Several months ago we drove an early example of the all-new 2015 Hyundai Genesis sedan in Korea. We were impressed.
After a couple laps around a tight and twisty handling loop at Hyundai's proving grounds outside Seoul, Senior Ride and Handling Engineer Young Jin Hyun asked if we could feel the difference between the drive modes.
He was referring to the new Intelligent Drive Mode Select (IDMS), a driver-adjustable system that alters the transmission, steering, stability control and suspension settings (the last for the V8 model only, when equipped with adaptive suspension) of the redesigned sedan. Often these systems deliver barely perceptible changes, but we found the Sport mode noticeably more aggressive than the standard setting.
"Good," he says. "My job would not be done if it didn't make a real difference."
Fast-forward to the present, and we're behind the wheel again, but this time in Arizona just weeks before the new Genesis hits U.S. dealerships. Would we be as equally impressed?
It's a tall order. That first-generation Genesis was new and very different for Hyundai, and that was almost enough in and of itself. But now that the Genesis is well established, it has to offer something more than just affordable luxury.
Here's How It Intends To Beat the Germans at Their Own Game
Built on an all-new rear-wheel-drive platform, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis is similar to the previous sedan in most dimensions. A nearly 3-inch-longer wheelbase (now at 118.5 inches) is the only drastic change, one that puts this Genesis well above both the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class when it comes to space between the wheels.
That might seem like a trivial comparison, but Hyundai used both German competitors as benchmarks for the new Genesis. This new Genesis uses more advanced high-strength steel and has better torsional rigidity than the latest 5 Series. Not only is that torsional rigidity up by 16 percent, but bending rigidity is stiffer by 40 percent. So what do those numbers mean to the average buyer? The car feels more refined on the road, even if that road is dead straight and perfectly smooth.
Hyun's team also upgraded this Genesis with standard variable-ratio rack-mounted electric power steering along with a newly optional all-wheel-drive system Hyundai calls HTRAC. The former allows for the significant difference in steering feel and weighting between Normal and Sport modes. The latter (which is the first AWD system for a Hyundai passenger car) adds both improved all-weather drivability and better on-demand performance in dry conditions. For now the AWD system will only be available on V6 models, but Hyundai isn't ruling it out for the V8 at a later time.
In normal driving, the HTRAC system uses a 40/60 front-to-rear torque bias for a more natural feel. Dial up the Sport mode and take a corner hard and the bias can ratchet to as much as 10/90, depending on conditions. Arizona's dry weather and fairly straight roads precluded us from experiencing this system to its fullest.
Is It a Real Sport Sedan?
But as exciting as Sport modes and the availability of a rear-drive-biased all-wheel-drive system sound, this Hyundai Genesis is not a hard-edged sport sedan. We found that even in Sport mode there's still plenty of compliance in the optional Continuous Damping Control (CDC) suspension, which makes sense since a U.S. Hyundai engineer told us that, while it's hard to quantify exact numbers, the difference between Normal and Sport in terms of stiffness is about 20 percent.
The steering's heft feels like it gets more of a change in Sport than the suspension does, but it's still not what we'd call heavy. The stiffer chassis gets some credit here, along with the redesigned multilink rear suspension and standard strut tower braces up front.
During our quick test loop run in Korea, the Genesis felt responsive and predictable. It turns in quickly and has adequate grip for a sedan of its size. In the Normal suspension setting there's an average amount of body roll, and the brakes, though initially a bit touchy, exhibit plenty of power to slow the big sedan down quickly.
Changing to the Sport setting cuts down on the body roll and serves up a more aggressive shift program for the automatic transmission. It made for a more engaging track drive, even though no Genesis owners are likely to ever use it for that purpose.
Back in the States, driving on the mostly smooth country roads outside Scottsdale, the Genesis proved surprisingly adept in the twisties, the steering in particular exhibiting a much more precise feel than the last generation. And even though this is a stiffer car, the increased suspension travel endowed it with a thoroughly comfortable (and almost eerily quiet) ride.
An Optional 420-HP V8 if You're Interested
The one area where the new Genesis hasn't changed much is under the hood. Like the outgoing car, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis will offer a standard 3.8-liter V6 and an optional 5.0-liter V8. Both engines have been mildly upgraded to give better low-end torque and improved drivability at the slight expense of peak horsepower. The V6 makes 311 horsepower (on regular fuel) at 6,000 rpm compared to the previous 333 at 6,400 rpm. The burly V8 now produces 420 hp at 6,000 rpm using premium fuel (407 hp with regular), although its torque of 383 pound-feet at 5,000 rpm is an increase of 7 lb-ft.
