The days of the flagship luxury sedan may well be numbered. Sales are tanking as consumers opt for plush SUVs, but the segment still serves a role for car makers playing in the upper end of the market. Think of the gizmo-laden four-door as an automotive calling card; a way for a luxury brand to tell the world “this is us at our best.” That’s particularly important for new entrants—build a car that can rival a Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the respect will follow. It’s a strategy that Lexus used to great effect at the end of the last century, so it’s not surprising that Genesis—which was spun out from Hyundai in 2015—is trying the same.
After spending a week with a G90, I came away convinced that the Korean brand ought to be taken seriously. It might not have the same snob appeal as one of the established German players, but the 2017 G90 3.3t is no less luxurious. And at $70,000 fully loaded, it’s an awful lot cheaper than those Germanic rivals. Other luxury sedans are available for similar money—from Volvo, Cadillac, or Tesla—but they’re all a class size smaller.
The mechanical bits
Under the hood is a 365hp (272kW), 383ft-lb (519Nm), 3.3L direct-injection twin-turbo V6 coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission. (This is Hyundai’s own design, not the almost ubiquitous ZF 8HP.) There are rear- and all-wheel drive versions available—I tested the AWD G90—and a 5.0L V8 is available for those who feel the need for more horsepower (420hp, although the V8 offers barely any more torque at 383ft-lbs). However, this Genesis is no featherweight. Unlike the Audi A8 (which uses plenty of aluminum) or the BMW 7 Series (which employs carbon fiber in places) the G90 is made from high-strength steel. Curb weight for the AWD G90 is 4,784lbs (2,169kg)—by contrast, a BMW 740i tips the scales at just under 4,200lbs (1905kg).
Consequently, it’s not that economical despite a drag coefficient of just 0.27. The EPA rates the G90 at 20MPG combined (17 city, 24 highway), numbers that sound about right in our experience. It’s also not a speed demon, although we note that the same engine is used in the new Kia Stinger, which almost certainly is. (You’ll be able to read all about that one in a week or so.)
Both the suspension (with dampers from Sachs/ZF) and the transmission are intelligent, with several different modes to choose from: Sport, Smart, Eco, and Individual. Each mode remaps the transmission shift points, throttle map, suspension control, the steering, and stability control. While I did play around with these for a bit, it was hard to tell much of a difference in regular driving. Most of the time I spent with the car involved wafting around sedately in Eco.
In my notes for driving impressions, I jotted down “very relaxing to drive.” This really is a car to sedately cruise around, conveying one’s passengers with the minimum of fuss. NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) levels are particularly good—other than the displays springing to life and the tachometer showing the engine was idling, it was near-impossible to tell the car was running. At tick-over there was no perceptible engine noise or vibration through the driveline. On the move, the ride was good despite not having air suspension. That low drag coefficient helps the G90’s air of tranquility; an active air flap at the front and some deflectors under the car mean wind noise isn’t an issue, and I didn’t notice any tire roar either.
Luxury sedans have to be luxurious
Looks are always going to be subjective, but personally I quite like the G90’s styling, penned by Hyundai’s design boss Peter Schreyer before the new brand appointed Luc Donckerwolke as Genesis’ design chief. The front grille is rather reminiscent of Audi’s design language, but the effect here is quite elegant. The rear is a bit less dynamic—I’m picking up shades of Rolls Royce around the C-pillar and more than a little Mercedes-Benz in the rear light clusters.
From the driver’s seat—a 22-way adjustable throne—the ergonomics are good, with all your controls within easy reach. But there are an awful lot of them; I gave up counting buttons after reaching 30. Overall the UX is a little too fiddly compared to other cars in the class, and it’s not quite as elegant. The buttons are all a little bigger than they needed to be, and all of the typefaces labeling them are perhaps a point or two too large. Think Samsung smartphone rather than Apple. Annoyingly, the shifter uses a button on the center console to put it into Park.
Almost everything is wrapped in thick black leather—with some nice white contrast piping—and glossy wood trim that used to be actual trees. The plastics are all soft-touch and high-grade. The best seats in the house are in the rear. They may lack all the power-adjustments of the front seats, but there are acres of leg room (more than three feet) and controls that, when pressed, move the front passenger seat as far forward and out of the way as possible—perfect for the taller K-Pop stars, perhaps. These controls are duplicated on the side of the front passenger seat so the driver can spare the rear occupant the effort.
The rear seat passengers also have total control over the infotainment system courtesy of duplicated controls in the central arm rest. Trunk space is massive—15.7 cubic feet or 444.5L—and the hands-free “smart trunk” feature always knew exactly when I was behind the car and wanted the trunk opened. I’m not sure how the G90 does this—maybe proximity to the key fob—but it worked flawlessly, which is a lot more than can be said about those systems that require you to wave a foot underneath the rear bumper.
As mentioned earlier, the G90 comes loaded with toys to play with. The infotainment system uses a 12.3″ screen up front. It’s not a touchscreen UI, and while it’s not quite up there with Audi’s MMI or Volvo’s Sensus systems, it was intuitive to use and responsive to inputs. Android Auto and CarPlay aren’t present, but there is a cubby for a phone on the center console complete with Qi wireless charging. Parking such a large car—204.9 inches or 5.2m—in small spaces is a doddle thanks to 360-degree parking cameras. Coupled with the large widescreen infotainment display, you get several views at once (top-down as well as individual camera feeds). It won’t park itself, although I’m not sure that’s a feature I’ve ever really found useful, so it’s not particularly missed here.
Adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist is standard, as are blind spot alerts, automatic emergency braking (which recognizes pedestrians as well as other vehicles), and a “driver attention alert” that lets you know if you need to take a break because you keep wandering all over the road. The adaptive cruise is decent, and lane keeping is good when it can see the lines on the roads but feels like an older generation that isn’t very good at spotting lane markings in town. It did keep to the middle of the lane when it could detect the markers, however.
Overall, my impression of the G90 after a week’s use was of a car that feels over-engineered—but in a good way like the old Mercedes S-Class used to. The Genesis badge might not have the same cachet as more obvious choices in the segment, and we think there’s room for its design team to refine things a fraction on the inside (seriously, just make the fonts a couple of sizes smaller). Still, there’s no denying that it provides an awful lot of value for the money when a base S-Class won’t give you much change from $100,000. If you haven’t been taking this Korean luxury upstart seriously, now is the time to do so.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin