May 29, 2014 at 11:56 am

Hyundai's 2015 Genesis belongs in the bigs

Hyundai's posh sedan updates book on affordable luxury

Genesis. The term conjures big beginnings on a biblical scale. Profound starts. New dawns (though if I Google “genesis,” the legendary rock band is the first term to appear. But I digress).

It’s an apt name for Hyundai’s totally remade 2015 midsize luxury sedan.

Following the Korean brand’s tentative, 2009 audition in the segment, the new Genesis is a swaggering, Nurburgring-tested, tech-savvy cyborg locked in on the segment’s top dogs. But can Hyundai really go toe-to-toe with Mercedes? Can Wal-Mart create a luxury aisle and really draw customers away from Neiman Marcus?

New beginnings in a hyper-competitive lux club dominated by some of the most coveted brand names in the world — Mercedes, BMW, Cadillac — used to mean carmakers had to create alternative personalities to compete. Toyota invented Lexus, Honda transformed into Acura, Nissan became Infiniti (and Ford is trying to breathe life back into Lincoln).

Hyundai has bucked the trend. It decided to forego the colossal expense of developing a new brand (separate dealer network, separate marketing campaign) to sell its premium Genesis and Equus suits in the same showrooms as working-class threads from Sonata, Elantra and Tucson. Hyundai is convinced (or at least wants to convince us) that mingling first and coach class is the American way. That the Great Recession taught us that too much was gauche. That smarts trumps status. That greed isn’t good.

“The definition of what premium is changed after the Lehman collapse,” says Hyundai Motor America CEO Dave Zuchowski. “Americans want affordable luxury.”

It’s a tricky sell. My favorite automotive analyst curmudgeon, Michelle Krebs, rolls her eyes at Hyundai’s luxury pretensions. Taking on the Titans of Taste is a formidable task. After reinventing itself under the “Art and Science” banner in 2002, for example, Cadillac’s market share has barely budged even as it has produced its best product in its history. Hyundai knows all that. They say they’re in it for the long haul.

So how’s the new Genesis? It’s a knockout.

Where Genesis 1.0 was a conservatively styled lux wannabe, the second-gen Genesis belongs in the bigs. Hyundai designers call it Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 — a benchmark for the brand. It’s a benchmark for the class as well. Like a thick-necked racehorse, the Genesis’ long, muscular front hood flows into an athletic fast back. Walk around this sleek animal and comparisons to the gorgeous BMW 5-series silhouette slip off the tongue. Not bad company for a Hyundai.

The front end is equally striking with aggressive headlamps tapering to a bold, full-fascia hexagonal grille. Belted by six thin, horizontal chrome lines, the bold mouth echoes the Audi A6. But something is missing. Where the Audi — and Mercedes and Caddy — decorate their big grilles with their iconic logos, the Hyundai’s maw is naked.

Where’s the logo?

Genesis may sleep under the Hyundai roof, but the traditional Hyundai “H” logo is hidden ’round back. Genesis has earned its own logo — an attractive (if derivative) icon with wings surrounding a Genesis shield.

Logos are signatures. Mercedes’ schnoz welcomes you with a huge, three-pointed star. Cadillac bears its shield like a warrior. Audi wears its four rings like an Olympic athlete. BMW’s trademark twin kidney grille (forget its four-rotor logo) adorns every face. By contrast, Genesis has chosen to downplay its wings on the hood of the car. But what then makes a Genesis? Without a bold logo the hexagonal grille might be confused with a common Mazda 6. The lack of grille adornment gets more awkward when up-trim Genesis (or is that Genesi?) add front radar for adaptive cruise control. Where Mercedes and Cadillac hide the radar behind their logos, the plastic radar “brick” sticks out like a sore thumb in the Genesis grille. Ugh.

I obsess about such details because the Genesis team got most details right in this detail-obsessed segment.

Barreling through Waterford Township’s lake roads, the Genesis is a toned athlete. Hyundai benchmarked the Genesis to Germany’s finest and it shows. Assisted by dynamics experts at legendary Lotus Engineering, Genesis engineers equipped the chassis with more than 50 percent high-strength steel, giving it a higher torsional rigidity than the 5-series. The car features all-new, multi-link suspensions front and rear, a longer wheelbase, reduced camber angles, and optional all-wheel drive. Then Genesis took this rockin’ gym bod and put it on the track, circuit-testing it around Korea’s Yongam Formula One track and the formidable, 15-mile, Nurburgring Nordschliefe. Gott in Himmel, is that a Hyundai catching me on der Nurburgring?

The details continue to stack up inside the beautifully-trimmed cabin. Best interior volume in class. Superb 12-way, double-stitched power seats with 4-way lumbar support. An intuitive center console stack with 9.2-inch touchscreen (on premium models) with just the right number of redundant button controls, including (if you prefer) a German-like rotary knob at your elbow. Your backseat passengers will tip you on exit for the yacht-like legroom — especially if you chosen the cabin-length, blue sky-revering, panoramic sunroof.

You’re impressed, I can tell. Perhaps Hyundai truly belongs in lux class, you concede. Still, you hedge, what separates the Genesis from the pack in this high-tech, high-gloss, high performance segment?

May I present the best base model luxury car on the planet.

In crafting its new beginning, Genesis did not forget Hyundai’s roots: Affordable quality. Where entry-level lux is often just a frame on which to build a mansion, the base Genesis is the total package. You get the same sleek looks down to the 15-spoke wheels that match luxury trim rims in appeal. Shorn of the premium model’s awkward, radar brick, the front grille pops. Inside, the cathedral-like room and plush thrones are standard, while the touchscreen only shrinks by an inch (and anyway you lose the annoying rotary dial, hoo-ray!). Pulling this chariot is the standard, best-in-class, 311-horsepower, 3.8 liter V6.

All this for $38,000. Bone stock.

That’s seven grand less than the turbocharged 2.0-liter base Caddy CTS. Ten grand less than the entry Lexus GS350. And (cough) $14k less than the base Mercedes E350. But wait, there’s more. Factor in Genesis’ quality reputation — the existing model received JD Power’s prestigious, five-star Quality Award (Lexus? Just four stars) — and 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, and you save serious coin without sacrificing style.

The 2015 Genesis is a bold beginning. How about an equally bold ad theme song? May I suggest Genesis’ “Follow You, Follow Me”?

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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