The chance to drive the flagship model from a luxury brand launching stateside only comes around every eight years, on average.
Enter South Korea-based Hyundai’s spinoff Genesis brand. Last week, I drove around Vancouver and British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley in the 2017 Genesis G90 flagship sedan, the first of six vehicles Genesis plans to launch by 2021.
Sure, the U.S. has welcomed several new luxury brands in modern history – Audi in 1970, Acura in 1986, Lexus and Infiniti in 1989, and Tesla in 2004. But executives are quick to note that Genesis, which naturally means "the beginning," is just “the second one in this century.” In other words, if you weren’t an early adopter of the Model S, here is your chance to get in on the ground floor of a new marque.
“We’ve been thinking about this for years, for decades,” said Hyundai Chief Executive Dave Zuchowski. “We just think our time has come, and we’re ready to go.”
Genesis has assembled a heavy-hitting team poached from luxury automakers including Bentley, Lamborghini, Audi, and Lexus, and is making its mark this fall as the official luxury brand of the NFL. It’s also cornering the golf market, serving as the title sponsor of the PGA’s Genesis Open in February.
That said, Genesis’ sales goals are not especially ambitious, aiming to move fewer than 100,000 vehicles annually by 2021. (By contrast, the largest luxury brands in the U.S., BMW and Mercedes-Benz, sell about four times as many.)
“We’re not trying to be Mercedes,” Zuchowski told reporters in Vancouver last week. Genesis is a “terrific value compared to our competitors. You don’t want to be a cheap date. You want to get a lot of bang for your buck.”
It’s true that you may have heard of Genesis before – it launched as a Hyundai model in 2009 to play in the midsize luxury sedan market. Genesis will re-introduce that model in dealerships next month as the G80; the G90 nameplate is an altogether different, larger animal, with new powertrains, design, and goals.
The G90 was built to compete with other large executive sedans like the Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class, and BMW 7-Series, but at a notch – and a soon-to-be-announced price point – below. While it doesn't have the S-Class's massaging seats or the 7-Series' satellite-aided transmission, it offers a comfortable alternative to aspirational customers who don’t want to or can’t spend a near-six figures on a fully loaded car.
Even though the U.S. luxury vehicle market has rebounded since bottoming out during the recession, Genesis is aware that luxury is a tough segment to enter nowadays, as customers and the very definition of luxury evolve.
“Fluff won’t sell,” said Erwin Raphael, head of the Genesis brand. “The substance has to be there.”
Is the substance there? I’d say so. The 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 model I drove put out a satisfactory 365 horsepower and was exceptionally quiet at the Canadian wine region’s 75 m.p.h. speed limit. Genesis will also make a 420-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8 variant.
Inside, the cabin featured a 9.7-inch high-definition navigation display, fingertip-contoured buttons, Nappa leather seats, and a fun, soft-touch plastic material I couldn’t keep my hands off of. Outside, the brand’s design language is “athletic elegance,” with LED daytime running lights, front-wheel drive proportions, and standard 19-inch alloy wheels.
However, Genesis truly hopes to outshine competitors where customers can least see it: advanced safety features. The G90 comes standard with 11 standard of them, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, driver attention alert, smart blind spot detection, and lane keeping assist.
Both the G90 and Genesis’ G80 sedan arrive at Hyundai dealerships in September. What comes after that? In the brand’s own words, a lot of “near luxury”: a mid-tier G70 sedan, SUV, and sports coupe, as well as a more upscale SUV, will round out the lineup over the next five years.