(first posted 10/13/2017) If you told me 10 years ago that Hyundai would be building a car like this, I probably would’ve stared at you as if you had fourteen heads. But have the times changed.
In the past several years, Hyundai has started building competitive large luxury sedans, resulting in an entirely new luxury marque to sell them under. The original 2008 Hyundai Genesis and 2009 Hyundai Equus were bold statements for the Korean automaker to get its feet wet, but the second generation Hyundai Genesis (now known as the Genesis G80) and flagship Genesis G90 have firmly planted the Genesis brand in the luxury realm, with the ever-crucial compact G70 arriving very soon.
I drove the G80 (née “Hyundai Genesis”) back in 2015 at a test event, and while pleasantly surprised at how refined it was, walked away feeling it lacked any exceptional quality in its class. It was comfortable, quick, luxurious, and well-crafted, but it just was kind of “meh”, not standing out in any particular area. Still though, I did like it and was impressed overall at just how competitive this Hyundai was in the luxury car world.
Its larger sibling, the G90, quietly went on sale in the U.S. last September, and since November 2016 has averaged between 300-500 units per month. We recently had this 5,000-mile example traded in for a BMW, and while I don’t know if that’s a negative reflection on its ownership experience, I was certainly interested to check it out.
Right off the bat, I’ll say I don’t find the G90 a particularly attractive car, especially compared to the G80 and upcoming G70. Its front end looks far too pinched-in and narrow in all the wrong parts, looking like a face that’s received one too many plastic surgery procedures. The inspiration from cars such as the Infiniti Q50 and various Lexus models is also rather uninspired.
From the side, it’s a rather awkwardly proportioned car too, with its very cab-rearward design. Slabbed sides, high beltline, and enormous rear doors only emphasize this. Versus the front view, it appears the intention from the side was to make the G90 look larger than it is.
The rear view is the only angle designers got right and well-proportioned, though its styling tends to look rather dull and dated in this class. From all angles, the G80 is a far more attractive car.
Opening up the large doors to the G90’s cabin reveals a pleasant environment with lots of leather, wood, and aluminum finishes, a plethora of buttons and controls about, and high-quality plastics throughout. There’s nothing spectacular about the design of the interior, being rather simple, but for the typical buyer in this class, simple can be good.
Sliding into the perforated Nappa-leather covered, 22-way power adjustable driver’s seat, specially designed under the guidance of Aktion Gesunder Rücke orthopedics provides generous comfort and support, as one would expect.
Controls are logically placed, making the learning curve of getting settled in quite easy and painless. The large 12.3-inch display screen houses the expected navigation, multimedia, four parking cameras, and can be configured to show up to three separate screens at once.
Rear seat passengers are treated to all the same amenities as up front, including heated and cooled reclining seats with power lumbar support, individual climate zones, and even radio controls just to mess with ‘ole Jeeves the chauffeur up front.
As far as the G90’s driving experience, it provides exactly what one would expect from this class and what buyers seem to prefer. In that, I’m referring to a soft, but not floaty ride, ample power on demand from its 5.0L V8, nearly undetectable shifts from its shift-by-wire 8-speed automatic, and over-assisted electric power steering providing little feedback. Body movements when maneuvering are well controlled, with limited roll, though overall the car doesn’t feel quite as planted as some of its German competitors.
Truth be told, with this particular car I was far less concerned with how the steering felt than how it steered all by itself, literally. Lane keep assist (not to be confused with lane departure warning) is by no means a feature exclusive to the Genesis as it’s available from a number of brands, but I’ve never actually tested it out on any car before. Semi-autonomous vehicles aren’t really appealing to me, but I felt I finally owed it a chance, just for the experience. Indeed it is a neat feature to show off to your friends. I drove an entire exit up the highway as the G90 steered itself, only requiring me to tap the steering wheel on a few occasions to let it know I was still there.
I didn’t have a chance to really open it up on the highway, but that being said, I couldn’t help but feel that the V8 was almost unnecessary in the G90, which is so very much luxury-oriented and very little sports-oriented. Although it makes 420 horsepower and 383 lb-ft torque, that torque is what’s key in a car this size, and the lack of much low-end torque is what’s left most desired about this engine. Opting for the the 3.3L turbo V6 results in the loss of 55 horsepower, but only 7 lb-ft of torque. Then again, the price premium for the V8 is only about $2,000, which is negligible on a $70,000+ car.
In summarizing my impressions of the Genesis G90, I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite films, Ocean’s Eleven, in which Brad Pitt’s character says to Matt Damon;
- Look always at your mark but don’t stare, be specific but not memorable, be funny but don’t make him laugh. He’s got to like you then forget you the moment you’ve left his side.
That very last line is my overall impression of the G90; I liked it, but forgot it the moment I walked away. It’s an all-around fine large luxury sedan that’s class competitive, passing all the tests to be part of the high rollers club. Yet as conservative as its class is, the G90 doesn’t offer any memorable or noteworthy qualities beyond the fact that it is built by an automaker that until very recently, was known only for making rather cringeworthy economy cars.
The G90 can rest on its own laurels, yet there are still other vehicles in its class from brands such as BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz that leave you with a greater taste of enthusiasm and enjoyment in your mouth after driving. In any event, it’s a superb effort, especially considering what Hyundai Motors’ flagship vehicle was only a decade ago. With the Genesis G90, Hyundai just might have built a better large Lexus than Lexus itself.