It’s been nearly four years since Hyundai started selling a rear-wheel-drive sedan starting above $30,000 and ending up comfortably into the $40,000s. The 2009 Genesis was a novelty, snapping up the North American Car of the Year award and steady – if not world-beating – sales.
As much as the Korean brand remains associated with value, the Genesis isn’t so novel anymore. Tens of thousands of them now travel American roads. Hyundai’s larger $58,000 Equus, introduced as a 2011 model, has taken over as the brand’s audacity model.
But Hyundai hasn’t ignored the Genesis, either. The updated 2012 model, which this reviewer recently sampled on a weeklong test, sports a revised powertrain with a new eight-speed automatic transmission, more power and better fuel economy, along with revised styling and various other tweaks.
With a roomy cabin and unimpeded visibility, it remains one of the most useful premium sedans on this side of $65,000, and it still has more polish and more available features than a large mainstream car – including a choice of two optional V8 engines.
Better than the Equus?
Regular readers of this page might recall January’s less-than-effusive review of the larger, pricier luxury Hyundai. At a sticker price approaching $60,000, the Hyundai Equus gets to the point where it’s hard to excuse any flaws.
Not only does the tested Genesis have most of the same equipment at $44,000*, but it generally equals or betters most Equus characteristics. The Genesis is smaller and some 500 pounds lighter, but gives up no appreciable interior volume. While it’s no sports sedan, its relative compactness compared to the Equus helps the Genesis feel more agile, despite the larger car’s electronically controlled suspension. The Equus has a few higher-grade interior materials – most notably the roofliner – but the Genesis is quite nice as well.
The Equus’ chief strength over the Genesis is rear-seat accommodations. The flagship Hyundai offers a full control panel, power seat adjustments, and the ability to slide the front-passenger seat forward out of the way – features ideal for an owner who isn’t the driver, or perhaps for livery duty. Aside from the novelty value, there really isn’t another reason for a driver to choose the Equus over the Genesis. Not only is the Genesis much less money, but it has most of the same strengths (and weaknesses) as the larger car.
Better than the competition?
More than most full-size sedans, the Genesis feels more like a true luxury product than an upsized family sedan. But the others aren’t so far behind.
Today’s large sedans from Buick, Chrysler and Toyota do approach the Genesis’ refinement and interior quality, and can also be decadently optioned out for similar money. Indeed, they are its closest competition as roomier alternatives to a Lexus ES350 among non-sporty premium cars. And the Genesis is about to face steep internal competition from the newly redesigned front-wheel-drive Hyundai Azera.
The Genesis doesn’t have the cushiest ride quality of its peer group. It has excellent composure on smooth surfaces, but despite a series of suspension tweaks over the years, it’s still bumpier than the best on a stretch of broken pavement, particularly at lower speeds. Hyundai has said it intentionally made the suspension firmer for the U.S. market than in Korea, but although the Genesis handles competently, it doesn’t have the alert steering feel or compact size that would make it attractive to a driving enthusiast.
Some might also fault the false metal on the Genesis dash as an outdated trend, though the interior is at least distinctively styled. And the car’s rear-wheel-drive layout with no available all-wheel-drive will likely be an automatic disqualification for some shoppers.
See more photos and details of the 2012 Hyundai Genesis in today’s slideshow
But overall, the Genesis a strong choice for someone seeking a premium sedan that doesn’t sacrifice comfort and practicality for low-slung style or high-performance handling, even as it avoids looking stodgy or driving like a boat. It also provides impressive acceleration and fuel economy ratings for such a large car. (This reviewer observed 18.4 miles per gallon in mostly city driving, but the car is rated for 22 mpg in mixed conditions and 29 on the highway.) And despite its rear-wheel-drive layout, this Hyundai still manages to pack in more interior space than a front-drive Ford Taurus or Buick LaCrosse.
If this sounds like the type of car you’re looking for, give this car a careful look – as long as you aren’t troubled by the concept of a high-end Hyundai that doesn’t undercut competitors’ prices.
More photos of the 2012 Hyundai Genesis
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Vehicle tested: 2012 Hyundai Genesis
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $34,200
Version tested: 3.8
Version base price (MSRP): $34,200
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP)*: $43,920
Estimated transaction price as tested**: $39,931
Test vehicle provided by: Hyundai Motor America
Length: 196.3 inches
Width: 74.4 inches
Height: 58.1 inches
Wheelbase: 115.6 inches
Weight: 3,971 pounds
Trunk volume: 15.9 cubic feet
Turning circle: 36 feet
Engine (as tested): 3.8-liter V6 with 333 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 19 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 29 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 22 miles per gallon
Observed mileage during test: 18.6 miles per gallon
Assembly location: South Korea
For more information: Hyundai website
*The sticker price on the Hyundai-owned media car driven for this review does not include the $875 destination charge a customer would pay. The $43,920 price listed in this review reflects that extra cost.
**Estimated transaction prices are based on data fromTruecar.com and dealer quotes.