A luxurious Hyundai? A soulful Toyota? Don’t be surprised once you’ve tried the new Genesis and RAV4
What is a luxury car? Cars wearing the three-pointed star, chrome L, four rings, spinning propeller or family crests are obvious indicia. They’ve earned credentials (in some cases, for more than a century). So can a second-generation upstart from Korea be a luxury car? Yes — what about a car wearing a Hyundai badge says you can’t be luxury?
People asked the same kind of questions when Lexus first debuted a quarter-century ago. It was thought of as a fancy Toyota at half the price of its German competitors. It didn’t take long for Lexus to dance on the faces of arrogant Germans, but at nearly $90,000 for a well-equipped LS460, there’s space for this usurper.
Genesis styling was previewed by the dramatic HCD-4 concept from the 2013 Detroit auto show. Graced with a larger and more upright grille, the front gives the sedan a familiar presence that’s also fresh. LED running lamps, projector beams and LED fog lamps glisten. Raised hood sculpting and a steeply raked windshield flow into carved body creases and a fastback roofline. Plant it over 19-in. alloys, accent with chrome, and you’re cruising among high cotton.
After being greeted by Genesis-emblazoned puddle lamps, sweeping expanses of genuine matte-finish wood and stitched dashboards are only a start to the sumptuous cabin. Forget the badge and enjoy the heated/cooled front seats, power steering column, and panorama sunroof. Rear passengers stretch freely, but also enjoy heated seats and power sunshade. Lexicon’s 17-speaker audio system is only slightly less impressive than versions created for Rolls-Royce.
There’s much to make a driver’s job easier. A heads-up display, rain-sensing wipers, navigation and auto fog removal are but a start. Connect smart phones via Bluetooth and USB inputs. The car’s safety suite includes a rearview camera, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic detection.
You can get a V6 in the Genesis, but forget that! A proper luxury car has a V8 like the one streaming 420 horses to the rear wheels. It gets there via a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic transmission. You have to roll down the windows and stick a stethoscope in your ear to hear anything approaching harshness. Expect to see 15/23-MPG city/hwy.
Precise handling was a hallmark of the first-generation Genesis and it’s impressive again. Feel the tight suspension step over pavement and you’ll look for a Japanese luxury badge. Only the roughest pavement gets through the stiff body structure — drivers can adjust the suspension for comfort or sporty handling. They can also alter drive modes that tune the transmission, throttle, stability control and all-wheel-drive for their every mood.
If a couple of luxury brands that are struggling to find their way had a car as good as the Genesis, cranks like me wouldn’t be writing stories about them. The Genesis not only coddles passengers with high-end materials and divine audio, but provides a chassis and powertrain they’ll love driving. It is a luxury car — and a darned good one. And listing at under $40k for the base model, it’s luxury within reach.
Genesis starts at $38,000 with a V6, but came to $55,600 as tested. If you need more space and luxury, step up to the Genesis-based Hyundai Equus. You can also consider the Cadillac CTS, Infiniti Q70, Mercedes E-Class, Lexus GS and Audi A6.
My best friend is looking for a new mid-size crossover, and — per usual — called for a list of suspects to explore. When I mentioned the RAV4, which is well-loved by another friend, he paused, then said, “Toyotas always seem noisy and soulless to me.” While Toyotas do tend towards competence over excitement, that’s not categorically true. And, as we found, not true at all of the RAV4.
Styling follows current Toyota convention with the front jacked from an imaginary cross-tour Prius, but the finlike rear fenders and lamps are especially sexy. The rest follows current crossover style with an arching windshield and roofline that tapers gently to a hatch spoiler. Put 17-in. alloys under it, top it with a versatile roof rack, and you’re ready for adventure.
RAV4 interiors are among the best in the segment. The wide modern dash design is a cross between a Lexus RX and Corolla with a central control pod, cubbie storage and floating stitched panels. Silver finishes on the dash and doors — and faux carbon fiber texture on the center console — add style. Even the notched gear selector feels like it was carved from a Lexus.
Seats are firm, but comfortable, hugging you snugly without sucking you in. Cloth is perfect for pets and offspring. I could go for heated seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, but I’ll survive. Dual-zone automatic climate control, reclining/folding rear seats with ample legroom, power moonroof and deep cupholders add convenience. Open the rear hatch and toss in a week’s worth of gear … but only if you want to get lost. You can get navigation, accessed through a gesture-recognition touchscreen. Swipe to scroll as on your iThing. You can connect your things through Bluetooth or USB connections and access an array of apps that will make all things jealous. Check the back-up camera to stay away from immovable other things.
Driving it is a lively experience. Click down a cog or two in the 6-speed automatic transmission with your big right piggy to feel the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine toss all of its 176 horsepower. Send it to the road through the torque-shifting all-wheel-drive system as in our vehicle and you can make short work of snowy roads or fast turnpikes. Take it out of “Sport” mode and put it into “Eco” to employ start-stop technology and conjure 22/29-MPG city/hwy.
Toyota powertrains are almost always Lexus smooth, but the driving experience usually equates to riding inside a baked biscuit, but without the buttery smell. Pleasant, but not tasty. The RAV4 was surprisingly nimble on its four-wheel independent suspension, which allowed just the right amount of road feel to seep through to the electrically-powered steering wheel. At speed, wind noise is barely heard. Four-wheel disc brakes clamp down from speed without drama.
As my friend looked at competitors, it’s clear the RAV4 is in tough territory. The Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevy Equinox, Kia Sportage and VW Tiguan are right there with it. Yet its combination of Toyota durability, modern styling, refined handling, spirited powertrain and functional interior are all reasons he should consider a RAV4. He’ll be surprised … especially when he sees a base price of $23,680.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 6, 2015.