When you think of Hyundai, you think economy and value; the words "speed" and "handling" rarely come to mind. Hyundai is trying, rather desperately, to change this. In the last few years the Korean car company has stepped up its efforts at developing a true drivers car, and they've been getting...kinda-sorta close. The Tiburon, which was Hyundai's first attempt at a sports car, slowly got bigger and better as time progressed. Regardless, the end product was still a 2008 model that was underpowered and generally underdeveloped. The chassis wasn't all that either; it was front-wheel drive, the suspension was too soft and there was no Limited Slip Differential to speak of. To top things off, it was bought mostly by teenage ricers who promptly proceeded to destroy whatever dignity this car had left by "tricking it out" with stupid neon lights and doors that opened vertically.
Fortunately, Hyundai has figured it out. Or so they say. I called up a friend of mine who works at a Hyundai dealership in my free time and asked him if I could have a go in their latest and greatest model, the Genesis. Knowing I'm a serious car guy and that I'm trying to get rid of my Nissan 350Z, he said I could come in whenever I wanted. I went later that day.
All of the marcom for the 2010 Hyundai Genesis claims the replacement for the Tiburon is a fun-loving rear-wheel drive thoroughbred that can get to 60 faster than a Porsche. Unfortunately, the Porsche in question is a Boxster, and we all know that doesn't count. The Boxster is a handling car, designed for fun at low speeds. It just doesn't have the straight-line speed that the 911s and the Caymans have, and Porsche doesn't claim otherwise. To add injury to insult, the Boxster S (the top-of-the-line trim level of the Boxster) is actually a bit faster than the Genesis in a straight line. Here, Hyundai is essentially comparing apples to oranges. All the same, the new Genesis Coupe comes equipped with either a 2.0 liter four-cylinder or a 3.8 liter V6 (the sedan comes with a 375 horsepower V8). The 3.8 liter version, the one I drove, produces "306 horses to the rear wheels" according to the salesman. Unfortunately, this isn't true either. The "Lambda" V6 produces 290* horsepower at the crank in US spec. The power actually getting to the wheels is far less, probably around 200 horses. All the same, I decided to take it for a drive.
At first, the car looks a little strange; it's an unusual shape and there are random lines pointing in every which direction. After a few moments though, the look of the Genesis starts to make a little more sense. The shape seems to flow nicely, and everything seems to fit. Once the initial shock had subsided, I thought the Genesis looked quite nice. Upon entering the car, the first thing I thought was "quality." There was a lot of leather and everything had a nice look and feel to it. No doubt the interior of the Genesis is quite a nice place to be. The one issue I had was with the steering wheel controls for the volume and radio station, which although quite convenient when cruising, can be a pain when you're trying to drive fast. Aside from this very minor issue, I have no complaints about the interior of the Genesis.
The drive-train didn't really disappoint either. The clutch was hydraulic and had a nice feel to it, and the gear lever felt sharp and easy to place. Gear changes were smooth and quick, though heel-toeing was a little tricky. The engine was responsive and torquey; it almost felt like a Mustang. The power band was quite wide, and at higher revs the engine sounded great even inside the car. It might not have 304 horses to the rear wheels, but it definitely has 300-ish horses to the crank, and that's still okay, though I would expect more from a 3.8 liter. The engine redeems itself though - its wide torque range helps make the car feel less underpowered. The traction control system was on point, though annoying; it would cut power even if I changed gears a bit too hard. In rain and snow, I bet this feature is very handy, but when you're trying to go fast this can get really seriously annoying. There is a button to turn it off though, which makes things much better.
Once I had gotten myself acquainted with the car we took it out on the back-roads to see what it could really do. After driving a Z car for the past 2 years, I need something that can change directions as fast as it can go in a straight line. Unfortunately, Hyundai is still stuck in "comfortable econo-box" mode when it comes to the handling department. The car is Rear-wheel drive, which is a good start, but after that things seem to go downhill. The suspension was soft and bouncy, no good for flying around bendy roads that have very real bumps and dips. The chassis in general wasn't stiff enough - the car rolled too much, liked to understeer and felt heavy overall (and it should - it weighs over 3700 pounds!). The car rode well, and was very comfortable when being driven around town, but at speed everything seemed to fall apart. The steering, though it is a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion style setup, was quite numb and had a bit too much play for my tastes. In fact there was so little feel in the steering that the only reason I could even tell the car was turning was by the massive amount of body-roll. Hitting apexes was difficult as the car gives you no idea of what's happening outside of the cabin. If I wasn't such a skilled driver (heh), I bet it would be very easy to take a corner too fast and find myself in the middle of a field, going backwards. All in all, the chassis felt chunky and unresponsive when really pushed. I was not satisfied at all with the way the Genesis handled.
My test drive of the 2010 Hyundai Genesis started out great, but sadly ended in dissapointment. Hyundai have definitely stepped up their game, and the Genesis is by all means a great car and a great value. It's great for driving around town, it looks fantastic, it's rear-wheel drive (so you can do donuts and burnouts and engage in other such tomfoolery) and it's got a decent amount of both power and torque. Despite all of this though, I can't say I will be buying one any time soon. The chassis was heavy and wobbly, the big engine all the way up front caused understeer, and the steering was nowhere near accurate enough for me. A true driver's car should excite you, give you confidence in its speed, and thus make you want to drive faster. The Genesis, though it does have a fair amount of grunt, simply doesn't have the composure of a proper driver's car; I wasn't confident in its ability to stay in contact with the road. I wanted to like this car, I wanted to walk out of that dealership with a smile on my face and a new pair of keys in my pocket. Unfortunately, the Genesis did not deliver. Sorry, Hyundai, maybe next time.
*SAE Figures reported: http://www.jbcarpages.com/hyundai/genesis/2009/specs/