A complete redesign of the car that won Cars.com's first-ever "Best of" award in 2009, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis is now even closer on the heels of more expensive competitors, but it's not without shortcomings.
As before, the Genesis is technically full size, but Hyundai positions it against nominally midsize sedans like the BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Lexus GS 350 — and prices it to undercut them all (see key competitors side by side here).
Versions still include the base Genesis 3.8 (named for its 3.8-liter V-6 engine) and the Genesis 5.0, which has a 5.0-liter V-8, both with rear-wheel drive. Like the Jaguar XF, another competitor, the Genesis newly adds an all-wheel-drive option available solely with a V-6. This option is common among competitors.
Exterior & Styling
The 2015 Genesis' exterior size is practically unchanged, but the wheelbase has increased almost 3 inches, which is a lot for this dimension. Despite the extension, the car's turning circle remains impressively tight at just over 38 feet, a bit better than competitors. (Compare the 2014 and 2015 Genesis' specifications side by side here.)
The earlier Genesis was criticized for aping the Mercedes S-Class, but I always thought it looked handsome enough. The 2015 has a new, grille-dominated nose that makes it more distinctive and in line with Hyundai's latest design direction. It still has a prominent winged Genesis badge on the hood. Unfortunately, the rear end seems to have received little attention. It's just sort of … there.
How It Drives
My overwhelming impression is that the 3.8 is a better-driving car than the 5.0. Though it boasts 420 horsepower, the 5.0-liter V-8 never felt like it was hustling the car and pressing me into the seat like its V-8 competitors do. The 3.8, though it's rated 311 hp, has 293 pounds-feet of torque (versus 383 pounds-feet in the V-8) and meets expectations better as a V-6 car — even with the extra weight of all-wheel drive. The Genesis' estimated mileage — 22 mpg combined for the rear-wheel-drive 3.8, 19 mpg combined for the all-wheel-drive 3.8, and 18 mpg for the 5.0 — trails most competitors.
Also contrary to common experience, the eight-speed automatic transmission behaves better with the less-powerful engine, exhibiting less hesitation when shifting down for passing power. The V-6 even sounds better than the V-8, again turning expectations upside down. It's not that the V-8 sounds bad, but it's clearly tuned for quiet rather than a performance sound. Though one of our editors praised the 5.0's smooth power, the others agreed the 3.8 is a better car of its type.
Ride quality is good in both cars, but it's definitely better in the 5.0, with optional adaptive shock absorbers, a new addition to the model. Unfortunately, the suspension's firmness setting changes only with the overall driving modes of Normal, Eco and Sport. These modes also affect the transmission behavior, accelerator response and power-steering assist level. I'd much prefer independent control of some or all of these systems, or at minimum a configurable umbrella mode that lets me choose the settings that suit me, as Audi and some others allow.
The cars both handle reasonably well, with notably good steering-wheel weighting over a range of speeds. The front-to-rear weight distribution is good, a bit more evenly balanced with the V-6. The Genesis is capable but not exceptionally sporty. It's fine with me. It leans more toward Lexus than the German competitors, and that means comfort. Many cars in this class try a little too hard to be sporty at the expense of comfort.
The interior quality is good, certainly enough so to surprise a consumer who hasn't been in a Hyundai lately, especially its lesser-known luxury model. But there are inconsistencies: The hood over the instrument panel is upholstered, but the rest of the top of the dashboard reverts to typical soft plastic. There's a half-dozen different textures, not all of which seem to go together. There's real aluminum trim, yet somehow it doesn't look convincing; perhaps a brushed finish would be more effective and hide smudges better. There's semi-gloss wood trim with an open-pore finish, but its aesthetic really depends on the color. I like the lighter execution, but from my perspective in the driver's seat of a car with the darker trim, the section immediately below the touch-screen looked like it had been sneezed upon (it had not).
Although the Genesis is very comfortable overall, I'd like to see more headroom in the backseat. At 6 feet tall I was fine, but the roof curls down pretty close to the doors and was a problem for passengers taller than I, at least when getting in and out. While the optional panoramic moonroof diminishes front headroom, the dimension remains the same in the backseat whether the moonroof is there or not. As for legroom, my knees cleared the front seatbacks by a healthy margin, but the seat sits relatively close to the floor, which raised them more than I'd like. Foot room under the front seats for stretching one's legs forward is only so-so, and the center floor hump is high, a common shortcoming in rear-wheel-drive sedans.
The hushed V-8 makes the 5.0 even more exceptionally quiet than the 3.8, which apart from the engine sound itself is equally vaultlike, both in its noise level and rigidity. Hyundai claims better structural rigidity ratings than competitors, and it feels that way on the road.
In the 5.0 equipped with 19-inch wheels, the predominant sound was the occasional thrum and pitter-patter of tires on the mostly healthy pavement around Phoenix. At high speeds and in strong crosswinds there was some wind noise about the A-pillars, but my impression was that it stood out only because of the overall quietness. The standard 18-inch wheels on the 3.8 sounded a little quieter over expansion joints and such, but louder on coarse pavement.
