SEOUL -- With its first-generation Genesis sedan, Hyundai set out to prove it could produce a competent upscale car for value-minded shoppers.
With the second generation arriving early next year, the Korean automaker says it's ready for a bigger challenge: proving that it can take on German rivals such as the BMW 5 series, Audi A6 and Mercedes -Benz E class.
It's more than just talk. Hyundai spent five years and more than $500 million developing the 2015 Genesis and its new rear-wheel-drive platform. Designers gave the sedan the kind of wide stance, cab-rearward proportions and clean lines that attract luxury car buyers.
Inside, aluminum trim and wood available in five grains accent the clean, modern interior. All-wheel drive will be available for the first time on a Hyundai sedan. Much attention also went into improving ride and handling, a shortcoming of the first-generation car.
Still, Hyundai has much to prove, not least that it can successfully take on the Germans with a $50,000 premium sedan sold by a mass-market brand, alongside such entry-level cars as the $17,000 Elantra.
It's an uncommon route. Most automakers market mainstream and luxury vehicles under distinct brands in separate showrooms. Attempts to blur that distinction -- such as Volkswagen's high-priced Phaeton sedan -- have been flops.
But Hyundai has reason to believe it can succeed. Before slipping 7 percent this year, Genesis sales in the United States grew every year since the model's 2008 launch. And Hyundai says selling premium and mainstream vehicles side by side has boosted the perception of its brand overall.
"Why wouldn't our very best cars carry the Hyundai badge?" John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, told Automotive News. "There's no question that you're getting more return on investment calling these Hyundai products as opposed to taking the other approach."
Hyundai says the next Genesis will represent an evolution in design as well. The first Genesis' design was conservative and derivative. "We didn't want to ruffle many feathers," Krafcik said.