The EPA rates the standard V6 model at 22 mpg combined (18 city/29 highway), the 3.8 AWD at 19 mpg combined (16 city/25 highway) and the V8 at 18 mpg combined (15 city/23 highway).
Both engines continue to send their power through an eight-speed automatic transmission, except now all versions come standard with small, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, one of the few items that comes across as a bit cheap-feeling on the car.
The HTRAC all-wheel-drive system adds 165 pounds. That's not much, but the Genesis as a whole is no lightweight. Hyundai's engineers didn't talk much about using advanced materials to lighten the load, and it shows in the car's curb weight of 4,138 pounds for a V6 rear-drive model, which is slightly heavier than the previous Genesis.
Where did the extra weight come from? A good 84 pounds or so came from new sound-deadening insulation, such as thicker doors and improved sealing. Hyundai says there are decreased vibrations, too, via the new rigidity of the body shell.
All those pounds make for a car that feels about average when it comes to acceleration. Hyundai didn't quote any numbers, but we expect it will fall about midpack within its segment of competitors. Although the V8 model clearly has more low-end punch, it doesn't feel appreciably faster than the V6. In fact, the only reason we can see to get the 5.0 over the 3.8 is if you really must be able to tell people that you sprung for the V8.
The one downside we found with the V6 is that, even in Normal transmission mode, it seems to tell itself, "I've got all these gears. I might as well use them." Give the gas pedal just a slightly harder prod and there's a big aggressive kickdown, when we'd much prefer that the engine just use some more of that ample torque.
A Cabin You Don't Have To Learn How To Use
As dramatically different as the Genesis is on the outside, its interior reflects a far more subtle approach. Instead of trying to reinvent the entire cabin, Hyundai's designers focused on a simple layout, small detail changes and improved materials.
There are big analog dials in the instrument panel and a large navigation screen dead center in the dash. A pleasingly simple console shifter sits in front of a control dial that provides the interface for many of the car's controls. If you don't like using it, there are redundant touchscreen controls as well. The climate and radio controls sit just under the navigation screen and offer actual dials for the temperature, volume and tuning functions.
Detail changes include a reshaped steering wheel for a more comfortable grip, multi-density seat foams and easier-to-grab door handles. None of this is groundbreaking stuff, but taken together they're a good sign that Hyundai realizes that luxury vehicles are about more than just increased features and cords of wood.
Then again, this Genesis does feature more options than ever before and a generous helping of wood trim. Everything from an emergency braking assist system to a lane-keeping assistant to an oversize head-up display (which includes the current speed limit — handy!) is offered, along with five different types of wood grain.
Although not designed specifically for this use, we put the lane-keeping assistant to the test on a curvy two-lane, and, in conjunction with the optional radar cruise control, were able to go hand-and-feet-free on certain sections while the car negotiated minor curves while managing our speed.
Thankfully, even with all the options checked the cabin isn't a mess of buttons, knobs and switches. This Genesis is still a car you can get in and drive with no orientation. Better yet, it's a comfortable car, with plenty of seat adjustments and a generous amount of room. The stretched wheelbase opens up enough space for adult-size rear seats, with lots of legroom to stretch out, although headroom is still not exactly abundant. The 15.3-cubic-foot trunk, though slightly smaller than before, is plenty big enough to swallow several suitcases and has an appreciably wide opening.
And speaking of cargo utility, one of the most useful standard features is the hands-free Smart Trunk opener. If you walk up to the rear of the car with the key fob in your pocket, hands full of groceries, wait 3 seconds and the trunk will automatically open for you, whether with the standard manual lid or the power version.
The Hyundai Value Factor
A ton of car for not a lot of money is what Hyundai is all about. That continues with this new Genesis. The base V6 starts at $38,950, the 3.8 AWD at $41,450 and the V8 at $52,450. One of the cars we drove was a 3.8 AWD with just about every available option, including the 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, and the as-tested price was $52,450. For comparison, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350 starts at $52,825, before you start tacking on any options.
More Luxurious and More Korean Than Ever
When the current-generation Genesis arrived five years ago, expectations were low, at least in the U.S. Hyundai was nowhere near a luxury brand in most consumers' eyes, so the idea of a midsize luxury sedan seemed a stretch at best.
Turns out, the original Genesis was better than expected. Not flashy, or memorable even, but competent and a good value for the money.
This time around, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis looks like an expensive luxury car, both inside and out. More importantly it feels like a more refined sedan behind the wheel. It's still not Germanic in the way it handles itself, but that's a good thing. The Genesis is better off with a mix of comfort and performance that appeals to the average buyer. And for those who like the feel of a German sport sedan, there's always Sport mode.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.