Genesis G90 is luxurious opening act for young brand

Daniel Miller
Los Angeles Times
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The first thing you need to know about the Genesis G90 luxury sedan is that it’s definitely not a Hyundai. Even though it’s made by Hyundai Motor Group.

In the G90, Genesis has an offering in the luxury marketplace that is less expensive than most competitors.

Genesis is the young, high-end brand from the South Korean auto conglomerate, which has been careful to distinguish the luxury division from its more affordable Hyundai and Kia lines of sedans and sport utility vehicles. The full-size G90 is the nameplate’s flagship vehicle, a stately ride that tops out around $75,000 and comes loaded with luxury and technology features you won’t find in an Elantra.

Part of Genesis’ challenge is to educate consumers about its existence, while keeping a safe distance from Hyundai and the residue of unreliability that clings to the marque, which entered the stateside market in 1986 with cars plagued by quality issues.

Those problems were dealt with years ago — aided by Hyundai famously offering a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty — and now the company is known for producing well-made and dependable vehicles.

The Genesis G90
The 2018 Genesis G90

But just a whiff of shoddiness, even if it is by association, could taint the rollout of a brand that’s asking consumers to drop Mercedes-Benz money on a car from South Korea, which never before has sent such a pricey car to America and whose cars have yet to attain the prestige of European and Japanese rivals.

In a way, Genesis is trying to accomplish what Lexus did in the early 1990s, when the Toyota Motor Corp.-owned company upended the U.S. luxury car market with its LS400 sedan.

That car, which bowed in 1989, was priced well below its competitors and offered Japanese reliability alongside new features such as an automatic tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and power-adjustable seat belts. These doodads may seem quaint now, but the LS400 stood out and quickly outsold many rivals.

In the G90, Genesis has an effective opening offering in the luxury marketplace — one that is less expensive than most of its entrenched competitors while including many of the same advanced features found in those rides, some of which have been playing in this moneyed space for decades.

The Genesis G90
The Genesis G90

Approaching our test vehicle, a 2018 G90 5.0 Ultimate edition that cost $72,825, I was struck by this: It certainly looks credible. The sedan has a muscular grace, which is most effective at the rear, where its high belt line, brawny haunches and swooping, vertical taillights mesh nicely.

Inside are ribbons of wood and chromed surfaces, and lots of technology, such as a 12.3-inch screen that displays all manner of information, including a 360-degree exterior view of the car that’s beamed from an array of cameras. It makes parking in tight spaces a cinch.

Behind the wheel, the rear-wheel drive G90 is refined, equally comfortable on L.A.’s scarred city streets and freeways. The distinguishing element of the Ultimate version is its V-8 engine, which generates 420 horsepower and propels the car to 60 mph in an estimated 5.3 seconds.

The car is faster than it needs to be. And yet, even at speed, it’s impressively quiet inside the cabin. A sharp stab of the throttle does generate some noise indicating there is internal combustion happening somewhere in the vicinity, but the experience is otherwise serene.

The Genesis G90

There are, however, areas where the car is a letdown, allowing the down-market anxieties to fester. The issues in our test vehicle were small — a flimsy glove box door that did not open smoothly, and plastic door lock/unlock buttons that seemed fit for a car one-third of the price — but I noticed them.

In some respects, the G90 feels like it is trying too hard. As with some other cars — including far less expensive ones, such as the Chevrolet Volt — the G90 plays a short musical theme over its stereo system upon powering the vehicle on and off. In the G90, slightly different tunes are played at the beginning and end of a journey, and the piano-focused pieces seem to be an attempt to evoke luxury.

It has been assumed by many that the creation of the Genesis nameplate occurred because the company realized some consumers had trouble stomaching a $50,000-plus Hyundai. But Raphael couched it differently, saying a new brand was necessary to reach a rarefied customer base “who behave differently than volume-brand consumers.”

With the G90, Genesis has mostly nailed it. And consumers in a sometimes snobbish segment are validating the effort, whether or not it’s an imitation.

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