Korean Korvette

Genesis, Hyundai’s new pony car, gallops along with the big boys

IN THE BEGINNING… | Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe goes up against big-boy sports cars at a bargain price.

Hyundai migrated to North America in the ‘80s selling an atrocious little pot called the Pony. It was a total piece, based on an underachieving Mitsubishi, but it gave the Korean automaker a chance to improve its wares.

And boy has it ever. Over the past 25 years, Hyundai has gone from humble to hot, building some of the best cars sold in the U.S.

If you want a sport coupe that can humble a ‘90s Corvette and keep pace with America’s pony cars, check out the Genesis Coupe 3.8.

Especially when equipped with the available V6 engine and manual transmission, the Genesis Coupe very much is a Korean Corvette: A swoopy body with steering firmly connected to an athletic chassis. This is a car that embarrasses many world-class sports cars with a price that challenges mortal mid-size sedans.

A quick glance could convince you it’s a successor to the Tiburon or an aggressively-styled Eclipse competitor. Take it front-on and it looks as wide as a Ferrari Testarossa. The coupe shares its wide luxury car platform with the Genesis sedan, translating into a roomy cabin and athletic stance. At some angles, it could be an Infiniti G37 sport coupe, which I’m sure is no accident. From behind you get a breath of wing and wide butt familiar to drivers of lesser wheels.

Two-tier side surfacing and a “Z profile” windowline leave their impressions. Alloy wheels insure this exotic coupe lives up to its sexy looks.

You can get an efficient little 210-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder in the Genesis, but what’s the swag in that? Get the high-tech 306-HP 3.8-liter V6 and grow a set. In every one of the six manually-selected gears, the car growls and surges forward like an American muscle car.

Like in the Genesis sedan, power is sent to the rear wheels — proper in any real performance car. Fuel economy is rated 17/26-MPG city/hwy. You’ll burn more fuel than in a V6 domestic, but not much. If you’re that worried about it, go for the four-cylinder model and enjoy 21/30-MPG.

All you need is an iPhone (or similar device) to turn the Genesis into a Jetsons-era space coupe. Its twin-cockpit dash design is modern and sporty. Heated leather seats in contrasting brown leather looked great and gripped for fun. Automatic climate control, power sunroof and push button starting make the car easy to use.

Even with in-dash navigation and a thumpin’ 10-speaker Sirius-XM Infinity audio system, the car seems simple. Plug your iPhone into the USB port to access all of your music through the car’s controls (easy-to-use menus are intuitive). Bluetooth lets you make calls using the iPhone’s contact list and service by pressing buttons on the steering wheel. Add one little device and the car becomes as sophisticated as any. Best of all, you can take that tech to go.

Engineers went all out creating the Genesis sedan’s chassis. Its four-wheel independent suspension system, five-links in back, is as sophisticated as high-end German units. They had clear minds when they carried over a stiffened version for the Genesis Coupe. Compared to other cars in its class, Genesis feels better planted over rough pavement, but is lively enough to carve up backroads with vigor. Somehow, it still manages to provide a comfortable ride on the highway and isn’t overly harsh on rough city streets. The chassis is a first-class design, and Genesis is a first-class ride.

Safety was a key point of the design. Dual front, front-side and side curtain airbags tally off the people protectors. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic stability control, traction control and electronic brake force distribution let the chassis contribute to avoid accidents in the first place. Active headrests help protect against whiplash in severe accidents.

I don’t have the heart to take a car and roast the tires off of it in a crazy testosterone-infused tear, but everybody tells me the Genesis is a riot among the drifting crowd. Its torquey rear-driven powertrain can spin the tires into liquid goo with a side of smoke; its precise suspension and steering let you put the car wherever you want it as if with thought alone. Amazingly, during a three-hour drive, the car was as mature and well behaved as any high-performance coupe I’ve driven recently.

If the Sedan heralded Hyundai’s arrival with an unapologetic luxury that can take on high-end German and Japanese models, then the Coupe is the sports car that puts the world’s pony cars on notice.
Genesis is giving the Mustang and Camaro their own brand of Asian hell while serving up a dish of burn for the Infiniti G37 and Nissan Z. An as-tested price of $29,425 rubs wasabi in the wounds.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas