A few months ago I provided my initial impressions of the Hyundai Genesis. I concluded that the specs were impressively competitive, but that the car didn’t bring anything new to the game aside from a low price.
Last week I finally found the time to take a Genesis for a test drive, and found that the large sedan drives very well. While no sport sedan, the handling is never sloppy, and the ride is always smooth and silent. Hyundai has achieved a remarkably high level of refinement with the car, nearly matching the best.
Still, nothing new for the industry, just new for Hyundai.
And yet, the very fact that Hyundai managed to create the Genesis at this point in time says something–because even though Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes have been offering similarly excellent cars, and Infiniti is getting back into the game for 2009 with a new V8 and new transmission, General Motors and Ford haven’t managed to. Worse, at the present time they’ve just about given up trying.
On the platform front, GM’s current rear-drive luxury car chassis can’t match the leaders in providing composed, precise handling together with a smooth ride. And the replacement platform, currently on hold, is less sophisticated, with a focus on reducing cost rather than improving performance. Ford no longer has such a platform, and a planned future rear-drive platform is now on hold. It wasn’t aiming to match the leaders, regardless.
In terms of engines, GM’s Northstar V8 is now over 15 years old, and is at best a generation behind the leaders. GM was developing a replacement, but canceled it when corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards were clearly going way up. The recent surge in fuel prices put a final nail in the Ultra V8′s coffin, if one were still needed.
Any program Ford had to develop a class-competitive DOHC V8, and any such program was not as far along as GM’s, died for the same reasons. Ford has decided to use a turbocharged V6 in place of a V8, and GM will likely do the same.
So why did Hyundai develop a new, class-competitive DOHC V8 and a rear-drive chassis to go with it? They’re hardly more likely to turn a profit on the new engine and new platform than GM or Ford would have been. But they have more money to spend, not being in danger of insolvency, and a need to prove what they are capable of. Which is exactly what the V8-powered Genesis does, more than anything else.
Meanwhile, Ford has just introduced the new Lincoln MKS with a price similar to the Hyundai’s. I drove one the same day I drove the Genesis. The MKS was developed after a new rear-drive platform was scrapped. The Taurus-derived front-drive chassis can’t begin to match the handling or ride quality of the Genesis. The engine sounds far less refined. In general, the MKS feels like a tarted up mainstream car. No surpise, actually. With little to spend, Ford aimed for a passable luxury car, not a class-leading one. And that’s what the MKS is.
Ultimately, the Genesis is a symbol that Hyundai’s financial and technical capability has surpassed that of General Motors and Ford.