By David Pratte, December 31, 2012. Photography and Video by Adam Wood and Chris Blanchette
If you’re in the market for a rear-wheel drive V6-powered sports coupe that won’t break the bank while allowing you to get your track-day jollies on the weekends, chances are you’re going to end up in the exact same predicament we did. Tasty German options like BMW’s 1M are just too spendy for our “average Joe” $30k-or-so budget, and the requirement for at least a semi-usable backseat ruled out potentially attractive Japanese options like the Nissan 370Z.
This left us with two legit V6 track-day coupes to pit against each other in another of our classic head-to-head battles. Up first is Hyundai’s recently refreshed Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track model with all the R-Spec goodies ranging from a track-tuned suspension, Brembo brakes, a Torsen limited-slip differential and 19-inch wheels with sticky performance tires. And the contender is Ford’s newly released Performance Package equipped Mustang V6 Premium, which for an extra $1,995 comes complete with a larger front sway bar, SVT rear sway bar, stiffer springs, unique brakes with upgraded pads, a 3.31 rear axle and 19-inch wheels with Pirelli summer tires.
This comparo was made all the more intriguing by the fact that these two machines are at opposite ends of the spectrum with respect to styling, the Genesis being an entirely modern take on the sports coupe, while the Mustang’s retro sheet metal is designed to tug at the heart strings and high school fantasies of the midlife crisis crowd (and anyone else with a Pony car fetish).
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Regardless of their opposing design philosophies, both are equipped with high-output naturally aspirated V6 engines and 6-speed manual gearboxes, tip the scales at around 3500 lbs, and are packaged with firmer suspensions, bigger brakes and stickier tires so that you can literally drive them off the showroom floor and onto the race track. And that’s exactly what we’ve done (ok, we borrowed them rather than buying them, but you get the picture).
We didn’t drive them onto just any race track, either. We headed to Mosport International Raceway (recently renamed Canadian Tire Motorsports Park), one of the fastest and most daunting road courses on North American soil. With the cup holders emptied and the camera crew in place, it was time for Editor-in-Chief Colum Wood and I to man up, because turning hot enough laps around this circuit to properly evaluate these two very capable track-day specials was going to take equal parts focus and commitment.
The truth is, when you turn a fast lap around a circuit like Mosport – where there are big speeds, big elevation changes and Armco barriers with a taste for shiny new sheet metal lining the track – you really have to take a measured approach. So on my first few laps in both the Genesis and the Mustang, I built speed gradually so I could get a feel for their handling balance, especially in corners like Turns 2 and 4, both of which have blind apexes over hilltop crests that drop dramatically down into high-speed left-hand courage-testers.
As I soon learned, the Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track does still have some of the understeer I complained about during a recent head-to-head test of the 2.0T R-Spec versus the Scion FR-S, but at a big boy track like Mosport this was actually a confidence-inspiring trait. A bit of turn-in understeer when you’re cornering at 80 to 100 mph over blind crests reduces the pucker factor considerably, and as a result I was able to get on the gas earlier out of most corners. At a tight circuit like we tested the 2.0T on, the Genesis’s suspension tuning simply asks too much of its relatively narrow front tires, but around the fast sweepers at Mosport it felt like the small bed at the Three Bears house – juuust right.
It was a different story in the Mustang, at least at first. Despite having a contact patch advantage (255s all around vs. the Genesis with 225s up front and 245s out back), this V6 pony car felt a bit too tail happy on corner entry. Heavily worn rear tires probably played a role here, but the square tire setup (meaning the same size at all four corners) suggests the Mustang has been setup to have excellent turn-in response and a lot of front grip, which at a circuit like Mosport can translate to a disconcertingly active rear end if you don’t judge corner entry speeds perfectly. The Mustang’s solid rear axle might also have been contributing to a bit of unwanted twitchiness from its hind quarters, since this suspension design prevents camber gain (unlike the Genesis’ multi-link rear end, which gains some very useful negative camber in the corners).
Mosport isn’t just about blind crests and fast sweeping corners, though. It is, first and foremost, a power track. That’s because a lot of those fast sweepers are followed by some pretty substantial straights, most notably the Mario Andretti Straightaway, which is a long and gradual climb that literally maxed out the Mustang’s 305-hp 3.7-liter V6.
Actually, it didn’t max out the motor so much as the ECU, since the shockingly low speed limiter was kicking in at 112.7 mph, long before the braking zone at the end of this straight By comparison, the Genesis Coupe and its world-class 348-hp 3.8-liter V6, was hitting top speeds between 125 and 130 mph before having to brake for Turn 6 (actually Turn 8 on an official track map, but the two “turns” up the back straight don’t register in the data since they don’t require you to brake).
A closer look at the in-car data revealed that the vast majority of time the Mustang lost to the Genesis over the course of their fastest laps was in fact up the back straight, though significant chunks were lost on the other straights as well. Interestingly, both cars posted virtually identical lateral G forces and corner speeds in the “hairpin” Turn 5a/b that leads out onto the Andretti straight, but the Mustang got a better exit because of its lack of understeer through 5b and actually out accelerated the Genesis for the first 250-ft or so as a result.
But after that the Genesis’ bigger and badder (and more awesome sounding) V6 really worked its magic, pulling away dramatically over the last 2,800-ft of this 3,800-ft straight. As a result, the Mustang fell from 0.5-seconds behind to 1.3-seconds behind before having to brake slightly for the very fast right-hand Turn 8. What’s a bit surprising is that this gap grew by just 0.3-seconds during the excruciating 4.5-seconds spent riding the Mustang’s speed limiter, a relatively small loss for what felt like an eternity out on the track.
We’ve all heard the expression “looks can be deceiving”, but if the Mustang’s handling balance is any indication, so can feel. Generally speaking, a car that feels stuck to the road inspires driver confidence, and confidence usually translates to faster lap times. But sometimes a looser setup, where the rear of the car is able to rotate a little more freely, is in fact the faster setup (since you can get it pointed in the direction you want to go sooner), assuming the driver is able to get over the discomfort of the rear tires losing traction while initiating a turn.
With a little more seat time, I grew more comfortable with the Mustang’s willingness to rotate and adjusted my driving style to take advantage of it. I also began to trust the Mustang’s chassis balance, since it was proving surprisingly easy to slide around and showed no signs of wanting to bite back. Clearly Ford’s engineers know what they’re doing, because even with the limitations of a solid rear axle, this pony car was proving to be very well behaved.
In-car data also confirmed that the Mustang was exhibiting a lot of cornering power once I trusted it and allowed the rear tires to slide a bit. Corner entry speeds and lateral G forces into the 80-90 mph Turn 1, for example, were significantly higher in the Mustang than in the Genesis, but by the apex the Genesis had closed the gap because I was back on the power and no longer understeering. Turn 3, also a relatively flat corner with entry speeds near 80 mph, told a similar tale, with the Mustang managing to carry more speed and higher Gs into the corner thanks to the absence of any understeer, but once again I could transition back to full throttle in the Genesis sooner thanks to its excellent rear grip, allowing it to match the Mustang’s speed by mid-corner. This pattern was evident in Turn 2 and Turn 4 as well, but in Turn 5, 8, 9 and 10 both cars showed virtually identical cornering speeds and lateral Gs.
As you’ve no doubt surmised by now, the Hyundai Genesis was in fact the quicker of the two sports coupes around this high-speed circuit, crossing the Finish line in a best of 1-minute 39.9-seconds. The Mustang ended up posting a best lap of 1-minute 42.2-seconds, 2.3-seconds off the pace set by the Genesis, but had its speed limiter been removed the Hyundai’s advantage would have been reduced to about 2-seconds flat.
Average speed over the distance of a lap is also an excellent indicator of overall vehicle performance, and the Genesis had an advantage here too, averaging 86.7 MPH while the Mustang averaged 85.2 MPH. They were also quite close on peak cornering G forces, the Hyundai maxing out at 1.29 G in Turn 5 and the Ford hitting an impressive 1.31 G in Turn 9. But if you look closely at the G force data for both cars, you’ll notice that the Ford does have an advantage in a number of corners. That said, the most critical corner on any race track is the one leading onto the longest straight, and here (Turn 5) the Hyundai holds its own extremely well against the Mustang.
Clearly the Hyundai’s engine is the real winner here, since it was the biggest difference-maker with respect to posting the fastest lap time at this fastest of road courses. It really is a superb piece of engineering, pulling strongly across its entire rev range and delivering its power with a silky smooth soundtrack that speaks to its refinement and balance. It’s the perfect engine for the Genesis Coupe, bringing its 3,500-lb chassis to life in a way I didn’t expect two more cylinders and an extra 74-hp could.
But for both Colum and I, the Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track was also the winner because of its attractive sheet metal, driver-focused GT-style interior, and overall sense of build quality. It really is a very compelling package for anyone looking for an affordable yet luxurious RWD sports coupe that they can take to work in comfort and style during the week and turn some impressively quick lap times around the race track on the weekend (anything sub 1:40 at Mosport is pretty damn quick).
The Mustang and its Performance Package surprised and impressed us too, though. Its cloth Recaro sport bucket seats held us in place a lot more securely than the Genesis’s slippery leather seats, and its more neutral handling balance would surely make it a hoot to drive around an autocross course or a tighter and more technical road course. Its wider wheel and tire package paid big dividends around Mosport too, once I learned to trust its chassis balance, and that live rear axle really wasn’t the hindrance I thought it might be.
That said, its needlessly low electronic speed limiter did spoil some of the fun, and its less sophisticated V6 simply left us wanting more. But luckily for us, Ford does have the perfect solution – a 5.0 badge and a bunch more oomph. And so in a strange sort of way, it would appear that the Genesis and the Mustang have one more thing in common – two more cylinders makes them just about perfect.
2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track
2013 Ford Mustang V6 Performance Package