The Genesis G90 is Korea’s answer to the BMW 7 Series. Does it measure up to the best from Germany?
HWASEONG, SOUTH KOREA — “Have you driven our Genesis G90?” asks Yang Woong-chul, the head of Hyundai’s research and development machinery. “Our engineers are so proud of that car.” Hard not to see why, if you ask me. They’ve seemingly thrown every tech trick in the book at crafting a car that Hyundai believes is a world-beater.
The front seats are adjustable in 22 ways, for example, more than in any other car. To make the G90 the quietest car in the class, they’ve given it triple door seals, noise-blocking glass, and even came up with alloy wheels that have a hollow design, allowing them to absorb sound.
It has eight active safety system — everything from drowsy driver sensors to seatbelts that pre-tighten if the car thinks a crash is coming, to auto emergency braking.
The dashboard is a wall of buttons and switches, all optimised for the characteristics of the human body, say Hyundai engineers. That means when you reach out and press a switch, it should feel natural and stress-free.
Mind you, it was hard to take it all in. All I had was a two-minute jaunt in the car, as part of a whirlwind tour of Hyundai’s Namyang R&D facility.
A 3.3 square km complex, it has its own wind tunnel, crash test centre, and what insiders call the “playground” — an enormous test track where we saw engineers putting countless miles in various prototypes, some heavily clad in disguise. Tellingly, we spied a number of interesting cars there, too: a BMW M4, and Volkswagen’s Golf GTI.
It’s on the playground that they let us have a quick run in the G90, although in Korea it’s called the EQ900. That’s a nod to the Equus, the Hyundai flagship that is effectively being replaced by the top Genesis model.
In a similar vein, what was known as a Toyota Celsior in Japan was sold as a Lexus LS 430 for years, only to be given the chop once Toyota decided to launch the Lexus brand at home.
Interestingly, though, Hyundai staff make no reference at all to Lexus when they talk about Genesis, and routinely compare the G90 to the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class instead. It’s like they’ve mentally leapfrogged the Japanese and are aiming straight for the Germans.
In the back seat at least, the Genesis is a match for anything out there. There’s a huge amount of legroom (and in the long wheelbase model, it’s unbelievably big in the back) and the seats are reclinable. Like the last BMW 7 Series, it has a separate set of controls for the boss sitting back there.
But what strikes you first about the G90 is how soft its upholstery is. The leather is as supple as the very best in the business. And it feels expensive. Every bit of wood and metal in the cabin is authentic, instead of plastic.
Up front, the Genesis is intimidatingly complicated, and feels in some ways like a mash up of how Audi (the gearlever), BMW (the rotary control knob) and Mercedes-Benz (the large screen and silver buttons) present their instruments and controls.
It’s no slouch to drive, either. Hyundai put us behind the wheel of the top model, the 5.0 HTRAC version which has all wheel-drive and, you guessed it, a 5.0-litre engine. It turned out to be a creamy V8 with a cultured snarl, and plenty of muscle throughout the rev range. It’s whisper quiet at low revs, and wafts the car along with a sense of effortlessness.
But go for it, and the 413-horsepower engine heaves the big Genesis to 100km/h in just 5.7 seconds.
There’s a less powerful 3.8-litre V6 (with 308hp) and a new 3.3-litre V6 twin-turbo (370hp). The latter is the most popular seller in Korea so far, where the car has been on the market for only a couple of months.
We drove the G90 mostly in a straight line, so can’t tell you much about the handling, but the steering is light without feeling remote. And thanks to the V8 engine’s exhilarating performance, it was hard to assess what noise levels in the cabin would be like at more normal speeds.
But if what you want is a spacious, cosseting and effortlessly powerful car, the Genesis G90 certainly delivers.
It won’t be sold in Singapore, alas, but the smaller G80 that Genesis unveiled in the Busan motor show is headed our way.
Perhaps this isn’t what the 900 engineers who worked on the car want to hear, but the G90 ultimately reminds you most of the Lexus LS. It feels similarly grand and plutocratic, and is as far divorced from its parent company’s bread-and-butter offerings as the top Lexus model is from the everyday Toyota.
The G90 is also the opposite of its German rivals in one important way. When you see a BMW or Mercedes badge on a car, they tell you what to expect when you climb in. At the moment, you need to experience the G90 first in order to understand what to expect from the Genesis brand.
Check out how big the long-wheelbase Genesis EQ900L is inside: