The Hyundai Genesis finally lands in the UK but don't expect Mercedes, BMW or Audi to be quaking in their boots just yet. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The Hyundai Genesis is, to the uninitiated, a quite staggeringly good crack at the luxury car market. Unfortunately for Hyundai, it needs to bring something genuinely new to the sector to squeeze a few sales from the grasp of BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Jaguar. In that area, the Genesis comes up a little short. It's impressive, but likely to learn a harsh lesson in the UK buyer's affinity for badge equity.
The Book of Genesis describes how God created the Earth in six days, consecrating the seventh day as a day of rest. Hyundai weren't quite up there in the productivity stakes with their original Genesis, a rear-wheel drive executive saloon that was launched in 2008. That took 23 months to develop, offering what Hyundai described as 'the performance of a BMW 5 Series and the interior packaging of a 7 Series at the price of a 3 Series'. We didn't really get the chance to put these bold claims to the test, that first generation BH-series Genesis never getting the green light for UK imports. All that's changed with the launch of the second-generation DH version of the car. Right-hand drive models are rolling off the lines in Ulsan, South Korea but Hyundai UK are only dipping the merest tip of their pinkie into the water, expecting to shift around twenty cars per year over here. Could you ever choose Korean over German?
Although some foreign markets get a quite tasty-sounding five-litre four-wheel drive version of the Genesis, Hyundai UK has sensibly decided to import a car with a rather less ravenous appetite for 95RON. The car earmarked for UK import instead features a 3.8-litre petrol-powered V6 that sends power to the rear wheels. This model still develops 308PS and will send the big-boned Hyundai to 62mph in around 6.5 seconds, with torque rated at 397Nm at 5,000rpm. An eight-speed automatic gearbox takes care of shifting duties and the suspension for UK cars is tuned by Lotus, so it's a good deal tauter than the somewhat soggy responses of the first generation model. If your only prior experience of a big Hyundai saloon was an XG30, the Genesis is going to come as a welcome surprise. It's got better body rigidity than a current Mercedes E-Class and if you were to drive a Genesis and an E250 back to back and asked to choose the more refined car, we couldn't see the Stuttgarter scoring too many votes. Occupants of the Genesis are protected by a portfolio of features that include Smart Cruise Control, Automatic Emergency Braking and the world's first CO2 cabin sensor to monitor the cabin's environment and protect the driver from the dangers of drowsiness.
Design and Build
Having skipped the first generation car, which seemed like a bit of a German saloon tribute act, we instead fast forward to this much more confident second generation model. Yes, the proportions are broadly similar to a 5 Series or an Audi A6 but you're not going to mistake it for either. There's a refreshing lack of chintz about it, although there are some details that will still give you a bit of deja vu, such as the Merc-like front lights, the BMW-style Hofmeister rear C-pillar kink and the back lights reminiscent of an Audi A7. On the whole, it's a tidy, cohesive shape. The biggest revelation is the interior. You'd be excused for thinking that Hyundai's take on a luxury car would offer a few sub-par materials, with so many electronic gizmos shoehorned into it that it felt like the stockroom of Richer Sounds, but the cabin of the Genesis is very nicely styled. In fact, I'd say there's more restraint here than in the cabin of a modern E-Class. It's certainly leaning towards Audi in its low-key look. The winged steering wheel emblem is a bit Florida but otherwise there's little that jars.
Market and Model
Expect to pay £48,000 for one of these, a price that puts it up against some pretty stiff German competition. Still, Hyundai looked long and hard at how Lexus managed to create instant credibility with its LS400 and has taken on board some valuable lessons. The design team immersed themselves in European culture, trying to understand what pressed the buttons of a market more obsessed with refinement and quality than any other. They realised that it wasn't enough to just highlight technology. It had to be relevant, desirable and seamlessly integrated. Hyundai sought out the best suppliers of materials to ensure that its buttons and switches featured the best haptics, that the car's 12-way adjustable leather seats were trimmed in buttery-smooth blemish-free hides. The centrepoint of the fascia is a 233mm wide 720p HD central navigation touchscreen which can also be marshalled by a centre console-mounted rotary controller. The screen responds to scrolling gestures with much the same responsiveness of your iPhone. The cabin is impressive and spacious - but then it needs to be. This car is going to be compared to an Audi A6 and in that company it's close but not quite there, a slight scattering of buttons denying it that spare, elegant feel. Still, it's easily got a Jaguar XF licked, which is quite an achievement.
Cost of Ownership
Cost of ownership is, for the moment, the great imponderable. The elephant in the room here is undoubtedly depreciation and if you were about to spend going on for £40,000 on a big petrol-powered Hyundai saloon, what sort of percentage of that would you expect back after three years and 36,000 miles? 25 per cent maybe? Then you've got to fuel the thing and although the Genesis claims to offer fuel consumption that will top 30mpg on the combined cycle, it's never going to equal the sort of economy or emissions you'll get with a BMW 535i. That means that you're going to have to face up to the prospect of the Hyundai Genesis costing you more to run over a typical three year period than a similarly-priced BMW 528i. That will be quite an obstacle for most buyers to overcome, hence the tiny sales predictions.
Hyundai faces that fact that it needs to build a car twice as good as its German rivals if it wants to rack up half their sales. The Genesis isn't anywhere near that competent but it's an extremely credible rival that can certainly mix it with the Jaguar XF and can hold its head up against the best that Germany can offer. That's not enough though. Not by a long chalk. Hyundai needs to find a way to decisively put one over one its key competitors if it's to realise some serious sales figures in the UK and being in the same ballpark doesn't cut it. The Genesis is a brave effort and one that will bring newfound credibility to the concept of a luxury Hyundai, but it's a car that will always remain a rarity on Britain's roads. The fix for this model isn't rocket science. Lop a few grand off the price and fit the car with a world-class turbodiesel engine and it would stand a real chance. Until then, this one's best eyed as a potential used car bargain a few years down the track.