Hyundai aims high with new premium sedan

Concept Genesis, which Hyundai will unveil at this week's New York International Auto Show, would’ve been unfathomable a decade ago.
Concept Genesis, which Hyundai will unveil at this week's New York International Auto Show, would’ve been unfathomable a decade ago.Hyundai
/ Source: Forbes Autos

A concept car that Hyundai will unveil at the New York International Auto Show this week would’ve been unfathomable a decade ago. In an effort to move further up market and away from its budget-car roots, the Korean automaker is unveiling a rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered sport sedan concept called the Concept Genesis. The car scheduled to debut at the New York auto show is very close in spec to a production model that will be part of Hyundai’s 2008 lineup.

Despite speculation among industry analysts and watchers that Hyundai may spin off a luxury sub-brand akin to Honda’s Acura and Toyota’s Lexus, current plans are to put the Hyundai name on the new RWD premium sedan that will sell for around $30,000. “We see that there’s another luxury tier and we’re definitely studying that channel intently,” says product spokesperson Miles Johnson. “But at this point we feel the Genesis is close enough in price to a few of our other models — the Azera and Santa Fe, for example — that it is suited for the Hyundai name.”

In terms of performance and amenities, the Genesis will go a step further than Hyundai’s current premium sedan, the Azera, and will be aimed directly at buyers considering Inifiniti, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz models. “We want to produce a high-quality, rear-wheel-drive, luxury sedan for people who don’t necessarily need a luxury badge to feel good about themselves,” Johnson says.

The production version of the Concept Genesis will be built on a new rear-drive platform (internally called “BH”). Its V8 engine should boast more than 300 hp and 300 pound-feet of torque and will be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with “Shiftronic” manual control.

Concept Genesis press materials describe a sophisticated new suspension system that optimizes electronic stability control and a 53/47 front-to-rear weight distribution for superior handling dynamics. (Front-wheel-drive cars like the Hyundai Azera aren’t as nimble and fun to drive, in part, because they tend to be front-heavy.) Hyundai says its new sport sedan will do 0-60 mph in “well under” 6.0 seconds, but stresses safety features such as a rearview camera and multiple airbags. It will also have a “keyless start” feature found on many new luxury sedans.

“This car, if it looks as good up close, is a steal for around $30,000,” says Steven Szakaly, an economist at the Center for Automotive Research. “Lincoln and Cadillac had really better watch out.”

Industry analyst Aaron Bragman of research firm Global Insight agrees that a premium sedan based on the Concept Genesis would be a great value. But competitive pricing alone isn’t enough to secure a spot in the luxury segment. “People don't necessarily buy a BMW because it's a good value, they buy it because it's a high-performance machine with the exclusivity to match,” Bragman says.

Hyundai ranked third overall in the 2006 J.D. Powers and Associates Initial Quality Survey, behind Porsche and Lexus. By improving quality and making more appealing products, the company has drastically improved its brand perception among consumers since first entering the U.S. in the 1980s. Still, analysts say that cornering a part of the luxury market may prove difficult for Hyundai. “It will be important to maintain quality and ensure a very good and positive ownership experience,” Szakaly says.

The production version to be launched in 2008 will be only slightly different than the Concept Genesis. “We are really pushing for the name Genesis, but that may change as well,” says Hyundai’s Johnson.