Years and years ago, when Hyundai Motor first launched a Genesis model line in the mid-2000s, I was amused and intrigued by first the sedan and then the coupe, but not terribly impressed. The cars were “meh.” They were whelming – not overwhelming or underwhelming, just meh.
It’s quite clear that Hyundai’s bosses in Seoul, South Korea, could see the meh of it all, too. Their goal was to create cars that would challenge the best of the German brands. The problem: they did not have the expertise within Hyundai to do anything of the sort. It surely was a painful revelation, but necessary for the next steps in creating what in 2015 became the fully-born Genesis brand.
Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all time, is known to have said, “If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to do.” For Koreans, as with many Asian cultures, the concept of “face,” or as it’s called in Korea, chaemyoun, indicates reputation, influence, dignity and honour. For Hyundai to admit to itself, internally, that the company decidedly lacked the expertise and talent needed to create a rival to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz was a challenge to the deeply embedded cultural concept of chaemyoun.
Yet Hyundai chose to do something not all companies or even individuals are willing to do. Hyundai went to Europe and hired a raft of exceptionally talented designers, engineers, product planners and marketers.
Luc Donckerwolk, who had headed design at Bentley, Lamborghini and Audi, took on overall design responsibilities, under Peter Schreyer, the German responsible for the New Beetle, Golf and Audi TT, who joined Hyundai subsidiary Kia in 2008 then took over as head of all Hyundai Motor design operations.
The Genesis chief designer used to pen Lamborghinis. The former head of the BMW M brand heads up chassis tuning and performance across the company. Designers who have been associated with the C-6 Chevrolet Corvette, the Bentley Continental GT and Bugatti’s Chiron are on board.
Development experts from BMW and Mercedes-Benz are dotted throughout the company. Marketing people from German luxury brands have come on board to create a brand experience for today’s luxury car buyer, one who is tech-savvy and painfully impatient, brand conscious and demanding.
In short, to make Hyundai’s Genesis more than just a brand that sells dressed up Sonatas, the company went out into the world and did something that, for example, Honda has been forever unwilling to do with its Acura brand and Toyota has fallen well short of doing with Lexus: hire superb talent with no requirement that it be home-grown – and to hell with what that might mean in terms of chaemyoun. Don’t underestimate what a big deal this is.
The 2020 G90 is the latest and best example of what Genesis has become capable of doing, thanks to the commitment of Hyundai’s leadership and the skills and talents of the high-priced help brought in primarily from Europe to teach the company how to make the very best German cars in the world – even if they are sold by a South Korean parent car company.
The brand’s flagship is a stunning automobile, an $89,750 saloon with all-wheel drive (AWD), powered by a creamy V-8 (5.0 litres, 420 horsepower), and stuffed with technology (wireless smartphone charging, 900-watt Lexicon surround-sound audio with 17 speakers, adaptive control suspension, an array of easily accessed connected services and more). The Nappa leather seating if soft to the touch but firm enough for long drives. The “open-pore” natural wood trim is delicious to the touch and the eye.
The car is a triumph but I do not expect Hyundai…um, Genesis, to stop here. There is a fierce, competitive spirit inside Hyundai, a hunger to prove to the world that this upstart is the equal or better of the best in the world. This story will be worth watching.
In the meantime, Genesis understands that it can’t charge the same prices as established luxury brands. The cheapest Merc S-Class, with a V-6 turbo, starts at $108,100. If you want a V-8 S-Class, you start at $117,000.
A long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ starts at $101,000, again with a V-6. The biggest V-8-powered XJ begins at $126,500. BMW 7-Series? You begin at $119,800 and a 745Le xDrive sedan is no less than $122,300.
Here’s the question: Is one of these European beauties worth $30,000 or more than a G90? If you just assess the cars head-to-head, from the Genesis’s five-link suspension, to the imposing design, from the staggered-width aluminum alloy wheels to the 12.3-inch touch screen and all the rest, the Korean car holds its own. Only the brand itself lack cachet.