drive

2017 Genesis G80 ultimate offers less cachet, but quality

In an undated handout photo, the Genesis G80 Ultimate. What the Genesis G80 lacks in cachet — it’s a Hyundai, after all — it goes a long way toward making up for in quality, features and a lower sticker price. — Picture by Martin Campbell via The New York Times In an undated handout photo, the Genesis G80 Ultimate. What the Genesis G80 lacks in cachet — it’s a Hyundai, after all — it goes a long way toward making up for in quality, features and a lower sticker price. — Picture by Martin Campbell via The New York Times NEW YORK, March 3 — What makes a luxury car? Premium materials and high-tech features? Ride quality and performance? Maybe it’s the badge, crowing to the neighbours that you’ve arrived. The Genesis G80 offers everything near-luxury sedan buyers want except brand swagger. Envy is a tougher thing to engineer.

Does the Genesis name and the silhouette of the G80 seem familiar? It should. The 80 is a direct descendant of the Hyundai Genesis, a rear-wheel-drive sedan overshadowed by a lot full of Santa Fes, Sonatas and Hyundai’s frugal image. Updated with high-grade materials, the car that gave Hyundai’s luxury brand its name adapts nicely to its new mission.

But to get the value that the G80 offers (about US$15,000 or RM66,832 less than a comparably equipped BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class), you’ll be shopping at a Hyundai dealership. It’s like buying Coach leather goods at Costco. Once you’ve bought the car, though, you won’t have to return, since Genesis employees pick up cars for servicing while dropping off a loaner. Chances are, once the three-year, 36,000-mile complimentary maintenance period ends, swanky dedicated Genesis showrooms will be built. Order me a latte, will you?

I am driving a top-tier V-6 Ultimate model that adds US$8,950 to the standard model. My all-wheel-drive tester (the model is normally rear-wheel drive) tops out at US$53,800. Even base 80s come with automatic braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. The Ultimate package adds an adjustable driver’s chair draped in supple leather plus a heads-up display and larger 9.2-inch touch-screen interface.

The V-6 provides the G80 with 311 horsepower and 293 pound-feet of torque. The gear shifting is silky, done with an 8-speed transmission that calls no attention to itself. There are drive modes and steering wheel paddle shifters that I’ll wager most owners will ignore.

Moving out smartly, the car cruises from 0 to 60 mph in just under 7 seconds, a smidgen more relaxed than other luxury brands. For more oomph, a 420-horsepower V-8 model is available for US$55,500. The only choices with the fully outfitted strictly rear-drive V8 are paint and leather hues. A Sport model with a twin-turbo 365-horsepower V-6 engine and adaptive suspension comes out this spring.

The G80 is a proper isolation chamber. With a suspension set for comfort, occupants are protected from sharp bumps while the body remains fairly immune to float and dive. Still, after a ride in a 5 Series or E-Class, it’s clear that the G80 lacks the triple Teflon-coated dynamic the Germans provide. If that and badge prestige are desired, BMW and Mercedes are happy to take your money. Check with your financial adviser first.

With all-wheel drive, this is a thirsty ride. The EPA average mileage on specified standard grade fuel is 19 mpg. A Lexus GS 350 AWD averages 22 mpg, the Mercedes E300 4Matic gets 24, and the BMW 530i xDrive delivers a thrifty 27. A small consolation: The established premium brands prefer premium gasoline.

The well-crafted cabin will help owners forget those inefficiencies. No doubt, real walnut or ash trees gave their lives so G80 owners would have wide swaths of matte finish bark to gaze upon. Aluminium trim provides visual heft. No ambient light piping to spice up the instrument panel, though.

Curiously, moving up to the Ultimate package means losing Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. I’ll note that the transmission selector is the familiar PRNDL type, and the ergonomics team placed the right balance of buttons and knobs on the centre console. Sometimes, the classic way is best.

The back seat provides good but not limo-like legroom in the noticeably comfortable chairs. Passengers on either side get seat warmers, manual sunshades for the side glass and a power unit for the back window. The panoramic glass roof is especially dramatic in the rear. A drive shaft tunnel and raised centre cushion will force smaller people into the middle slot. There’s no separate climate control or power port in the rear.

The trunk is spacious. Good thing, because the seat backs don’t split and fold to enlarge it. A small pass-through lets two-by-four lumber ride along. With the proximity key in your pocket or bag, the trunk lid pops open by simply standing next to it for a few seconds. That’s better than the “kick-to-open” kind for klutzes like me. But even with an audible warning, don’t linger long near the back before walking away from the car.

Long of hood and sure of stance, the G80 is handsome enough. Genesis hired serious talent. The designer Luc Donckerwolke, who worked on the high end of the Volkswagen group (that’s Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini) now steers the look of the South Korean brand’s luxury line. He once called out Lincoln Continental’s design group for effectively copying the Bentley Flying Spur design. Point taken. Still, from 20 paces, the Genesis face is easily mistaken for an Audi. And there’s a lot of Bentley and Aston Martin in the winged Genesis logo. Just saying.

The Genesis brand won’t kick into high gear until the arrival of the more sought-after SUVs and crossovers. Remember, Lexus was largely built on the back of the RX 300. Prestige may be missing from the Genesis brand, but the G80 offers the quality, technology, comfort and features expected in class. Considering the price, four out of five isn’t bad. — The New York Times  

MORE ON MMOTV