1989 was a watershed year in the automotive industry. Toyota, long known for inexpensive, reliable family cars, decided that it needed to move into market segments that would not only expand overall sales, but also increase company profits. And profits were fat at the upper end of the auto spectrum, where Cadillac, Lincoln, Mercedes and other brands were making a very nice living, thank you very much.
So Toyota rolled out a brand new full-size sedan as well as a brand new luxury car division. The Lexus LS400 couldn’t possibly be as good as what luxury car buyers were used to buying, said the executives at the above-mentioned automakers. How could lowly Toyota expect to compete against these established brands?
Six months later, the Lexus sedan was not only kicking sand in their faces, the new marquee was stealing customers so fast that even Lexus was surprised how much the American marketplace had embraced this new reliable, well-equipped premium car with the superlative dealer service position. After two years, Lexus had changed perceptions about not only Toyota, but what buyers should expect from their luxury cars. It had a trickle-down effect that continues to today, while propelling Lexus to the top of the luxury car sales charts for years. Lincoln and Cadillac have never recovered and have mere fractions of the marketplace that they used to own.
Fast forward to 2009. Hyundai, the huge Korean automaker known for frugal, fuel-efficient small cars (sound familiar?), introduced a new midsize sedan model on the Fox-TV action drama “24.” Called Genesis — the origin of something, or, the first book in the Bible — this four-door sedan turned perceptions of Hyundai on its head. Priced below the premium brands, yet offering similar levels of equipment, like Lexus first did, the Genesis reshaped how buyers looked at Hyundai just as the American auto industry was being gutted by the Great Recession. Longtime car dealers being cast aside by GM and Chrysler bankruptcies started acquiring Hyundai (and Kia) dealerships. Today, those dealerships sell the number eight and nine top-selling auto brands in America.
Right now, the original Genesis — a sedan and a swoopy coupe — have been transformed into a separate luxury arm of Hyundai. Weathering some fitful planning (separate showrooms? pricing strategy?) the Genesis lineup is now comprised of a sporty G70 sedan that mimics BMW’s 3-series; this week’s G80 midsize sedan that closely matches Infiniti G70, Lexus GS, Audi A6 and BMW 5-series; while a larger G90 sedan fits the bill against larger luxury cars like the Cadillac XTS, Mercedes S-class and Audi A8. Two crossover models, what everyone else is selling, are slated for showrooms in 2019.
The G80 retains the sleek, modern styling first adorning the line — and penned by former BMW stylists drafted to work at Hyundai/Kia. The winged emblem will make some observers think Bentley, at a glance, while owners will smile over the monies saved with a sedan that works pretty darned well for a fraction of other moneyed luxury cars.
Sized slightly larger than its competitors in all dimensions, length, wheelbase and unfortunately weight too, the G80 masks its girth on the road with a credible balance of composure and compliance. Lacking the crisp agility and sportiness of a 5-series when pushed hard, the G80 will please with a quiet interior and supple ride manners on all surfaces. The front seats are cosseting, the rear seats spacious, and the trunk will swallow lots of luggage.
While Hyundai will supply lots of electronic driving aids, the base trim G80 ($41,750) will not overwhelm you with distractions. Stereo and entertainment functions are easy to master with conventional knobs, the climate controls are large and push-button access and ignition are standard, as are heated leather seating and steering wheel. Blind-spot detection and emergency braking are included, too. Hinting to upscale; Genesis emblem puddle lamps welcome your return to the G80 at night.
Even though sedan sales are rapidly slowing, Genesis offers three different powertrains in the G80. A 311-hp 3.8-liter V-6 is standard, a 420-hp 5.0-liter V-8 is available, plus a new turbocharged 3.3-liter 365-hp engine is borrowed from the Kia Stinger and available on G80 Sport models. Rear drive is standard and all-wheel drive is available on all models, with an eight-speed automatic handling shifting action in all three versions. EPA estimates for the base V-6 with AWD are 18/25/20 mpg. We averaged 23 mpg for our week together.
Smooth and composed, although needing a diet (4,500 pounds), the G80 should help Genesis become better known. Hyundai just needs to get a better marketing plan in place, get the premium dealer network better established, or, get Jack Bauer back in action. We won’t see the duplication of Lexus’s arrival, but the elevation of Hyundai’s stance in the industry will be assured.