May 8 (Bloomberg) -- Some brands become hot while others fade. You may be rocking 7 For All Mankind jeans right now, but what happened to the high-waisted Z. Cavaricci pants of your youth? It was only your friend who wore those in the 1980s, right?
So too goes the cool factor of car brands, a dynamic to which some buyers are keenly attuned. Volkswagen AG’s Audi, for instance, went from the mild-mannered milquetoast of the German brands to a juggernaut of hip with an annual Super Bowl ad and star turns in the Iron Man movies.
Perhaps you’re a buyer with other things to worry about. Cool is less important than practicality, as long as you don’t look MC Hammer ridiculous. South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. was once anything but hip. These days, it’s attained a middle ground. Comfortable and just this side of fashionable, it’s like the Levi’s 501s of the auto world.
The Genesis sedan, first released as a 2009 model, was Hyundai’s initial real foray into the upmarket category. Offered as both a V-6 and V-8, it started in the mid-$30,000 range and was meant to undercut far pricier European and Japanese brands.
The Seoul-based company presented the Genesis as a competitor to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW 5 Series, although in truth it more likely enticed buyers away from Honda Motor Co.’s Acura and General Motors Co.’s Cadillac.
Now we get the 2015 model, an entirely new sedan. (The Genesis is also available as a coupe, as yet unchanged.) The 3.8-liter V-6 starts at $38,000, several thousand more than the outgoing base price. The V-6 also comes with all-wheel drive for $40,500. The top line has rear-wheel drive and a 5-liter V-8, beginning at $51,500.
In almost every way, the new Genesis is bolder. The design is more audacious, the technology more sweeping. Yet the most significant difference is the way it drives, which feels far more connected and involving.
Both Hyundai and its corporate sister, Kia Motors Corp., are masters at bench-marking competitors. The original 5.0 Genesis was supposed to give the V-8 equipped BMW 5 a run for its money. You can dress in a tuxedo, but it doesn’t make you James Bond. Likewise, bench-marking a BMW doesn’t mean you can attain the Munich-based brand’s ineffable sense of driving anima.
This time the Genesis has come much closer. Does this mean it drives as well as a 550i? Definitely not, though BMWs aren’t as fun to drive as they used to be either. (Blame all the added weight, complexity and electric rather than hydraulic steering.)
Hyundai has been paying attention to the details, especially the subtleties of suspension and steering. I test-drove the 5.0 model, with 420 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. The V-8 is the more sporting-minded player in the line, and there’s plenty of thrust when you want it.
Better, though, is the suspension, which is more knowing than its predecessor, more sorted when pushed, but without the harshness and stiff ride that often come with sports sedans. The tires -- 19-inch (48-centimeter) are standard on the 5.0 -- are not as stiff and unyielding as a BMW’s, and I was less concerned about hitting potholes and bending a rim, a constant worry in a 550i with big wheels.
There’s also a noticeable difference in the character when you switch the setting from normal to sport. The car tenses pleasurably and allows you to carve clean, flowing lines on difficult roads.
The Genesis generally feels more comfortable in its own skin. That skin is more handsome, too, with a bigger, horizontally laced grille that looks less like the last generation Mercedes S-Class. There are also new character lines on the hood. (Neither the Genesis nor the pricier Equus sedan has Hyundai emblems on the front, as if distancing themselves from regular, more plebian Hyundais.)
The rear brake lights use LEDs, and they look fabulous all lit up. The back of the car is bloated, though, which may help add trunk space but makes it less handsome. Front interior room is good, and Hyundai says it has the best cargo space in its class. The rear seats are just adequate, and my head brushed the top of the roof.
The winning note to many brand agnostics will be the billion bits of technology available on the Genesis. There’s little actual innovation except for a somewhat dubious system that detects excess carbon dioxide in the cabin. Otherwise the impressive roster of standard and optional equipment reads like a laundry list of other luxury makers’ selling points.
You’ll enjoy many of these details, including the ability to open the rear trunk even when your hands are full. The key fob in your pocket sets off a proximity sensor when you stand directly behind the vehicle for a few moments, and the trunk will open by itself. Ford Motor Co. introduced a similar feature several years ago, though you have to kick the underside of the bumper to activate the self-opening gate.
And, like new models from Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, the car will brake by itself if it senses an impending collision and will nudge you back into your lane if you stray.
All that makes the new Genesis compelling, especially as it’s priced far below potential competitors. It may not be hip, but for many buyers it will be more than fancy pants enough.
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 at a Glance
Engine: 5-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Gas mileage per gallon: 15 city, 23 highway.
Price as tested: $55,700.
Best feature: Drives like a car that’s thousands of dollars more.
Worst features: Still doesn’t feel especially distinctive.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this review: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin
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