By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Want to make a BMW (or Benz) guy cry?
Show him your new Hyundai Genesis R Spec. Tell him about the 429 hp 5 liter V-8 (and 5.2 second 0-60 time). Ask him about his $61,700 BMW 550i (or maybe his $59,790 Benz E550).
Now show him your Hyundai’s $46,500 window sticker.
Better have some tissues handy.
WHAT IT IS
The R Spec is the high-performance version of Hyundai’s mid-sized Genesis sedan. While the standard Genesis is powered by a 3.8 liter V-6 (333 hp) with a 4.4 liter V-8 (378) optional, the R Spec comes with a larger — and much stronger — 5 liter, 429 hp V-8 as well as an eight-speed automatic transmission, 19-inch wheels (available with ultra-performance “summer” tires) and additional suspension/trim upgrades.
Base price for the R Spec is $46,500 — only $2k more than Hyundai charges for the 4.4 liter-equipped Genesis and $15,200 less than BMW asks for the less powerful (400 hp) 550i and $13,290 less than Mercedes charges for the also-less-powerful (402 hp) E550.
The R Spec package is new for 2012 and represents Hyundai’s determination to offer equivalent (or better) performance than the mainline German (and Japanese) premium brands at a steep discount.
Equals the performance of the V-8 BMW 5 (and almost matches the $85,700 M5) for $100 less than the base price of the four-cylinder (and 240 hp) BMW 528i.
Eight-speed transmission (BMW 5 has a six-speed; Benz E and Infiniti M have seven-speeds).
Low profile let’s you use what you’re packing.
Really posh seats. Equally posh ride.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
It’s still not a BMW — or a Benz. Or a Lexus/Infiniti. Status-wise, at least.
Just one bodystyle — no wagon version.
No available AWD.
Eight-speed automatic could shift more sharply when asked to.
Interior’s nice enough but that may not be quite opulent enough.
UNDER THE HOOD
The centerpiece of the R Spec package is a direct-injected 5.0 liter V-8 producing 429 hp.
This is a big number — without even having to add the qualifier, for the money.
Consider: The price-equivalent 2012 BMW 5-Series (the $46,700 BMW 528i) has four fewer cylinders and almost 200 less hp. On the far end of the scale, the BMW M5 — with a turbocharged 5 liter V-10 — musters a solid 500 hp. But at $85,700 the M5 is literally almost twice as much as the R Spec Hyundai.
And it’s only slightly quicker.
An M5 does 0-60 in 4.8 seconds; the R Spec Hyundai gets there in just over 5 flat.
That 2-3 tenths of a second difference may matter in a timed drag race, but it’s a toss up on the street.
Another target competitor is the Benz E-Class. For V-8 R Spec money (actually, $4k more than R Spec money) you’ll discover the most you can get at a Mercedes store is a V-6 E-Class and 6.5 seconds to 60 — and that is a difference you’ll feel. To get a power-performance equivalent V-8 E-Class you’ll need to spend nearly $60k — and that will get you 402 hp and just about even-Steven, 0-60.
The $55,370 Lexus GS460 comes closest to being price-equivalent and also offering V-8 power, but its V-8 offers a lot less power (342 hp) which actually is only slightly more power than the Hyundai’s base V-6 (333 hp).
Other competitors include the excellent (and excellent value) $47,050 Infiniti M37, but while its 330 hp V-6 is no gimp, it’s also no threat to the Hyundai’s big guns.If you step up to the V-8 M56, you achieve parity — 420 hp and 0-60 in 5 seconds – but you’ll pay to play: $59,100 to start or $12,600 more than the R would cost you.
There’s also the Cadillac CTS — another very appealing (and not unreasonably priced) rear-wheel-drive luxury-sport sedan. But no V-8, unless you step up (way up) to the limited production CTS-V, which starts at $63,215.
The R Spec’s five liter V-8 is paired with an eight-speed automatic, which is state-of-the-art equipment. Of the current crop of cars in this class, only a couple of others — including the Lexus GS — have eight-speed transmissions. Even the mighty Infiniti M only has seven speeds.
Don’t expect great gas mileage — but the R Spec’s 16 city, 25 highway is (again) actually better than several less-powerful competitors, including the Benz E550 (16 city, 24 highway) and BMW 550i (15 city, 22 highway).
Also, while premium fuel is recommended, it’s not required. The BMW and Benz both require premium fuel only. They get you at the door — and they get you at the pump, too!
ON THE ROAD
Beauty and the beast.
The same week I had the Genesis R Spec I also had a new Camaro SS. Both had virtually the same horsepower under the hood but, the Hyundai’s hp was far more real-world usable than the Camaro’s.
