Sir James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner (and, potentially, electric car) fame, coined a phrase in his early advertisements: “I just think things should work properly.” The brilliance of Dyson’s marketing campaign was that it forced buyers to ask themselves why century-old technology, in this case the vacuum cleaner, seemed to be getting more, rather than less, trouble-prone.
There’s a parallel in cars, luxury cars specifically, not in reliability but rather in ease of use. In the race to add technology and perceived luxury, the modern Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Lexus LS 460 and BMW 7-Series have grown fiendishly complex, with layers of menus and multifunction knobs. Auto stop/start settings and drive modes need to be customized to suit the driver. Throttle response and transmission tuning is right for a lot of situations but gets laggy or hypersensitive in others. The cars invariably work properly, but only once you know how to use them.
Enter the Genesis G90. After a year in the fleet, it’s proved to be the most turn-key luxury car we’ve had at Autoweek in years. It has buttons and knobs where you expect them. The suspension is smooth and forgiving when the road is rough yet taut when twisty asphalt calls for spirited driving. There’s gobs of lag-free torque and a seamless transmission that picks gears perfectly. The G90 just works, right out of the box. Yes, there are menus and settings to customize whatever you want, but the point is that you don’t need to. Just get in and drive. It’s an uncannily easy car to live with on a daily basis.
These traits are welcome in any car, but they’re critical for a “new” brand. Genesis no doubt saw its mission as that of Lexus in the late 1980s: a segment-busting wave of luxury sedans designed—and priced—to shake up the class leaders. To accomplish that, it had to get the car as close to perfect as possible.
That has been accomplished, so why hasn’t Genesis clobbered its luxury-car competitors the way Lexus dominated in the 1990s? Some key differences have kept Hyundai from making the same splash: The competition isn’t asleep at the wheel, oblivious to its vulnerability as it was in the 1980s—the current S-Class, 7-Series and LS are all formidable rivals in a state of constant refinement. Another is the decline of sedan sales in the face of total SUV domination, meaning Genesis launched luxury sedans into a contracting market. Finally, spotty advertising and a lackluster marketing campaign have kept many would-be buyers in the dark.
But Genesis is making slow, steady inroads. After all, the difference between the 1987 Hyundai Excel and today’s Accent or Elantra proves the Koreans are patient. It took a generation of Hyundai Genesis and Equus refinement to get to the point where Genesis was ready to launch out on its own. Now comes the steady whittling away at the competition. The numbers aren’t huge—4,400 G90s were sold in 2017, but that’s 4,400 Cadillac CTS sedans or Audi A6/A8s that weren’t sold, and in a shrinking sedan market. What did those G90 buyers gravitate to? Some of the best ride tuning put in a big sedan, for one—the G90 delivers that sense of magnetic levitation, of adhering to a surface without actually experiencing its imperfections, only found in the top echelons of premium sedans until recently.
“The ride feels near perfect to me,” said one editor. “Supple but not floaty, even in soft settings.”
Hyundai’s 3.3-liter twin-turbo six is a lovely powerplant for a luxury car—instant, lag-free torque is delivered without any throttle tip-in delays (take note, BMW and Benz). More importantly in this class, the engine is superbly isolated, offering a muted growl under acceleration. Perhaps most telling is the lack of criticisms from a staff dedicated to uncovering flaws in any design. A certain editor known for detecting chassis irregularities no one else can feel remarked: “This car is damn near perfect. I drove it to Toronto and back for a two-hour press conference; that was good for about eight hours of driving in one day, and I could have gone another four without complaining.”
Another, equally particular editor: “After two weeks of driving the Genesis, I’m having trouble finding anything I don’t like. My biggest gripe: The hazards flash when the remote start is active—seriously, that’s what we’re down to with the G90.”
The positive feelings were helped by the fact the Genesis held together despite Detroit’s notoriously bad asphalt and the car’s near-constant use, often on punishing airport runs and short around-town journeys. “With 18K miles on the clock, I hear no squeaks or rattles,” said one editor, “and interior fit and finish are as good as the more expensive luxury boats.”
Indeed, our Genesis has needed nothing but routine service, and not even much of that. The car’s log files show just the factory-recommended free services performed and a mount/dismount of its winter tires. There were no unscheduled appointments or repairs needed. So, given our glowing compliments and the car’s spotless reliability, why will some buyers never consider a Genesis G90? The car’s biggest handicap—aside from the ever-present threat of kilotonnage from across the 38th parallel landing on the factory—is its lack of badge cachet or pedigree. The challenge was neatly summarized by my neighbor upon seeing the G90 in my driveway one afternoon. “We call that the fake Mercedes,” she quipped. Of course, by the same logic, her Cadillac ATS is a fake 3-Series, but there’s a fundamental branding hurdle in her comment: For many, luxury cars are about flaunting wealth; the Genesis G90 speaks more to pragmatism than pomp. That might be just enough for a foothold, though. As one editor remarked, “I’ve said it 348,534,958 times: If I ran Benz or Audi, I don’t think I’d be too worried about Genesis as a brand. Not yet, at least. Were I in charge of Cadillac, Infiniti or Acura, though, Genesis would be all over my radar.” This article first appeared in the March 12, 2018 issue of Autoweek magazine. Subscribe today
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $71,550
As Tested Price: $71,550
Powertrain: 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6, all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Output: 365 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 376 lb-ft @ 1,300-4,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,784 lb
Fuel Economy: 17/24/20 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)