It’s the car that no one saw coming: Korea’s auto industry has long dabbled in the luxury car market, but its entries were typically lacking in style, if not in substance. Like its venerable line of ancestors, from the Korea-only Hyundai Dynasty and Centennial to the recent Hyundai Equus, the pre-facelift Genesis G90 represented luxury at its most traditional. But the new model, though it is essentially a big facelift, fundamentally changes this perception, confirming the power of superior design.

The design team, led by Hyundai Group chief designer Luc Donckerwolke, had to work with the architecture and proportions of the previous G90, but they were able to change every panel of the car, with the exception of the greenhouse and the doors.

And thus the G90 received a fresh front end, with a new and large signature grille, a unique version of the quad headlights first shown on the GV80 and Essentia concept cars, and LED turn signals that stretch almost all the way to the front doors. The rear end has been uncluttered with super-thin horizontal taillights, and the G90 stands on 19-inch dish-type wheels that look a lot larger than they actually are.

While the front grille is dominant, the G90 is refreshingly devoid of those aggressive, pseudo-sporty lower air intakes and side skirts that adorn some competitors. All of this contributes to a look of cold, aloof and futuristic elegance.

With only a few changes, the new demeanor carries over into the cabin: The center section of the dashboard has been cleaned up, and the interior impresses with five colours and four wood trims to select from. Our favourite was the fully blue leather interior, complete with a microfiber headliner and accentuated by the metallic speakers by Lexicon, Harman’s upscale sub-brand. The hifi system is great, and that’s a good thing because it operates in an ideal environment: The G90’s NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) characteristics, according to Genesis, are superior to every competitor, including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Genesis G90 Interior

The four-spoke steering wheel serves as a refreshing break from the forced sportiness of the competition’s three-spoke wheels, and we like the new center screen, which can now be used as a touch screen – although we wish it would have moved a bit closer to the driver. If we had a few wishes open, the interior design would greatly benefit from a frameless rearview mirror. The conventional gauges in front of the driver seem somewhat dated as well, and the housing of the head-up display is not particularly well integrated.

Genesis has added a plethora of new and additional features, including enhanced assistance systems and self-driving functions. They work remarkably well on the freeway and require less driver intervention than a BMW 7-series or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Remarkably, the 22-way power seats serve up recommendations for the ideal seating position, based on the driver’s data entry. Yet the seats are lacking a massage function.

In Korea, Genesis offers a stretched version of the G90 with an extra 30 cm of rear legroom, but even the standard body offers an extremely generous rear compartment with abundant legroom and elegant touches like vanity mirrors and a multitude of adjustment options. The roof-mounted “mood” light is a Korean trademark.

Genesis G90 Silver

Yet there is reason to envy the chauffeur, if not outright fire him like in the famous Porsche commercial of yore. The G90 comes with the choice of either a twin-turbocharged 370-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 or a naturally aspirated 425-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8. Their maximum torque is almost identical, but the delivery is unique: The V-6 serves up 510 Nm from 1300 rpm to 4500 rpm, while the V-8’s 520 nm are delivered at a lofty 5000 rpm. Both engines are mated to a smooth but not exceedingly quick eight-speed automatic, and they are both available with rear-wheel drive or the Hyundai Group’s H-Trac all-wheel drive system.

The Lambda V-6 is the same unit that turns the smaller G70 into a veritable sports sedan, and it is by no means overworked on the G90. Yet we prefer the Tau V-8, not just because there is intrinsic value in a large, naturally aspirated engine: Its silky-smooth power delivery and silky sound is unsurpassed, and when pushed to the limit, it emits is a distant but ever-so-delicious wail.

While the G90 builds speed effortlessly, it doesn’t encourage the driver to hustle through corners with undue haste. It is possible to induce throttle oversteer and “Sport” mode keeps body roll to a minimum, but the somewhat disconnected steering and the sheer size of the G90 discourage aggressive driving.

It remains, after all, a true luxury sedan. But through the power of design, it now represents luxurious style at its most contemporary. Sized like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or a BMW 7-series, it doesn’t quite match them in terms of performance, but it is priced close to far less inspired cars like the four-cylinder Volvo S90. Give Genesis one more iteration, and we suspect they will have caught up with the Germans – and left everyone else behind.

Photos: Genesis / James Lipman

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