Every cop does not look your way — or immediately fixate on your car when you are driving in a pack of cars. It is a life lesson you must be over 40 to appreciate that driving a car not known to be fast will let you get away with actually driving it fast. You get the same reward, of course, in other swift sedans but the established players — the BMWs and Benzes — are also known offenders and besides that, some cops just resent what they believe to be “rich dicks” driving expensive BMWs and Benzes. And will treat you dirty over nothing, if they get the chance to. I’m telling you this as someone who test drives a different new car every week. My driving doesn’t change — and I’m the same guy this week that I was last week. But I get a very different reaction from cops depending on the car I am driving.
And the Genesis is a car that just glides under the radar, arousing few hostile glares from cops in part because it doesn’t — yet — have the reputation for being fast.
Or being a “rich dick” car.
It also drives beautifully — as do all the cars in this class. But not all the cars in this class have 429 hp. And that 429 hp will get you going effortlessly and speedily and immediately. At any speed. Give it another 25 percent throttle at 60 and you will be doing 90 just like that. I’ve written previous laments about all this glorious power, felonious if you actually use it. But even if you can’t set the cruise at 130 and settle back for a short two-hour drive from DC to New York, you can thread your way through traffic like OJ in his prime — or ruin the day of that kid in the SS Camaro next to you at the stop light.
There are two other things about the Genesis to know. Even though it is a very high-performance car, it is also a much more gentle car than a BMW M or something like that. The ride is soft — and the seats even more so. To me this is a wonderful thing. A luxury car should be a comfortable car above all — and this the Genesis is. But that doesn’t mean it heaves in the curves like a Gelandewagon with the ASR off. Body roll is minimal and though the steering is a bit light and vague it’s nonetheless micrometer precise and the car just tracks wherever you point it. Like all the other cars of this type, it has threshold grip limits far higher than nine out ten drivers’ abilities. They are all easy to drive very fast — so fast, in fact, that you’ll never approach the car’s limits unless you’re a pro driver or at least a coulda-been pro driver — so G scores and all that are academic. Just stuff to talk about. What matters, real-world, is that this thing is fast as hell, handles better than you can probably drive — and is as comfortable in everyday service as a fist-class suite in a new Airbus 300.
The only fault I found is that the transmission is a bit lethargic — for this type of car. And also that there’s no Sport or other mode to wick it up a bit. You can control the up and downshifting manually — and this helps. But I’d advise Hyundai to program in more aggressive shifting, including holding your gear in a downhill curve. The eight-speed automatic is super smooth, just not quite mean enough to match the mission.
Other than that, I dig this car.
AT THE CURB
This is a good-looking, if somewhat derivative, car. The best — and most original — angle is from the front, where it has its own unique face. But, again, this stylistic quietude has is own rewards. The car is elegant, but doesn’t demand attention in the way a Benz or BMW does. The closest to it in curb character is the Lexus GS, another subtle smoothy. But Hyundai, taking a page from the Lexus playbook, has priced the Genesis so much lower than the GS — just like Lexus did to Mercedes Back in the Day — that I expect a lot of would-be Lexus buyers are going to be sorely tempted to go Hyundai.
I mean, why not?
Recent history proves the point. Legions of ex-Benz and BMW buyers eagerly snapped up equivalent (but far less costly) Lexi in the early ’90s. I see no reason why current Lexus (and BMW/Benz/Infiniti/Lexus) prospects won’t do the same thing again today.
I mentioned the great seats, right? But did I mention you also get nearly three inches more headroom in the front than in the Benz E-Class? That is a huge difference in everyday comfort and usability. Oh, and also, you get 1-2 inches more front seat legroom than in the Benz or the BMW 5 — 44.3 inches vs. 41.3 inches and 41.4 inches, respectively.
The back seats in the Genesis are likewise more generous, with 38.6 inches of legroom vs. 35.8 in the Benz E and 36.1 in the BMW 5.
Trunk capacity — at 15.9 cubes — is also greater than the BMW’s (14 cubic feet) and exactly matches the Benz’s.
The cabin itself is nicely fitted out, albeit a little plain-looking — and has all the expected bells and whistles — as well as some that are not expected, including an interesting Auto Hold button that lets you take your foot off the brake at a light or when stuck in traffic while the car is still in Drive, without the car moving forward. It’s a convenient item and so far as I know, no one else has it.
There is the expected (for a car in this class) mouse-input controller on the center console. I’m not a huge fan of these things, but everyone else seems to be because every car in this class has something similar. It goes with the turf, I guess.
The Lexicon 17 speaker surround sound audio rig, on the other hand, is just tremendous.
You can’t (for now) get a wagon or order AWD — two features that are offered by Benz and BMW. And true enough, the Hyundai nameplate hasn’t — yet — got the cachet that BMW and Benz (or Lexus) have.
But Lexus also lacked cachet once upon a time — and the times they are a’ changin’.
THE BOTTOM LINE
On the merits, I see no reason why history can’t repeat itself here. This car — and this brand — has the stuff to play on the same field with the big boys and delivers that stuff for a lot less.