Cheetos lip balm, Smith & Wesson bicycles and Colgate dinner entrees were all failed products of ambitious brands that strayed too far from their core business.
Imagine branding frozen dinners with a household name consumers normally associate with spitting into a sink.
Hyundai took a different approach when it mounted an incursion into the luxury automobile market. It introduced its first large sedan in 2008 as a “progressive interpretation of the modern rear-wheel-drive sports sedan.” The Genesis sedan, which cost $533 million to develop, featured a speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering, multi-link front and five-link rear independent suspension, and three engine choices including a 375-hp V8.
The Genesis was marketed as a premium Hyundai – an oxymoron in the eyes of some – to test the waters and see how it would be received. It was received pretty darned well. It was named 2009 North American Car of the Year right out of the gate, among other awards.
After racking up seven years of decent sales, Hyundai took a leap of faith and spun off Genesis as a separate luxury brand in 2015, reportedly a response to customer demand. The second-generation Hyundai Genesis was rebadged as the first-generation G80 sold through Genesis Motor dealerships. The larger Equus sedan morphed into the range-topping G90.
By time-releasing its entry into the lucrative premium market over several years, Hyundai carefully cultivated buyer expectations and avoided delivering a stillborn brand.
To dissect the G80 properly requires revisiting the 2015 Hyundai Genesis, which was the first model year of the second-generation Genesis gracing Hyundai showrooms. The car’s already generous wheelbase was stretched another 7.5 centimetres for a smoother ride and more interior space.
Engineers specified more than 50 per cent high-strength steel – the old car was already stiffer than a BMW 5 Series – which improved chassis rigidity by 40 per cent, a change that enhanced refinement, crash safety and the car’s handling characteristics. A new multi-link rear suspension and a beefed-up front suspension with aluminum shocks provided greater wheel travel and an even better ride, thanks to some tuning work by Lotus Engineering.
The extra-length wheelbase yielded a very roomy cabin with an abundance of rear seat legroom – although headroom in the back comes up a little short, oddly. Materials chosen for the dash, doors and seats are as good as any in the class, and there’s no evidence of cost-cutting to be seen. Every panel, switch and stitch inside the G80 fits with great precision.
With the move to its own branded showrooms in 2017, the Genesis G80 earned more standard electronic aids, such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, and infotainment features befitting the class, centred around a large display screen topping the stack. Not to mention the de rigueur analog clock perched there, too. If there’s one quibble, it’s the trapezoidal shapes in the dash that look all too familiar.
“I was very disappointed that a car costing three times as much as my Elantra still very much resembled my Elantra while sitting in the driver’s seat,” wrote one car shopper in a post.
Outward visibility is very good due to plenty of glass all around. The robustly built G80 earned a five-star overall rating in U.S. government crash tests, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded it the best possible rating of Good in its moderate-overlap front-impact, small-overlap front-impact, side-impact, roof strength and head restraint tests.
Propelling the Korean executive-class sedan are two distinct engines: the G80 3.8 uses the base 3.8-litre V6 rated at 311 horsepower and 293 pound-feet of torque, while the G80 5.0 has a 5.0-litre V8 that produces 420 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. Both are paired with a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission. The V6 models come standard with rear-wheel drive, but can be fitted with optional all-wheel drive; the V8 is rear-drive exclusively.
For 2018 Genesis introduced a performance variant with its 3.3T Sport trim powered by a twin-turbocharged V6, good for 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of thrust, along with 19-inch wheels, an adaptive sport-tuned suspension, bolstered seats, carbon-fibre interior trim and dark chrome exterior trim.
With 2020 being the last of the second-generation G80 models, the sedan received only a few changes, including an improved blind-spot warning system and an upgraded infotainment screen. It’s also the last year buyers can find a G80 with a Mad Max-approved V8 under the hood.
Driving a premium car should not require a lot of compromise, and on that front the G80 delivers. Two of the available engines provide spirited acceleration, although it’s the V8 that commands the most respect. Zero to 97 km/h comes up in five seconds flat working through the silky autobox. The 3.3T Sport matches the V8 in vigour, thanks in part to the all-wheel-drive system managing wheelspin. The base V6 achieves highway speed in 6.6 seconds – somewhat tepid performance given the segment it has to compete in.
The G80 is a well-mannered land yacht, not a sport sedan, but the average buyer should be satisfied with the way it drives. The electric steering responds precisely to driver inputs and the car has adequate grip (0.84 g) despite its heft. The ride quality is never harsh or unsettled, but it doesn’t do as good a job soaking up potholes as the luxury-class leaders. The cabin is as quiet as the best of them, however, by banishing wind noise, tire roar and drivetrain drone.
OWNERS TALK RELIABILITY
The Genesis G80 stands out in a class chock-full of fetching mid-size luxury cars, a distinction that has more to do with its reasonable price and compelling engine options. Owners cite the car’s refined drivetrains, creamy ride, high-tech standard infotainment and safety features, and unbeatable bang for the dollar.
“Replaced a Mercedes-Benz C300 that was a good car with ridiculous service costs,” reads a post by a G80 buyer. “I miss the star on the hood less and less every day I drive this superb luxury car. Value and content reminds me of when Lexus introduced the LS400 in the 90s.”
The weaknesses aren’t numerous; critics point to the somewhat thirsty engines, anonymous styling and some copycat details borrowed from the European brands, including the winged Genesis badge (with apologies to Aston Martin, Bentley and, well, Aerosmith).
Mechanically speaking, the G80 is a gem. Followers of J.D. Power’s quality studies already know Genesis has risen to the top of the charts, rivalling Lexus for product quality. But when we examined owner ratings of the second-gen Hyundai Genesis sedan that debuted in 2015, we found a number of complaints involving flickering headlights and other electrical faults, such as intermittent power-steering assist.
Hyundai must have worked overtime to address component failures, because by the time Genesis Motor opened its showrooms, the 2017 G80 had seemingly been exorcised of its demons. While there were a few reported lingering issues with display screens and lit warning lamps, the newer cars are largely glitch-free.
What did raise the ire of owners are the sedan’s fast-wearing Michelin tires, which sometimes needed replacing after only 50,000 km. The culprit may be the G80’s pudgy curb weight at more than 4,600 pounds (2.1 tonnes). Others complained of the optional Continental tires that developed bulges and had to be replaced out of a concern for safety.
Other owner gripes – in small numbers – revolve around noisy sunroof panels, cracked leather on the steering wheel, drivetrain vibration, fragile windshields and fussy sensors tied to the adaptive cruise control and emergency braking.
All in all, the Genesis G80 may very well be the second coming of the Lexus LS400 sedan that dropped so many jaws back in 1990, as one owner alluded to. With its bank-vault construction, available V8 power and copious refinement, the G80 checks all the boxes for shoppers looking to reside in the lap of luxury – sans the big bills.