neighbors. At first the 2009 Hyundai Genesis seems like nothing more than a fake Lexus, but it is a good-looking sedan and is much larger in person than pictures suggest. Large wheels and dual exhaust outlets give the Genesis a substantial look on the road. Panels inside and out fit together nicely and there's a precision in the Genesis that's lacking in less expensive Hyundai vehicles. And that's something you just can't fake.
Who should consider this vehicle
Those looking for that ever-elusive combination of value and luxury in a full-size sedan will love the 2009 Hyundai Genesis 3.8. It's Lexus luxury at a Hyundai price.
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