'15 Genesis is worthy of premium label

Redesigned luxury sedan is viable alternative to pricier German rivals

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The original Hyundai Genesis was a noble first shot at the luxury car market, but it couldn't match the driving dynamics, interior refinement or prestige of the Audi A6, BMW 5 series or Mercedes-Benz E350. The Genesis' 2015 model year redesign takes a huge step toward closing that gap.

The interior lacks the theater of competing Audis but feels more modern than that of the E class. The improved ride is firm but not harsh, cruising over imperfections in the road without floating. And with its huge, slotted hexagonal grille, taut sheet metal and cab-rearward proportions, the exterior, too, has a road presence befitting a premium sedan.

Hyundai also fixed a major omission on the first Genesis by making all-wheel drive available on the redesigned model.

The basics: The redesigned Genesis is the first vehicle to ride on Hyundai Motor Group's second-generation rear-wheel-drive platform. While the car's overall length, width and height are almost unchanged, Hyundai stretched the Genesis' wheelbase by nearly 3 inches. That allowed designers to pull the cab farther back and accentuate its rear-drive proportions.

Next Genesis
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis rides on a new rear-wheel-drive platform. It's heavier and has less peak horsepower than the outgoing model.
 2015 Genesis2014 Genesis
Wheelbase118.5 in.115.6 in.
Length196.5 in.196.3 in.
Width74.4 in.74.4 in.
Height58.3 in.58.3 in.
Curb weight4,138 lbs.4,019 lbs.
Base engine3.8-liter V-63.8-liter V-6
Horsepower311 hp @ 6,000 rpm333 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.293 @ 5,000 rpm291 @ 6,400 rpm
EPA mpg18 city/29 hwy.18 city/27 hwy.
Base price*$38,950$36,120
*Includes shipping

The Genesis' standard 3.8-liter V-6 and optional 5.0-liter V-8 engines have been carried over from the previous generation, as has its eight-speed automatic transmission. But Hyundai says the engines have been retuned for better midrange torque and enhanced to improve efficiency and reduce noise, vibration and harshness. The V-6 is well-matched to the eight-speed gearbox, always seeming to find the right gear with power readily available when needed. The V-8 is a different story. Downshifts can be clunky in some situations.

A drive on public roads here prevented reporters from testing the handling limits of the Genesis, but most drivers should find an acceptable balance of comfort and sportiness to make the car a viable alternative to pricier German competitors.

Notable features: Hyundai engineered the Genesis to receive a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Part of achieving that goal meant applying hot-stamped steel and additional reinforcement to pass IIHS' small-overlap crash test, which simulates a partial frontal impact.

A suite of advanced safety features debuts on the Genesis, including lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist and other new technologies.

Inside the cabin, optional wood trim in a choice of five grains adds a real sense of luxury that feels more contemporary than the high-gloss finishes found on other vehicles, such as the Mercedes E350.

What Hyundai says: Mike O'Brien, vice president of product planning and corporate strategy at Hyundai Motor America, says the Genesis will help Hyundai continue its so-called intercept strategy.

"If you think about Lexus in 1989, most of their customers came out of nonluxury products," O'Brien explains. "They were customers that were on their way to a German manufacturer, but they were intercepted with a better value and a better product. We're basically in that mode now."

Compromises and shortcomings: Despite the use of advanced high-strength steel and other weight-saving measures, the Genesis is actually more than 100 pounds heavier than its predecessor. That's partly because the company wanted to ensure it would pass the IIHS small-overlap crash test, and aluminum components proved too costly.

Retuning the Genesis' engines for better midrange torque makes their power more readily available to most drivers, Hyundai says, but doing so reduced peak horsepower on both. With less power at higher revs, the extra weight can be felt under heavy throttle and may leave some drivers wanting more oomph.

The market: Hyundai anticipates Genesis sedan sales of around 25,000 units annually in the U.S. market, a few thousand units above peak annual levels of the current sedan. Hyundai considers the Genesis' main competitors to be the Lexus GS, Cadillac CTS and Mercedes E class.

The skinny: Mid-sized luxury sedans from Mercedes, BMW and Audi still have the edge, but the 2015 Genesis takes a big whack at their advantage.

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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