EXPERT REVIEW

washingtonpost.com's view


Marketing 101 speaks to brand message. It must be consistent. If you confuse the message, you undermine the brand. Enough confusion will destroy the brand — perhaps even render it incapable of revival.

In the matter of its new Genesis nameplate, Hyundai is failing Marketing 101. This week’s test vehicle, the 2010 Genesis Coupe, is a case in point.

Had the 2010 coupe been presented as a successor to the now-defunct Hyundai Tiburon, I’d be singing its praises. The Tiburon, the Hyundai coupe sold in the United States from 1997 until 2008, initially was marketed as an economy car with sports handling.

In its second iteration, around 2002, the Tiburon developed a fan base in many ways comparable to devotees of the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. They were people who loved driving, but who tended to indulge their passion on tight budgets. The Tiburon fit their needs and wants perfectly.

Welcome the 2010 Genesis Coupe. Had it not been for its luxury Genesis moniker and upscale marketing pitch, it would have been the perfect successor to the Tiburon. The new coupe offers sculptural beauty (one of the best-looking Hyundai bodies ever) and 210 horsepower worth of fun at a starting price of $22,000.

For $27,500, the 3.8 Grand Touring version of the Genesis Coupe brings you even more bang for the buck — V-6 motoring delivering a maximum 306 horsepower and 266 foot-pounds of torque. It’s a deal! It’s a steal! But it’s not the kind of luxury signaled by the Genesis nameplate when it was presented to the U.S. market last year.

Back then, we were told that the Genesis brand stood for a new kind of luxury — the kind offered by mid-range Acura, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz cars at a substantially lower price. The V-6 and V-8 versions of the new Genesis sedans support that claim. They offer everything — comfort, craftsmanship, elegance, performance, safety — anyone could want in a luxury automobile. And it’s an offering at a price that beats anything put forth by rivals.

But instead of feeling like a step up to Genesis, the new Hyundai coupe feels like a step down. That complaint does not speak to overall build quality or performance. The new coupe has those areas covered. Here, I’m talking about perception.

To offer its new coupe at a base price $11,000 lower than the starting price of its Genesis sedans, Hyundai had to cut a few corners. Judging from the ride and feel of the new coupe, these cuts seem to have come in key touchy-feely areas — sound-deadening technology, smoothness of gear shifts, quality of interior materials.

Dare I say that, in comparison with its namesake Genesis sedans, the new coupe feels cheap? Okay, I’ll say it. That’s too bad, because in comparison with predecessor Tiburon models, the 2010 Genesis Coupe feels like a big step up.

Perception is as much reality in the car business as it is in politics. The perception here is that Hyundai is trying to force its new rear-wheel-drive sports coupe to become what it isn’t — what, in fact, it clearly does not want to be — a luxury cruiser.

Instead, the 2010 coupe is a blue-jeans runner. It wants to hang out at the track on a Sunday afternoon. It’s pretty, but it’s not the least bit afraid of dust and grime. It’s a driver’s car, and it wants to be driven, not put on display for purposes of enhancing owner prestige.

I wish Hyundai had brought its new coupe to life with a different name, one that speaks to the car’s many virtues without corrupting the Genesis marketing message. A hint of what could have been is found in the old Tiburon name. In Spanish, “tiburon” means “shark.”

There, you have it — the 2010 Hyundai Shark, a sports coupe destined to take a bite out of the competition — in this case the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang. That would have been so much better.

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