2017 Hyundai Genesis G90 first drive REVIEW

2017 Hyundai  Genesis G90 first drive REVIEW

The Genesis G90 embodies more than a car. It represents the launch of a company and a luxury brand, expected by parent Hyundai Motor to one day share the same status as BMW or Mercedes-Benz. It arrives with the expansive allocation of resources a new automotive brand requires.

2017 Hyundai  Genesis G90 first drive REVIEW
2017 Hyundai  Genesis G90 first drive REVIEW

In the best case, Genesis comes with opportunity cost. It has its own independent R&D division, dedicated platforms, factory space, design and marketing groups. It’s built a star-studded global management team that includes Albert Biermann, former VP of engineering at BMW’s M division, and Manfred Fitzgerald, former director of brand and design at Lamborghini. It represents a huge investment, and every Korean Won might better be spent supporting the Hyundai brand and its seemingly inexorable march toward becoming the next Toyota. Genesis brings potential risks, starting with the long journey toward sharing the same status as luxury brands more than a century old. By many indicators, the flagship G90 sedan is a good start.

A key meter presented itself during a stop at a winery in British Columbia, where two separate groups of visitors approached and asked if the G90 was a new Bentley. The rough (deliberate or otherwise) similarity between the winged Bentley and Genesis logos played a role, no doubt, but the G90 (this one pure white) had the impact and presence to pull it off.

Genesis calls its design language “Athletic Elegance” and uses phrases like “crested grille" and "bold, arcing character line’’ to describe the details. We’d call it an amalgamation of cues we’ve seen elsewhere. You can call it derivative, pandering or whatever you like, but the G90 is a handsome, imposing and very well proportioned automobile. And it might be worth noting that Genesis’s first two models -- the G90 and the midsize G80, which is an evolution of what we know as the Hyundai Genesis -- will likely be the last in the current styling scheme. Both were frozen before the company’s new head of design -- Luc Donckerwolke, former Design Director of Volkswagen Group's Bentley, Lamborghini and Audi brands -- was hired early this year.

2017 Hyundai  Genesis G90 first drive interior
2017 Hyundai  Genesis G90 first drive interior

Underneath, the G90 is an evolution of what we know as the Hyundai Equus, only bigger. Its 124.2-inch wheelbase is about five inches longer, and one of the longest among full-size luxury sedans. All of the G90s exterior dimensions fall within an inch or two of the Audi A8 L, BMW 7-Series, Cadillac CT6, Lexus LS460 L and Mercedes S-Class. Its unitbody is predominantly steel, laser welded and glue with 650 linear feet of aerospace adhesive. Genesis claims the shell is “lighter and stronger” than that underpinning the S-Class, with 6 percent better torsional stiffness.

The line-topping engine at launch will be Hyundai’s 5.0L Tau V8, updated from the Equus with a higher compression ratio, durability enhancements and a range of friction- and weight-reducing efficiencies. In the G90 the Tau gives up nine horsepower (420 hp @ 6,000 rpm) in exchange for eight additional pound-feet of torque (384 lb-ft @ 5,000).

The base engine -- the anticipated “bulk” of G90 sales, according to Genesis -- is a new twin-turbo, 3.3-liter V6 called Lambda. Its turbochargers are integrated in the exhaust manifold castings and managed with electronic waste gates. The Lambda generates 365 hp at 6,000 rpm and 374 lb-ft between 1,300 and 4,500 rpm. That’s at least 9 percent more horsepower and 13 percent more torque than the base six in any of the G90’s competitors (the S550 and LS460 offer only V8s, though the G90 V6 pumps more torque than the Lexus V8).

The eight-speed automatic, with a lock-up torque converter and manual shift mode, is also updated from the Equus to trim weight, reduce friction and improve mileage. All-wheel drive is optional on the G90. The transfer case sits in-line with the transmission, with frontward torque distribution of 10-40 percent and a Sport mode for heavier rearward bias. Unique in the category, Genesis’s AWD features an Economy mode that shuts down the transfer case and runs 100 percent rear-drive to maximize fuel economy.

The G90 suspension applies a five-link arrangement front and rear, steel coils and adaptive shock control from Sachs/ZF, which allows independent damping rates on rebound and compression strokes.  The steering uses rack-mounted motor assist and a variable-rate gear, with an average ratio of 12:9-1.Brake rotors are slightly larger on G90 V8s, and 19-inch wheels are the only factory choice.

Inside, there’s a class-first CO2 sensor that manages the flow of fresh air through the cabin and, naturally, a range of NVH-mitigating features. Where to start? Perhaps with double pane, sound-deadened acoustic glass all around (common but not universal in the set), three-layer weather stripping on all doors and 20 percent greater insulation thickness than the class standard, according to Genesis. There are hydraulic frame mounts, a double-wall front bulkhead and a single-loop hood sealing gasket. There’s also a hollow, two-piece wheel design that creates a Helmholtz absorption chamber in the wheel and dampens tire noise.

There’s only one G90 safety package, and it includes everything, on all cars. Highlights include nine airbags, 360-degree and cornering-view cameras, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop/start, front and rear parking sensors, lane-keep assist and lane departure warning, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot detection and driver attention alert.

The standard-equipment list demonstrates similar breadth. Every G90 will come with the full 22-adjustment, orthopedically rated front seats, power door closing, hands-free trunk operation, a haptic steering wheel, 900-watt Lexicon audio with 17 speakers and a 10-inch sub, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, head-up display, programmable ambient lights and wireless charging. The V8 adds 14-way adjustable, ventilated rear seats and full LED headlights. Many of these features and some of the safety systems are price-packing options on G90 competitors.

Which brings us to the reality of an upstart luxury brand. Both Dave Zuchowksi, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, and Genesis USA director Erwin Raphael are frank in their assessment. No matter how good its product, Genesis remains a nascent brand and lacks real heritage -- ah, it’s Korean? Initially, and likely for years, it will stand out on the power and necessity of value. Mixing luxury and value can be tricky business, but the “value proposition” will be crucial to closing Genesis deals, because even the well-heeled appreciate value.

Even the warranty plays into the value equation. Genesis will offer unprecedented five-year comprehensive coverage, with 10 years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain. Concierge services, traffic and satellite data services and all software updates are complimentary. More significantly, the warranty provides free maintenance for three years -- the entire ownership period of 75 percent of luxury car buyers, according to Genesis -- with valet pick-up and return. Genesis will save time and money.

G90 prices won’t be set before September, but using prices for the midsize G80, we can take a pretty good guess. The G90 should list somewhere just north of $70,000, or something like $10,000 less than a 740i and a cool $20K-plus below an S550. That’s before optional equipment on the Germans that’s standard on G90. Genesis choices will be limited to engine, AWD, color and interior scheme. There’s almost nothing in the way of factory options.

The company expects to launch with just over 300 dealers, introducing six models by sometime in 2020. Next up is the G70 -- a 3-Series-class compact sedan and coupe. Then comes a compact SUV, and finally a midsize SUV.

More challenges. Genesis does not expect its first stand-alone dealerships for at least four years. To start they are primarily Hyundai stores that previously sold Genesis and Equus, so luxury brand shoppers will have to mingle with the plebes looking at Sonatas and Elantras. Worse, perhaps: it will take nearly as long for the first Genesis SUV, and these days roughly half of luxury brand buyers are choosing SUVs.

As HMA CEO Zuchowski notes, “We would much prefer to be launching with an SUV, but the time is now.”