Payne: Prodigy Genesis G80 vs. Master Audi A6
These days, luxury titan Lexus sports the most radical design language in autodom. After a quarter century of success in the U.S. market, Lexus feels confident in its own skin. So it’s hard to peer back through the mists of time and remember 1989 when neophyte Lexus debuted its very first LS sedan at the Detroit auto show. It was a shameless Mercedes knockoff — but for thousands of dollars less.
The lesson: If you want to beat ’em, first you have to join ’em.
It’s a lesson Hyundai took to heart when it introduced its own luxury bargain for model-year 2015. The mid-size sedan took its grille from the Audi A6, giving it instant respectability in the luxury world.
Wow, look at that new Audi!
It’s a Genesis.
Cool. What’s a Genesis?
Good question. Genesis didn’t stop there. A quick learner, it cribbed the best nuggets from other luxury manufacturers, too. From BMW it borrowed its rear-wheel drive and long hood profile. From Cadillac it took a heads-up display. The center console? Borrowed from Yankees and Europeans alike. You could access its infotainment system as a touchscreen — or from a center rotary dial.
For $10,000 less than Audi, the Genesis was a bargain. I loved it, voting the sleek barge one of The Detroit News’ 2014 Vehicle of the Year picks. Like Lexus four decades prior, customers loved the German-inspired Korean, too.
Hyundai now has spun off Genesis as its own luxury marque, added a flagship sedan called the G90 and rebadged the original midsize Genesis as the G80. With two more cars and two more SUVs due by 2020, Genesis is here to stay.
So when a G80 and an Audi A6 became available this winter, I took both for a comparison test to see how Genesis measures up to its teacher.
G80 makes a good first impression.
That big cow-catcher Audi grille gives it immediate presence, backed by a long hood and signature rear taillights. Hyundai badging has been removed entirely from the car, its Genesis wings proudly spread to signify its own brand. The other big change is price: the G80 is up $2,650 over its Hyundai days. Happily, that allows it to pack in even more standard safety features for its $42,350 base price. Goodies like automatic braking and lane-keep assist that even Audi (itself a notorious bargain compared to other Germans) doesn’t offer standard.
Add in a premium package for both Genesis and Audi and they arrived comparably equipped at $51,300 for the G80 versus $56,875 for the German beauty. Well, almost comparably equipped. The Genesis featured rear-wheel drive, the Audi AWD. Genesis’ “ultimate” package ices the cake with a full sunroof to let the day shine in on acres of leather, wood trim and silver-rimmed instruments that could have come right out of the Audi.
Nice. So can Genesis pass the taste test?
Before you are the leading ice creams with their labels removed. Take a bite of each.
Mmmmm. That’s good — but not as creamy as the other one.
That’s the Haagen-Dazs difference.
Slip the Genesis into drive, nail the throttle through a sweeper and no one will mistake it for an Audi. The 4,290-pound Genesis is a good daily driver. The much lighter (even with the added weight of AWD) 3,957-pound Audi is an athlete.
Built on Audi’s front-wheel drive, MLB platform shared with the A4 and A8, the A6 feels a class-size smaller with its laser-like handling. Like Genesis, the Audi is a comfortable tourer that you could drive Up North to Harbor Springs and emerge no worse for wear. But so inspiring is A6 to drive that you might just blow through town and keep on driving to M-119 (or as motor heads know it, the Tunnel of Trees) — that gloriously twisted piece of asphalt that’s Michigan’s best road north of Hell.
But luxe drivers don’t care about handling, you say. Luxury buyers will never do more than 40 mph on their way to the country club, you say. I beg to differ.
Drop 50-large on a car and you expect the best. My pal Dicran has never diverted his wife from a nice French vacation to watch 200-mph supercars tear down LeMans race track’s Mulsanne straight (I’m guilty as charged. Sorry again, hon) — yet Dicran knows the benefits that nine-time LeMans-winning Audi engineering brings to its production vehicles.
He can feel the difference between his A6 and the G80 instantly. It’s an inherent sharpness. It says he bought the best.
That sharpness informs every corner of the car. The crispness of the turn signal stalk. The lightning-quick upshifts of the 8-speed automatic. Audi’s base, 2.0-liter turbo-4 gives up 60 horsepower to the G80’s base, 311-horse, 3.8-liter V-6, yet beats it to 60 mph by a healthy half-second. The effort makes the G80 thirstier, too — getting just 22 mpg compared to the A6’s sippier 25.
So the student still has something to learn from the master. But, then, the new generation can teach lessons too.
Like a 100,000 mile/10-year power-train warranty — double that of Audi and just about everything else in luxury these days. For leasers like Dicran this is superfluous but the promise is added comfort for potential buyers like my pal Joe. A former Lexus client, he’s been blown away by Genesis’ service. That and they sent him a fancy invite to come try the new G90. At a private event. In New York City.
When you’re the new kid on the block, you try harder. Genesis doesn’t hide its interior Audi-envy — but it goes further with a bigger console screen and redundant controls. Touchscreen (for those who like an American feel) or rotary dial (for you Euro cats). And Genesis doesn’t slavishly adopt Audi’s clunky rotary, preferring the more dexterous, BMW-type dial and its nifty, bump-to-the-next-screen feature.
Neither does Genesis overindulge in technology as Audi does with its largely useless, center-console touch pad. Instead, it keeps its eye on practical details — like (ahem) better rear-seat cup holders.
That said, the A6 is at the end of its product cycle with a new thoroughbred due soon featuring updates like the Google map-driven Virtual Cockpit instrument display (drool) that makes everything else in class feel sooo 20th century. So the master still inspires.
With its bold looks, room and value, G80 is a tempting new dish. For those who want the best, Audi earns its four rings.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2017 Genesis G80
Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger premium sedan
$42,350 base ($51,300 as tested)
311 horsepower, 293 pound-feet of torque
0-60 mph, 6.6 seconds (manual, Car & Driver)
EPA 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22 mpg combined
Infotainment controls whichever way you please; luxury bargain
Delayed transmission response; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with Ultimate package, please
2017 Audi A6
Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger premium sedan
Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
8-speed Tiptronic automatic
$48,550 base ($56,875 AWD as tested)
252 horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque
0-60 mph, 6.1 seconds (manual, Car & Driver)
EPA 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined
Four-door athlete; rager drivertrain
Rotary dial is balky distraction; cheap rear cupholders