National identity is a very big deal in the luxury-car world. German cars, for instance, are decidedly “German”: high-tech and exceptionally engineered, a reputation BMW and Mercedes exploit endlessly. American cars are powerful and economical, with little nonsense. The British serve up elegance on a silver platter; the Japanese are precise and efficient. Car buyers groove on these nuances, leading to executive-level pissing contests among luxury aficionados. So does the new Genesis G90 — from Korean brand Hyundai — really stand a chance?
The G90 is a new luxury flagship from Hyundai’s aspirational brand, Genesis. It’s a big, relatively pricey option aimed to compete with the esteemed Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS. And it’s a bold opening shot. I drove the G90 in and around Vancouver last week and found a fully evolved luxury ride with a sophisticated, fresh design — a long, wide sedan with elegant details and a sumptuous interior. It is, in short, a worthy competitor for the best from Germany and Japan.
But can a brand without strong nationalistic mystique (or any mystique) actually move expensive luxury cars off the lot? That remains unclear. It’s one thing to sell hatchbacks to brand-agnostic consumers, as Hyundai has done for 30 years here. But when your pals roll into the parking lot in their latest BMW, Lexus, or Range Rover — where everyone is critiquing everyone else’s car choice — it’ll take a bold consumer to stick to the Hyundai upstart.
Or in this case, perhaps just a very smart one — a buyer who’s absolutely secure and confident in his choices. The G90 will likely find many of those, since there’s much to like about it. The exterior is understated yet commanding, and takes advantage of the long wheelbase to produce short front and rear overhangs to visually suggest power. There are no unnecessary “design features” like too-prominent character lines or phony vents; everything is subtle and effective, and proportions are strong and smooth.
Inside, 22-way leather front thrones with fringe piping and vented surfaces are thick and substantial, the steering wheel is chunky; there are fancy clocks and soft-close doors, which cinch themselves tight to eliminate vulgar door-slamming — all features of traditional luxury saloons. On the center console, the infotainment, gearshift, audio, climate, and a wide LCD display march northward, each one angling progressively more toward the driver. It’s an elegant design.
Engine: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6; 5.0-liter V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Horsepower: 356; 420
Torque: 376 lb-ft; 383 lb-ft
The G90’s two engine options — a twin-turbo, 3.3-liter, 365 horsepower V6 and a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 420 horsepower — are both smooth, quiet and responsive; they pair to an 8-speed transmission and rear- or all-wheel-drive. The four-mode powertrain (Sport, Eco, Individual, Smart) change driving dynamics. And there’s a roster of advanced tech elsewhere that, while it won’t outdo bleeding-edge wizardry in the S-Class and 7-Series, is fully sufficient for consumers looking for effortless, if not invisible, interfaces and interventions. There is automatic emergency braking, smart blind-spot detection, and lane-keep assist that, coupled with the radar-regulated cruise control, makes highway driving a breeze.
On the road, the G90 is smooth as glass and exceptionally well-tuned, soaking up gentle curves at speed and racing forward with barely any hint of road or engine noise, thanks to its copious sound-deadening technologies. It’s almost shockingly quiet. Like, Rolls-Royce quiet.
When your pals roll into the parking lot in their latest BMW, Lexus, or Range Rover it’ll take a bold consumer to stick to the Hyundai upstart.
That all adds up to an impressive bottom line. The G90 is about as promising an opening salvo as one could possibly expect (thanks partially to Hyundai’s experience with its recent Equus and Kia K900 attempts, though neither is nearly as good as the G90). New additions will follow too, from mid-sized sedans to crossovers to coupes. But will we one day hear water-cooler chatter like I’m more of a Korean-car guy? Probably not, though the Koreans likely don’t mind that a bit. Though it’s a modern, technological powerhouse, the country is famously humble, despite being birthed such heavyweight brands as LG and Samsung.
For Hyundai, flag-waving is just not central to their strategy or corporate identity. The product itself is, however, and they want to sell it very much on its own merits. And on this stately new car there are many. Everything will depend on their customers: those who just want quality, performance, and pleasure, no matter where it comes from. It’ll be the guy who proudly fess up at the water cooler to being “more of a Genesis man myself.”