Before 2008, the phrase “Korean luxury car” would have been a punchline, but the Hyundai Genesis managed to elevate Hyundai from also-ran foreign manufacturer to a legitimate contender in the public’s eye.
1. New for 2012 the Hyundai Genesis gets an 8-speed automatic transmission, while the V6 gets direct injection that helps add 43-hp for a total of 333-hp.
2. An R-Spec model joins the Genesis lineup with 19-inch wheels, high-performance summer tires, larger brakes, new transmission and steering settings, plus a modified suspension setup. It also gains a 5.0L V8 with a 44-hp improvement for a total of 429-hp.
3. The 2012 Genesis sedan starts at $34,200 and jumps significantly to $44,500 for the 4.6L V8. R-Spec models retail for $46,500.
4. Fuel economy improves across the board, with the 3.8L V8 now at 19/29-mpg, the 4.6L V8 at 17/26-mpg, while the R-Spec is pegged at 16/25-mpg.
Three years on and the Genesis is due for an update, and Hyundai has gone beyond the usual tweaked tail lights and new wheel designs. The big news for the 2012 Genesis is a power bump, with the base Genesis V6 now making 333 horsepower, up from 290. At the other end of the spectrum, a new Genesis R-Spec model with a stiffer suspension, tighter steering and a more aggressive wheel and tire package comes equipped with a direct-injection 5.0-liter V8 making 429 horsepower. The former top-dog Genesis with the 4.6-liter V8 remains in the lineup with the same 385-hp, although fuel economy has been improved by one click on the highway for a new 17/26-mpg rating.
R-SPEC A SHOWCASE FOR WHAT HYUNDAI CAN DO
During the technical briefing, Hyundai was quick to boast that the 5.0 is the most powerful motor ever developed by Hyundai, but equally coy when asked about expected sales numbers for the R-Spec, or what percentage of Genesis customers would opt for the $46,500 high-performance model. Clearly, this is a demonstration of what Hyundai can do rather than a volume model, but that didn’t stop us from making a bee-line for the R-Spec, even when conventional logic dictates that we’d only be set up for disappointment upon switching into the V6 model.
Despite being saddled with over 4,000 lbs of weight, the R-Spec hauls itself down the road with little abandon. Coming out of a traffic circle, we gently applied the throttle to see what would happen, and were granted with a microsecond powerslide before the traction control put a stop to our fun. Beyond the traffic circle, there was little in the way of curves (save for the occasional high speed sweeper) for us to test the improved steering, springs and damping, but we noticed that all three felt fairly firm, especially more so than the last Genesis we drove a couple years ago. Hyundai has added more assist to the R-Spec’s steering, something that we definitely welcome, but that may not be looked upon favorably by other Genesis drivers, who tend to trade in cars like the Lexus ES350 and Honda Accord.
The suspension calibrations of the Genesis was one area previously criticized for being both uncomfortable and not sporting enough. Given that we were on a largely straight, perfectly paved ribbon of black tarmac for the entire drive, it would be hard to fairly evaluate the suspension’s improvements, although we did feel certain firmness when tossing the R-Spec into corners. A better test would be a week on Midwestern, winter-afflicted pavement, and we’re hoping Hyundai takes the hint.
What everyone wants to know about is the new powerplant, and the 5.0-liter V8 is like most Hyundai engines; it does what it says on the tin with little fanfare and lots of competency. Anyone expecting an American-style rumbling small-block can stop reading right now, as this V8 is much closer to something you’d see from Lexus. It may not operate silently in the background like a Lexus V8, but the nature of the R-Spec calls for a bit more involvement, and a step on the throttle will launch the luxury sedan down the road at a rapid pace.
One criticism we do have is with the throttle tip-in, which we found awkward and stilted from a dead stop. In addition, the 8-speed automatic takes a brief pause when downshifting, but this isn’t exclusive of the Hyundai unit – we have never been enamored with 8-speed automatics and their multitude of ratios, and the gear-hunting is a general affliction rather than a specific issue.
UP-RATED V6 MAKES V8 A HARD SELL
As we handed off the keys to the R-Spec and hopped into a V6-powered Genesis, we were expecting to be a little underwhelmed by the 100 horsepower deficit, but that wasn’t the case. The base Genesis is more than adequate, with 333 horsepower and a chassis only slightly less sporting than the R-Spec. The V6 also weighs a few hundred pounds less, an important factor in everything from fuel consumption to performance.
We had trouble discerning the performance of the two cars – sure, the engines sound slightly different, the steering has a bit more slack on the V6, and the R-Spec can hit 60 mph in 5 seconds as opposed to just under 6 seconds for the base car, but does it really justify the roughly $3,000 price premium between a similarly equipped V6 and an R-Spec (a base Genesis V6 with no options and an R-Spec have a nearly $12,000 price gap)?
Our V6 tester came with all the bells and whistles of the R-Spec, like the 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, lane departure warning system, HID headlights, Bluetooth and in-dash navigation system, leading us to further question the necessity of the R-Spec. Sure, it’s a great symbol of Hyundai’s accomplishments, but with the significant price gap and superior fuel economy (19/29 mpg for the V6 versus 16/25 mpg for the R-Spec), we found ourselves more enamored with the plain-Jane 6-cylinder car. Even if the R-Spec looks like something out of a rap video and can serve up powerslides on demand, the V6 is the practical choice that doesn’t lose much in the way of performance, luxury or style.
If there is a reason to opt for the big 5.0-liter it’s that you’ve already committed to the idea of getting a V8 and with the price premium to step up from the 4.6-liter to the 5.0 just $2,000… well… why not?
Hyundai says their target Genesis customer is “the millionaire next door”, ostensibly a wealthy guy who is secure enough to drive a Hyundai, but probably wears a watch that you’ve never heard of, but costs more than a Rolex. While we wholeheartedly endorse the R-Spec, this kind of buyer isn’t too interested in the boy-racer aesthetic or the extra few thousand that the big engine costs. For them, the V6 is more than adequate, and if they really are millionaires, they probably have something more hardcore lurking in the garage anyways.