Hyundai first made a name for itself in the U.S. in 1986 with a subcompact $4,995 Excel. After some fits and starts, Hyundai is ready to go upscale with a full-size $40,000 Genesis flagship for 2009.

Genesis was to be a separate division, like Toyota has Lexus, but economics dictated keeping all Hyundais in one showroom.

Besides, says Michael Deitz, manager of product development for Hyundai, this is a “rational progression.”

“The midsize Azera has done well at $30,000,” he said. “We felt a Genesis starting at $33,000 to $35,000 wouldn’t be asking buyers to make a huge leap.”

Especially, considering Hyundai is positioning Genesis against the BMW 750i, which costs some $40,000 more, and a Mercedes-Benz S550, at $54,000 more. That $40,000 to $54,000, Deitz points out, “Is at least another car-or two.”

Genesis is Hyundai’s first rear-wheel-drive, V-8 powered sedan. A two-door comes out in the first quarter of next year.

The sedan offers a choice of a 3.8-liter, 290-horsepower V-6 or a 4.6-liter V-8 that delivers 375 h.p. with premium lead-free fuel or 368 h.p. with regular unleaded. Premium provides optimum performance, but regular gives those who gripe about spending a dime more a gallon one less reason to whine.

We tested Genesis with both engines, but spent the most time with the V-8. Both are smooth and quiet, but the V-8 takes off like Road Runner in the cartoon, with zero-to-60 m.p.h. acceleration in 5.7 seconds versus 6.2 with the V-6.

Yet Genesis doesn’t wiggle as speed builds and follows whatever line you draw for it without wobble over uneven roads. With the V-8, pedal response is immediate; the V-6 needs a nudge. The V-8 is rated at 17 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway, the V-6 at 18/27, nothing to encourage conservationists.

Ride is luxury smooth. Handling benefits from the sports-tuned suspension. Wide-profile, 18-inch radials cushion the cabin from road blemishes while gripping tight in corners. Steering response is speed-sensitive to sharpen handling.

Deitz says standard electronic stability control along with traction control should provide secure motoring for the RWD sedan in the Snow Belt. AWD is under consideration, but not until Gen II since the current version wasn’t designed for it.

“Remember the Chrysler 300 was initially launched without AWD,” Deitz said.

The cabin is roomy and spacious. Non-slip perforated leather seats are like easy chairs for the long haul. But why does the driver get an optional heated and cooled seat, the passenger heated only?

The windshield and side windows have an acoustic laminated cover while the roof is treated with anti-vibration material to reduce noise filtering back into the cabin.

A textured finish for the dash, instrument panel and door trim, along with the seat stitching, give the cabin a rich look. Other nice touches include release buttons for the spacious trunk and gas cap in the driver’s door, visors with mirrors and parking pass or gas credit card holders, power plug in the dash as well as a power plug/USB outlet and coin holder under the center armrest, power sun shade for the rear window and a ski pass-through from trunk to cabin.

A few gripes, however, one being that the rear seat holds three but the one in the middle has to straddle the drivetrain hump in the floor. Plus, headroom back there can be tight for 6 footers. And the battery is under the trunk floor, a sign the engine compartment is crammed and a challenge for the mechanic.

The Genesis V-8 starts at $37,250 and includes anti-lock brakes, side-curtain air bags, power sunroof, power window/door/seat/mirrors and rain-sensing wipers. Only option on the V-8 is a $4,000 technology package with navigation system, backup camera, Bluetooth phone system, automatic leveling headlamps, front and rear park-assist beepers, cooled driver seat and adaptive lighting in which the headlamps move in the direction of the turn. With that package and $750 for freight, Genesis tops out at $42,000. The V-6 starts at $32,250 and with three option packages totaling $7,000, plus freight, tops out at $40,000.

Deitz said Genesis will be joined by an ’09 Elantra Touring (wagon) in the first quarter of next year, the ’10 Genesis coupe in the spring, an new crossover in the fourth quarter of next year, a new more crossover like Tucson for ’10, the next-generation Sonata in the second quarter of ’10 as an ’11 and the next-generation Accent in early ’11 as a ’12.

2009 Hyundai Genesis

Wheelbase: 115.6 inches

Length: 195.5 inches

Engine: 4.6-liter, 375-h.p., 32-valve V-8

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

M.P.G.: 17 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway

Price as tested: $41,250

$37,250 Base

$4,000 Technology Package with navigation system, DVD changer, back-up camaera, auto-leveling headlights, adaptive headlamps, front and rear park assist, cooled driver seat, Bluetooth hands-free phone and satellite radio

Add $750 for freight.


New RWD flagship with V-6 or V-8 power.

Stability control with traction control.

Luxury look with luxury amenities.

Lower price than most rivals.


AWD option would seal the deal.

Cylinder deactivation not offered yet.

Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation. Contact him at

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