Genesis is a name that’s of paramount importance to Hyundai Motor Company. So important that, ironically, it wants to dissociate itself from the name. Introduced as a concept in 2007 and as a production model a year later, the first Genesis saloon completely altered the general perception of Hyundai as a brand. And it went on to hog the top spot in the all-important US market sales charts, displacing historically preferred saloons and winning many an accolade. Genesis became a brand by itself, showing the potential to do to Hyundai what the Lexus LS 400 did to Toyota in the late Eighties. But the Korean auto giant failed to grab that opportunity and take the decision to delink the badge and market it as a standalone premium brand. Instead, it pursued a perplexing strategy of keeping the Genesis badge atop the car’s grille and a Hyundai badge on the bootlid. It also introduced a coupé with the same name and to convolute things further, an even larger car with a completely different badge, the Centennial. And the top bosses of the company kept denying any plans for a spin-off. I remember posing that question to T S Kim, who was then general manager of the firm’s Overseas Product Planning team, and he categorically said the focus was on enhancing the Hyundai brand’s image and not creating a new one. He also said the plan was to compete on a similar level with established premium brands with the Hyundai badge itself.
Well, looks like that plan, if it were any, didn’t work. Genesis is now a separate brand. A premium offshoot that will soon grow to a full line-up of six vehicles by 2020. This will include the G80, which has already been launched, and is essentially a renamed version of the original Genesis, a smaller G70 saloon, a swankier replacement for the Genesis coupé, and a possible family of different-sized SUVs. And towering over all these will be the G90, the flagship, which we have here.
Although it effectively replaces the Centennial, there is absolutely nothing in the way the G90 looks or drives to suggest that. In fact, it’s an all-new car, and represents a massive jump in terms of styling, refinement, performance and drivability over the car it replaces. It’s a long, imposing vehicle that compares favourably with the long wheelbase versions of most of its rivals including the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and the Lexus LS. And the new signature “crest” grille adds to the overall stateliness of the car’s proportions. It looks good from the sides, too, with a long bonnet, short overhangs and the substantial wheelbase adding to its typical rear-wheel drive stance.
For those who have seen the previous Genesis and the upcoming G80, the exterior styling might not look fresh. However, the cabin is where Genesis moves the bar up quite a few notches. Everything from the quality of materials used — no low-rent plastics here, it’s all real wood, plush leather, and metal — to the layout and the switchgear, everything in the G90 cabin oozes luxury. A large 12.3in screen dominates the dashboard, which flows elegantly along to the door panels, creating a milieu of cocooning comfort for the occupants. While the Centennial itself was a remarkably spacious car, the G90 betters it thanks to the 115mm increase in wheelbase. True to the trend in this class, the G90 also offers mood lighting in the cabin that’s configurable from a choice of seven ambient lighting colours. The four individual seats are heated and ventilated, and offer supreme comfort and support. The driver’s seat is electronically adjustable in 22 different ways, the right-hand side chairs can be adjusted in 14 ways, while the rear left is 12-way adjustable. That’s plenty of different configurations there to keep you fatigue free even after hours of driving. It also boasts noise, vibration and harshness suppression to levels hitherto unseen in cars other than the flagships from the German trio and Lexus. To this end, Genesis engineers have incorporated a three-layer weather-strip seal on all doors, with double sound-proof insulation applied to all glass including the rear window. Adding to these is 20 per cent thicker carpet and headliner insulation, and a two-piece hollow wheel design with an integrated sound absorption chamber that Genesis claims cuts down tyre noise considerably.
The Genesis G90 is available with two powertrain options, a 5.0-litre V8 and a 3.3-litre V6. Our tester is the top-spec variant, powered by a 413bhp, 519Nm eight-cylinder, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It comes to life with a subdued, distant snarl that befits the aura of pomp radiated by the rest of the car, and responds to throttle inputs with an effortlessly smooth acceleration curve. Left to its own, the eight-speed automatic is also fuss-free in its shifts, although responses to the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are relatively sluggish. Ride quality is right up there with the best, sophisticated and comfortable without being overly floaty. Body roll is kept at a minimum, but it’s still some way away from the level of tautness and control displayed by the new 7 Series. Dynamically, it’s more comparable to the ageing Lexus LS 460, so the Sport in the selectable array of drive modes is best left unexplored.
It also comes with a set of features that are standard fare in this segment, including a full-colour head-up display, which also shows blind-spot warnings for both sides, driver attention alert, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with four-level distance settings and lane-departure prevention, rear cross-traffic alert, soft-
close doors, plus a 360-degree multi-view monitor among others. Strangely missing, though, is the massaging function in the seats, which is sort of staple in this class.
Distancing the Genesis name from itself and making it a separate brand is a wise move, but one that should have been done many years back. Nevertheless, this now is a Lexus moment for Hyundai. However, the playing field is much more complex today than in the late Eighties, so whether the G90 will be able to replicate the LS 400’s feat remains to be seen. And building up a cachet for the brand to stand alongside historically established marques is bound to take some time. The G90 is a great start though.