In the UK, we still think of Hyundais as being cheap little runabouts and, really, that’s true – a large number were shifted during the scrappage incentive, and you rarely see anything bigger than an i30 on our roads. These days we are getting a taste of more upmarket, sportier things from the Korean maker, including the impressive i40 and, most recently, the Veloster, but it’s safe to say that British buyers aren’t yet ready to embrace Hyundai as a rival to, for instance, BMW and Mercedes.
Not so in the USA, where Hyundai’s range extends all the way up to 5-series/E-class and 7-series/S-class levels. On a recent trip to California, I got to sample this sporty four-door saloon, the Genesis 5.0 R-Spec, on condition we made it very clear that it’s not coming to the UK. It’s not coming to the UK. Okay?
Read on for CAR's first drive review of the Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec.
Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec? Sounds pretty sporty…
That’s the idea. It’s based on the regular Genesis saloon that the US press has praised, and this top-spec model is basically a cut-price BMW 550i, though the badging suggests shades of M5-like epicness. It features rear-wheel drive, an eight-speed auto and a 5.0-litre V8 with 429bhp and 376lb ft – no turbos for Hyundai, note.
The R-Spec comes fully loaded: 19-inch rims, adaptive xenon headlamps, sat-nav, adaptive cruise control, heated electric seats. In fact, the only option on our car was a $30 iPod cable, and US customers even get a full tank of fuel. In America, it costs $46,500. BMW USA charges $62,000 for a 550i, before you add any options.
Some of the usual convenience features and gadgets are unavailable on the Genesis however: no blind-spot monitor, no adaptive dampers, no split-folding rear seat.
It looks, erm, familiar?
It does, doesn’t it? The front is pure Merc S-class, and the lack of any kind of bonnet badging furthers the deception. But the Genesis is far removed from the old copycat Korean stuff (just Google 1999 Equus to see how far the brand has come in little over a decade). It looks striking, well-resolved, maybe even a bit imposing, with echoes of Merc and BMW, yes, but also more mainstream American fodder too, such as the Honda Accord. Either way, it’s a car that regularly receives admiring glances.
Inside you’ve got full leather, lots of space and – particularly higher up the dash – some quality-feeling plastics, plus Hyundai’s own take on BMW and Merc’s rotary-controlled multi-media systems; this works very well. It’s a generally convincing cabin, but it’s a shame that the door cards and centre console look a little bland.
How does it drive?
As soon as you climb aboard there are a few clues that the R-Spec badging might over-hype this car: there are no steering wheel-mounted paddles with which to control the eight-speed auto gearbox, and the seats are mounted high, feel a bit flat and unsupportive, and lack under-thigh support too. On the go, you’ll notice that the ride is pretty firm and a bit too knobbly, but that the body control isn’t quite there, the car feeling a little too floaty. The steering, too, isn’t quite right. At low speeds it’s perfectly okay, but it’s got a lack of integrity when you go quickly through a long, fast corner – it just feels like it wants to self-centre and doesn’t have the meat to inspire confidence.
The 5.0 R-Spec badge on a saloon like this, for me, conjures up images of Nissan GT-Rs and high-performance M cars, but the Genesis doesn’t play in that league. Instead it’s a competent family car with a decent turn of speed, impressive refinement (engine- and wind-noise is hushed) and a gearbox tuned for comfort rather than rapid-fire gearchanges. The V8 means it’s quick, and it makes a nice enough noise when you floor it, but it’s certainly not supersaloon quick.
When you go for a hoon on a twisty road, the Genesis’s front-end grip feels strong and you can use the throttle to make the rear slide a little and point the nose at the apex, but the Genesis can’t quite cut it: that slightly floaty body control means it doesn’t feel well enough tied down and you’re not allowed to switch the traction control all the way off either, so you can regularly feel it getting in the way.
The Genesis 5.0 R-Spec looks good and offers incredibly strong value, but it’s still a long way from being a cut-price supersaloon, simply because its performance and handling can’t mix it with the big boys. It’s an impressive enough car, but we suspect that, for now, the best Genesis is a basic Genesis.
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