We're sitting across from a man named Skip. He's being interviewed as part of an effort to find out how people research cars, and after doing so himself, Skip has decided he will buy a 2012 Hyundai Genesis.
Now, this distinguished, white-haired gentleman in the black suit has the money to buy a BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But after researching, driving, poking, prodding and stuffing his golf clubs into their trunks, he's found that not only is the Genesis a vastly better value, but it actually meets his needs better.
The fact that a Hyundai is being considered alongside flagship luxury cars at all is reason for the Korean company to pop open a few bottles of Soju and celebrate. But resting on such laurels is not in Hyundai's relentlessly self-improving makeup. Its midsize luxury sedan can be better and swing for farther fences, and to do so, the 2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec has been created.
This new range-topping trim for the refreshed 2012 Genesis is the only way to get the equally new 5.0-liter version of Hyundai's Tau V8. It's a bored-out version of the 4.6-liter V8 bolstered by direct injection and a higher compression ratio. The result is a rating of 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque.
Not only does this make it the most powerful engine ever produced by Hyundai's car division (there's certainly some Korean-market bus with something beefier), it also boasts the most horsepower among a group of V8-powered luxury sedans that includes the BMW 550i and Infiniti M56.
However, when we strapped the R-Spec onto our friendly neighborhood dyno, the Hyundai didn't quite match its Japanese rival. While the M56 sends 380 hp to the wheels, the Hyundai manages "only" 364. Either Infiniti is being coy or Hyundai is being optimistic, but they can't both be right.
Infiniti scores another victory on our drag strip, besting the Hyundai by 0.3 second from zero to 60 thanks to its apparent power advantage and roughly 200 fewer pounds. Still, the R-Spec takes only 5.3 seconds to hit 60 (5.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip), which is on par with the 550i, Audi A6 3.0T and Mercedes-Benz E550. In other words, it may not be top dog, but it's still damned quick and holds its own against some very distinguished company.
It's also capable of a rather epic tire-scorching burnout, as well as the sort of spine-in-your-seat punch you expect from a big V8. Power delivery is absolutely effortless and buttery smooth, but without the sort of aural histrionics that'll weaken the knees of car-loving passersby. However, the 2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec has an ability to shock fellow motorists like few other cars on the road — you just don't expect an anonymous Korean luxury sedan to take off in such an exuberant manner.
Eight Is Too Much
On the highway, the 5.0 clearly has more than enough passing power, but it's let down by its eight-speed automatic transmission. Now standard throughout the Genesis lineup, this new eight-speed is said to improve acceleration, shift smoothness and fuel economy.
It may indeed do all that, but despite the more aggressive shift schedule and throttle mapping of the R-Spec, it also has a tendency to feel flummoxed by its multitude of gear choices when the time comes to downshift. You'll be cruising along in 8th, lay into the accelerator for a pass, then wait as the transmission realizes a drop to 7th or 6th isn't sufficient since both are also overdrive gears. You'll likely end up in 5th, but by then, your passing moment may have passed.
Sure, there's a manual option with the gated console shifter (no paddles), but shift response is absolutely glacial. It will also often overrule your judgment, swapping cogs long before redline.
Suspension Needs Some Work
The soggy transmission is not the first indication that this 2012 Hyundai Genesis doesn't exactly live up to the sport sedan moniker. On relatively smooth highway blacktop, the sport-tuned suspension is firm, but within the realm of comfort.
Slow things down, however, and it starts to show the same sort of unsophisticated and unpleasantly firm feel on rough city pavement of other Hyundais and Kias with "sport tuning." Other cars in this class are firm, but they don't come with the relentless lateral bobbing and jostling that'll leave you pawing your forehead and declaring, "Enough, already!"
The 2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec's thicker rear stabilizer bars, higher front and rear spring rates and a 25-30 percent higher damping rate quite simply don't add up to a ride befitting a luxury car. The new hardware does generate better performance numbers, though.
Compared to the Genesis 4.6 (which will continue to be sold), the R-Spec gained 2.3 mph through the slalom for a speed of 64.9 mph, slightly slower than its main competition. With its optional summer tires, the R-Spec fared better on the skid pad, rounding the circle with 0.88g of grip. That's a fair bit better than the last 550i we tested, though not quite as sticky as the M56 and A6 3.0T. Its 112-foot stop from 60 mph is dead even for the class.
Indeed, the R-Spec shows that it has some skill around corners, whether at our track or tackling quick transitions on canyon roads. Yet that skill doesn't translate to an athleticism that inspires you to really drive it. The Genesis' sheer bulk is part of that, the flat seats are another. The biggest culprit, however, is the numb steering that still doesn't deliver much road feel despite an increase in effort that comes along with the R-Spec.
Perhaps it's too much to ask Hyundai to achieve the sort of optimized ride-handling balance that European automakers have spent decades perfecting, but there's not even an appreciable trade-off here as there is with the M56 (firm ride, athletic feel) or the Genesis 4.6 (plush ride, relaxed feel).
Genesis Models of Different Spec
For better or worse, the 2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec is only expected to constitute 5 percent of the Genesis sedans that leave Hyundai dealerships. So for the remaining 20 percent (4.6) and 75 percent (the 3.8-liter V6, with more power and direct injection for 2012) of potential Skips out there, there are a number of other enhancements and improvements for 2012.
Though it's frankly tough to tell without side-by-side photos, the exterior has been given a subtle but successful tweaking. The nondescript grille has been redone to look a little less like a Klingon's forehead, while the airdam has been widened for a more aggressive appearance and to conceal the adaptive cruise control emitter. The headlights also get a tasteful LED running light treatment. Though the lower side skirts and rear valance with integrated twin pipes may look like they belong solely to the sport-tuned R-Spec, they are actually applied to every Genesis. Indeed, besides the 5.0 R-Spec badge and 19-inch graphite wheels, it's hard to differentiate the top-of-the-line model.
Inside, changes are restricted to the addition of heated rear seats, which is just fine. Though the cabin of the Genesis doesn't quite measure up to its vastly more expensive luxury-branded competitors, it's still a lovely place to spend time. Everything's screwed together well, the materials are appropriately plush for its price point, features are abundant and its 17-speaker Lexicon sound system (standard on the R-Spec) makes virtually every other stereo sound like the AM radio buzzing into Grandma's left ear. Add in an enormous backseat and it's hard to imagine why someone would bother with an Equus.
Is It Right for Skip?
So do we like the Genesis? Yes. Do we like the new Tau 5.0 V8? (Um, did you see that burnout up there?) Do they work together? Absolutely, but a big engine does not make a sport sedan and Hyundai has a ways to go in the steering and suspension departments before it can truly be placed on the same pedestal as those cars that bear traditional luxury badges.
Still, the 2012 Hyundai Genesis R-Spec's price tag of $48,750 still undercuts the M56 by about $12,000 and the Germans by thousands more — even if it seems awfully steep for a Hyundai. That's just the sort of value proposition that has made guys like Skip think twice about the traditional names in luxury. If he also digs massive V8 power and lives in a land of pristine pavement, then the R-Spec may do a similar trick. Otherwise, he'd better stick with a Genesis of regular spec.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation.