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VERNON, B.C. -- If you want to gain traction in the Canadian luxury market, get a grip.
That's just what Hyundai has done: The big news here is standard all-wheel drive for all versions of its second-generation Genesis luxury sedan.
Perhaps you haven't been paying attention and the big news here is that the words "Hyundai" and "luxury sedan" were just used in the same sentence. Make no mistake, the previous Genesis sedan was already the real deal, outselling cars such as the Cadillac CTS, Lexus GS and Audi A6 last year in our market.
However, it was also roundly whipped in numbers by traditional luxury cars that include the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class. Hyundai hopes to narrow the gap with this new leather-lined cruiser.
It's a very good effort, it's still kind of a bargain, and it's here to make you take a good, long look at what you consider to be luxury.
Styling is a mélange of other luxury brands. Gone is the old signature grille, that chromed Klingon forehead of a thing, and in place is a new, larger trapezoidal front end, flanked by headlights that now contain LED running lights and fog lights.
The side profile has a frisson of Infiniti, and integrated exhausts and angled tail lights might fool those behind into thinking they're following a Lexus product. Even with the standard 18-inch or optional 19-inch alloys, it's not quite what you'd call individualistic, but it's very handsome.
Further, the styling department should be praised for eschewing both unsightly fender badges and silly non-functional fender vents. The Genesis looks good and, like a nicely tailored suit, doesn't flash its label on the outside.
The problem with the old car, of course, was that it did show that Hyundai label on the inside. As soon as you plonked yourself in one of the previous generation's seats, you got the sense this car was cut-price, but also cut-rate luxury. The quality of the leather and the way the seats felt wasn't up to par -- it still impressed, as long as you carried the price tag in your head.
Now, the Genesis just plain impresses. Leather seating is standard, and it's now of a higher quality, with better bolstering and comfort. Brushed aluminum and gorgeous open-pore wood are available at one step up from the base model, as is nappa leather.
Even though there is a 420-horsepower V8 on offer, this car is about comfort rather than sport and doesn't have the closed-in cockpit feel that's found in more driver-focused cars. With a total length now just a hair short of five metres, the Genesis has a longer wheelbase and more passenger room than pretty much anything in the segment. Where others might sell outright speed, the Genesis promises relaxation.
To that end, it's jam-packed with every conceivable entertainment and convenience feature you could imagine and several you didn't know you even needed. For instance, simply standing close to the rear trunk for three seconds with the key in your pocket will cause the trunk to power open, entirely hands-free.
Neat, especially if you've got your hands full, plus you can startle and impress onlookers by shouting "Open sesame!" at the top of your lungs.
There's also an interior CO2 sensor that can automatically open vents to the outside if it detects levels that might make the driver drowsy. I'm not sure what sort of heavy-breathing activity you might be planning for your Hyundai but, rest assured, if you intend to recreate the hand-on-glass scene from Titanic, you can do so in safety. In comfort, too, as this new, longer Genesis has a bigger back seat than anything other than the Mercedes E-Class, which it just about matches.
The central feature is the de rigueur touchscreen, the standard sizing being eight inches, with satellite navigation standard as well. The upgraded 9.2-inch screen is not just larger, but also higher resolution at 720p, and comes standard on the V8 model. A head-up display is also available, with blind-spot monitoring built right in, and all cars will come with a 4.3-inch colour display screen mounted right in the instrument cluster.
Standard audio is a 14-speaker Lexicon system, with an optional 17-speaker upgrade available. Both sound great, and are certainly up to the category benchmarks.
The rest of the interior ergonomics are quite good, though some of the switchgear is shared with the Sonata. The seats now include power side bolstering and extendable seat support. Even the passenger's seat has 12-way adjustability.
Really, though, the sole interior complaint here is the total lack of plug-in points for rear-seat passengers. It's a bit of an oversight for those who will be driven in their Genesis sedan, rather than driving it.
Two engines are on offer, with most Genesis sedans sold coming with the 3.8L V6. Here, it makes 311 hp and 293 pound-feet of torque, slightly down from the outgoing model although Hyundai claims a broadened torque curve.
The other offering is a 5.0L V8 that cranks out an impressive 420 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque -- take note, Canadians are the only folks who can get this engine option with the all-wheel-drive grip to get the power down.
A little more on that all-wheel-drive system. Hyundai calls its system HTRAC (for obvious reasons), and it's capable of splitting torque through an electronically controlled wet-plate clutch in the transfer case. Up to 100 per cent of the power can be diverted to the front to claw you out of trouble, or the torque can be sent mostly to the rear to carve through a corner.
Depending on which of the three driving modes you select (Eco, Normal and Sport), the system diverts power to maximize either efficiency or performance, or any middle-ground between the two.
