After looking over the new Genesis lineup at the Detroit auto show this January, we were suitably impressed enough to ask Genesis if we could borrow one for a review. They graciously loaned us their new top-of-the-line G90 AWD. For a first car, we think they did a great job and we came away more impressed than ever.
“Woah! Woah! Time out! Hold on. WHO is Genesis?” you might be asking. “Why have I never heard of them before? Where did they come from?” Fair questions and, I’ll admit, we weren’t exactly sure of the details either since they seem to have just popped up at the auto shows overnight.
First, a little history. After winning American hearts with their small economy cars during the gas crisis in the 1970’s, the Japanese automakers decided to go upscale and make better, more profitable luxury cars. However, American drivers had come to equate the Japanese car brands with inexpensive economy cars and they couldn’t reconcile that impression with these new, more expensive cars. The Japanese manufacturers creatively overcame this obstacle by creating luxury brands distinct from their core lines. Toyota created Lexus, Honda created Acura, and Nissan created Infiniti. This slight-of-hand identity change worked and allowed the Japanese automakers to be accepted as bona fide premium car manufacturers overnight.
South Korean automaker Hyundai has run into the same issue. Apparently, people were hesitant to spend $60,000-$70,000 on a car with “Hyundai” on the back, no matter how good their cars have become over the years. Unfortunately, they still carry that entry-level stigma. Taking a page out of the Japanese playbook, they created Genesis – Hyundai’s new luxury car division. “Oh,” you might be thinking, “It’s a Hyundai.” No, no, no, no. This thinking is very wrong because it’s not “just a Hyundai.” It’s so much more. This is Hyundai engineering turned loose with a much larger budget and the orders to make something special. And so they did.
The G90 is their top level car. Ours was priced at $71,000. (“For a Hyundai?!” No – not a Hyundai. A Genesis. Trust us on this.) It has everything on it. EVERYTHING. I mean, reading the spec sheet is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. There are no options. That’s right – NONE. There are no packages. There are no dealer accessories. It literally comes with everything already on it. As if to say, “You’re buying our best. There’s nothing to add because that’s what best means.” Heated and ventilated seats? Standard. Rear heated and ventilated seats? Standard. Electronic lane-keeping system? Standard. Full controls for seats, stereo, windows, locks, and navigation for back seat occupants? Standard. Automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers? Standard. You simply select whether you would prefer the rear-wheel drive version or the all-wheel drive version. Made your decision? Good. Now would you prefer the 5.0L V8 or the direct-injected bi-turbo V6? Good. Now pick the color you want it to come in and select the interior leather color. Done. Your only choices are colors, engine, and drive-wheel arrangement. Everything else is standard.
The test car we received was a Casablanca White AWD bi-turbo V6 model. The styling was handsome, if a bit uninspired and – dare I say – a little borrowed. In the front, there are some subtle Audi styling cues in the headlights and the grille shape, and the side profile and rear valence is reminiscent of the BMW 7-series. However, I suppose if you’re new to the world’s luxury car market, cribbing a few good styling cues from the leaders isn’t a bad idea. It worked for the Japanese manufacturers. Interestingly, it all works together as a cohesive whole and looks quite nice. More original styling and design identity will come with time. It rolls on handsome 19’ wheels and it’s length gives it real presence.
The Genesis badge has wings on it – not unlike the Bentley badge, as a few people pointed out to me. Also not unlike the Aston-Martin badge, as someone else pointed out to me. Or, as I thought every time I saw it, the Chrysler badge. I understand the symbolism of a winged badge and the image associations to other, more prestigious brands but a more unique badge could only help set it apart from the other winged ones out there. Still, it’s tasteful and I expect it will evolve with new models and designs.
Like a good book, it’s what’s on the inside that truly counts and the G90 doesn’t disappoint. You immediately feel comfortably inside. The seats and doors below the windows are a soft black leather, while the pillars and headliner are a light grey alcantara. Natural wood, piano black plastic, and aluminum accents are thoughtfully used throughout. Fit and finish are superb. Everything has a quality, jeweled feel to it. Buttons are both in real aluminum or a high quality black plastic. Knobs are aluminum with machined edges for good grip and precise control. The LED lighting is cut like gemstones.
The front seats are comfortable; adjustable in every way including seat cushion length, heated and ventilated for complete comfort. The bolsters are small, but you sink into the seats enough that they do a good job of keeping you in place around corners. They’re easy to get into and out of, but once are in them, you won’t want to get out of them.
Controls are intuitive in both location and operation. It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the controls because finding things and figuring them out was ridiculously simple. So simple you find yourself wondering why other companies didn’t think of some of these things already. For example, while most automakers today have a touchscreen with pages and pages of menus to control nearly everything, the G90 instead has buttons for most things. And while there seems to be an overwhelming number of buttons at first glance, the human brain has the ability to quickly decipher and remember where each of those buttons are and what they’re for. Even during the first day of driving, I was reaching for buttons without having to take my eyes off the road, which was fantastic because I hate distractions when I drive. Touch screens have their place and purpose, but good old fashioned buttons are so much quicker and easier. Bravo, Genesis. Way to buck the trend.
There are so many other little smart touches to the car’s engineering and design that it seems about every five minutes I found myself delighted with some new feature or carefully located control. There were a lot of “Aha! That’s brilliant!” moments. Like after you have fastened your seatbelt, put the car in Drive, and are headed out – The seatbelt retractors then gently pull the slack out of the seatbelt and it feels like a parent making sure you are secure. It’s an emotional touch that delights you every time. Exterior door handles that light up when you unlock it at night with the fob so you can see exactly where they are. Subtle but beautiful interior lighting accents such as the lit red line that runs around the cabin. A Genesis logo “puddle light” that pools on the ground beneath the front door when you unlock it after dark. The Genesis engineers put a LOT of thought into this car and it shows. In fact, after a few days, I found myself disappointed that a few other things weren’t designed into the car, like automatically closing doors, a coffee machine, or a personal attendant. The G90 quickly spoils you.
The only unusual thing that seemed out of character, in that it required some thought, was the shifter. It’s an electronic shifter that only has Reverse, Neutral, and Drive on it. Park is a separate button on the console above the shifter. So when parking, you pull into a parking space, shift into Neutral, then press the Park button to lock the transmission. You can set the electronic parking brake after that if you like. I always did, since I never felt confident about the Park button. But if that’s the most confusing thing about the car, you can understand how easy and intuitive the rest of it is.
And as nice as the front seats are, the back seats are even nicer. Too many luxury cars these days (or cars in general) have limited legroom in the back seat. Not the G90. The G90 has the most legroom in the backseat of any car I’ve ever been in, excepting the Maybach. I’m 6’1”. With the driver’s seat set for my height, I climbed into the seat behind it and found that my knees had a good 10” between them and the front seat. Ten inches. To quote Keanu Reeves, “Woah.” It’s like riding in a limousine. There are several climate control vents for the back seat area built into the B-pillars, the center console, and the floor. The backseat climate can be automatically set. The seats are heated and ventilated. There are backseat controls to move the front seats forward or backward for extra legroom; there are window controls; sunshade controls for the side windows, side vent windows, and the rear window; radio controls for volume, tuning, and source; navigation controls….the works. Plus you have the advantage of sitting slightly higher in the back seats for a better view of the scenery and road.
My wife quickly fell in love with the back seat and the idea of being chauffeured around. In no time at all, she began making lists of places for me to drive her to. When she began making me come around and open her door for her though, I decided things had gone too far. She absolutely loved the car. I had her drive me around once, but decided I preferred the driver’s seat to the passenger’s.
The reason for that was because the G90 is fun to drive too. The bi-turbo V6 makes 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque which gets the large 2.5-ton G90 moving much, much faster than you’d expect. The turbo torque comes on at 1300 rpm and remains strong up to it’s 6000 rpm limit. It’s incredibly quick off the line and we surprised the drivers of some very respectable sporty cars with our large car. Even in cold, half-snow/half-rain conditions, there is incredible thrust with zero wheel slip of any kind. Passing slower traffic is easy as the car simply whooshes itself past them. The drivetrain inspires complete confidence in real world conditions and not a little bit of awe when you leave cars behind so effortlessly. 0-60 mph is around 4.5 – 5 seconds. A heads-up display on the front windshield keeps your eyes on the road. Blind spot monitoring and lane-keep assist help cover you when you’re distracted or in heavy traffic.
Around town, the power impresses and the ride is refined. It actually feels a little floaty, like an old Detroit Cadillac, but it absorbs the bumps much better and does a great job of smoothing out rough road. It’s like riding on a cloud. Yet it turns sharply with all the precision of a European sedan into corners. The steering is very precise and the body is very controlled going around corners. Mind you, it’s not a sports car. During spirited backroads driving, the soft suspension can’t keep up and the car is too floaty for fast s-curve transitions. It does very well at posted speeds but simply loses it’s composure when you really push it on fun roads. It lacks the overall sporting performance ability that cars from Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz are known for.
But really – that’s not what the G90 is all about. The G90 is about spoiling it’s drivers and passengers with all the comfort that technology and quality materials can provide and it does a darn fine job of that. For daily, real-world driving, the G90 is an impressive car – well worth the $71,000 price tag and the kind of car you’re happy to climb into every day to drive to work. Or be driven to work in. Either are good.
If we were going to buy one (something my wife was begging me to do when Genesis came to collect it) I don’t think I’d change a thing. I liked the AWD on this type of car and the turbo V6 was smooth and plenty powerful. I even liked the color combination. And those are the only options to be considered.
This first luxury car by Genesis is extremely impressive and I suspect it will not only succeed but will also improve Hyundai’s image in the public’s eye, much as Acura did with Honda and Lexus with Toyota. Genesis means “beginning” and if this is Genesis beginning, I see a lot of them making their exodus from dealer lots into people’s garages.