Between the quiet, comfortable ride and seats, I ended a day of driving almost 300 miles with no fatigue. The only other time I experienced this, over some of the same roads in Arizona, was in a Rolls Royce. No joke.
Ergonomics & Electronics
One of the Genesis' high points is its multimedia and control system, which starts with a generously sized 8-inch touch-screen and standard navigation, and can be upgraded to a stellar high-definition 9.2-inch touch-screen. The optional screen's size is simply fantastic, larger than Chrysler vehicles' 8.4-inch Uconnect display. It combines my favorite interface — a touch-screen — with a well-placed multifunction knob that's easily in reach on the center console for people who prefer that means of control. Even better, there isn't a single capacitive touch-sensitive panel in the car. All real mechanical buttons and knobs. Hurray!
The new optional system features Apple Siri integration and is compatible with Pandora, SoundHound and Aha internet radio smartphone apps. A SiriusXM subscription provides satellite radio, traffic information, sports scores, stock values, movie times, fuel prices and weather alerts. The basics — Bluetooth wireless connectivity and USB and analog audio jacks — are standard. If that seems a given when you can get the same in practically any entry-level car these days, take a closer look at the luxury class … .
The Genesis now offers a head-up display that shows a wealth of information on the windshield ahead of the driver, but it vanishes entirely if you wear polarized sunglasses. Though this is a common drawback of these displays, I've recently driven two GM vehicles that had mitigated the problem: The display appeared orange through my polarized lenses, but it remained perfectly usable.
The '15 Genesis heralds the debut of Hyundai's second-generation Blue Link communications system, which now supports voice-recognition-driven destination search supported by Google. The remote-start option now lets the owner determine how long the engine runs (1-10 minutes), stop the engine remotely, and adjust the climate control and defroster. Unfortunately it still doesn't activate the available heated seats.
Cargo & Storage
The Genesis' large exterior pays off in generous trunk volume: 15.3 cubic feet versus 14.0 in the 528i, 13.7 in the CTS sedan and 14.3 cubic feet in the GS 350. The opening is very wide and the trunk's shape is truly accommodating. There's even a swing-down T-hook for holding onto grocery bags and the like. Unfortunately, the Genesis has only a pass-through rather than a folding backseat. This tradeoff is common among full-size luxury sedans, but some of the Genesis' stated competitors have folding backseats, at least as an option, including the BMW and Cadillac.
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis' stellar performance in all Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests earned it the organization's highest designation: Top Safety Pick Plus. It earned not simply qualifying scores, but the top score of good in all crashworthiness tests, plus a rating of superior for front crash prevention when equipped with optional safety features.
The main feature in question provides forward-collision warning and both low- and high-speed autonomous braking, optional on the 3.8 and standard on the 5.0. Other safety options include lane keep assist and blind spot warning, with an enhancement called Lane Change Assist that "looks" farther behind the car than the typical system of this type "to help detect vehicles approaching towards its rear side at high speeds, especially during higher-speed driving," as Hyundai describes it. Unfortunately, in my experience this last feature merely provided more unnecessary alerts during lane-change maneuvers: After passing other cars at a substantial speed differential, when I signaled to pull into their lane, Lane Change Assist would beep away. The feature should be smart enough to know I'm pulling away from the other car and not pester me. The lane-related features also employ a vibrating steering-wheel alert. I like tactile warnings because they minimize all the beeping, but vibey steering is never effective in my opinion. All in all, new features are good, but execution matters.
The Blue Link system provides SOS assistance and automatic collision notification, and can now notify emergency contacts, pre-selected by the owner, via text and email.
The Genesis' standard safety features are listed here.
Value in Its Class
Despite its low starting price, the Genesis sedan comes with some standard features not found in all competitors, most notably leather upholstery. The 528i and CTS are two that have imitation leather standard. Also, thanks to its low price, the Genesis can be loaded up with features and remain competitive with the other guys' entry vehicles. On the downside, the Genesis' features are mostly bundled into packages ranging from $4,000-$11,000 rather than being available a la carte.
Though the Genesis sedan is all new, its greatest challenge is an old one: It attempts to compete against luxury vehicles from luxury brands. Part of the value among luxury vehicles is the brand cachet — something that varies broadly in the minds of consumers and can't be quantified in the best of circumstances. Even so, Hyundai is a maker of modestly priced vehicles, and though its quality and reputation as such have soared, there's a reason Toyota has Lexus, Nissan has Infiniti and GM has a dedicated luxury brand and dealer network: It really is necessary to command top dollar.
As has been the case since Hyundai launched its luxury trial balloon, the XG300, in 2001, the 2015 Genesis is very much a luxurious car at an affordable price for anyone who cares more about the vehicle than the badge.
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