Come winter, the chance to really test out the Genesis' new all-wheel-drive traction can be found on the looping canyon roads of B.C.'s interior. Today, it's dry and sunny, which perhaps means dipping into this big car's sport mode.
Before that, I had a chance to sample how quiet Hyundai's cruise-liner is, and it's very convincing indeed. Equipped with a reprogrammed version of the eight-speed automatic gearbox, the Genesis has little in the way of wind or road noise and swoops down the road with near-total complacency.
There are those of you who may remember the old "handling by Lotus" badges you used to get on stuff like the Isuzu Impulse. Thankfully, Hyundai has left those off this car, even though they contracted the company to assist them with the steering and handling. Equipped with a new steering rack and reworked front and rear multi-link suspension, the Genesis was track-tuned at Germany's challenging Nurburgring.
So what? That and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee that an overly firm suspension will slop all over your pants. Happily, not here.
While the Genesis can boast a new stiffer chassis that beats both Mercedes and BMW in terms of outright rigidity, every effort has been made to give the suspension supple compliance. And yet, in spite of this comfort-first strategy, it's still very good to drive.
At nearly 2,000 kilograms in weight and with that long wheelbase, the Genesis is a bit too large to be a proper sporting sedan. There's a lot of mass here; on a winding, wiggling country road, you can really feel the heft. However, it is very composed, and the V6 has all the passing power you'd ever need. It sounds pretty good, too.
The V8, on the other hand, sounds even better, yet might not be worth the premium on power alone. The stated 420-hp output betters something like the BMW 550's twin-turbo V8 on paper, but the forced-induction engines have instantaneous torque curves the big Hyundai Tau V8 simply can't match.
Hyundai pairs the V8 with various luxury upgrades, such as the aforementioned high-resolution centre stack, and also introduces a more adaptable suspension. Controlled by the same Sport/Normal/Eco system that handles steering effort and transmission settings, the Genesis sedan's Continuous Damping Control is a two-stage system that's intended to reduce roll and improve the liveliness of the chassis.
Back to back with the V6 model, the V8 feels, if anything, perhaps a little heavier. It's got plenty of speed and power, but the V6 isn't just the value choice, it's maybe even a little bit more fun.
In Eco or Normal mode, the steering is a bit light and loose -- ideal for highway touring perhaps, but Sport mode really firms things up nicely. There's still not quite the level of feedback a driving enthusiast could wish for, but this big car is easy to place on the road and handles elevation changes and transitions very well.
The all-wheel-drive system can be felt working behind the scenes, doling out power to allow for a rear-drive feel through the tighter corners. There's plenty of traction, and body roll is mostly controlled. For such a large, comfortable machine, it's a creditable performance.
From a safety standpoint, the Genesis has blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic assist and a further rear-looking system that warns of fast-approaching drivers before you pull out in front of them. There's also other impressive technology similar to that found in the optional driving assist package of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The adaptive cruise control is capable of slowing the car to a stop and will start up again if the stop is not longer than three seconds -- very handy for stop-and-go highway traffic.
A lane-departure system gives haptic feedback, rather than annoying chiming, and there's also a new lane-keeping system. This last will actually nudge the car back into the lane and will even self-steer briefly if you take your hands off the wheels. It's not as complex as Mercedes' system and tends to wander. It's more a driving aid than one step closer to your own personal chauffeur.
Where luxury once meant a finely crafted good that was both expensive and durable, the modern definition has changed. Think of something like a mechanical watch you could pass on to your grandkids, or a durable pair of handmade shoes that might last a decade or more -- heirlooms have been mostly replaced by branding.
Cars such as the air-cooled Porsche 911, or the W124-chassis Mercedes-Benz E-Class might fall into the former category, timeless items built to last. But that's a thing of the past. These days, as the automobile surges forward in complexity to the point where most are more smartphone than car, the definition of luxury seems to be about a big badge up front to let everyone know how much you spent and how successful you are.
In that way, the Genesis sedan is perhaps a bit like its far-off ancestor, the Hyundai Pony that hit our shores some 30 years ago. The humble, value-priced Pony didn't try to be anything more than what it was designed to be. This car, too, is similarly honest in intent; it's a machine that promises the experience of high-end motoring without the pretensions.
In a world of front-wheel-drive, bargain-priced Benzes, compact luxury crossovers and coupe-styled BMW sedans, it's a refreshing experience. Add in the new levels of grip, and the German marques need to watch their six -- Hyundai's catching up, and fast.
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis Sedan will be available for a base price of $43,000 for the 3.8L Premium. The car tops out at $62,000 for the 5.0L Ultimate trim.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014