It is a sacrilege to think that the Hyundai Genesis coupe can be compared with such automotive all-stars as the Nissan 370Z, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger. But the Hyundai is right in there with the size, pricing and performance.
Hyundai aimed at the best when it planned its Genesis coupe, and it has raised expectations in what a four-seat, two-door sports car can be.
With two engine and transmission choices, Hyundai built an image car that could be a young person's sporty car or a track-tested performance car. Genesis was built with sophisticated engineering, a tight body and four-wheel-independent suspension, scorching-fast styling but a very livable cabin with fold-down seats, refined plastics and quality assembly.
Sport coupes are image cars. They look good on the driver, but they can also take a toll on the user who will endure large doors that limit access in tight parking, low seats with bolstered sides that restrict entry and exit, a wide turning circle and blind spots.
Hyundai applied work-arounds to all of those typical coupe quirks to create a compelling car. But as well done as it is, the Genesis coupe has the presence of a car trying to be like something else.
It is based on the Hyundai Genesis sedan, a large, rear-wheel-drive car that was voted 2009 North American Car of the Year. The rear-drive coupe is completely unique but with intense work to keep down weight and provide a 55:45 front/rear weight distribution.
Hyundai benchmarked the Infiniti G37 (the softer version of Nissan Z), Mazda RX8 and the BMW 335i. From Mazda, the Genesis pulled some irreverence and attitude, the BMW inspired some suspension tuning and, clearly, the Nissan Z had an imprint in styling and even in the exhaust note of the 306-horsepower V-6.
There is no shortage of good coupes already entrenched in the market, including the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Civic, Scion tC and Mitsubishi Eclipse coupe.
The four-cylinder Genesis matches or betters the competition in price, equipment and safety features. And soon there will be a Genesis R-Spec four-cylinder model.
The Genesis statistics look pretty good when compared with the competition:
V-6 curb weight, 3,397 pounds, is less than most.
The 37.4-foot turning circle is tighter than most.
Headroom of 39.2 inches will allow entry by the big and tall.
0-60 acceleration in less than six seconds for the V-6 is credible -- and on 87 octane with a 27-mpg highway rating.
Pricing begins at $22,750 and goes to $31,750 for the top-line Track model.
The base 2.0T with six-speed manual is very well-equipped, including remote locking, 18-inch alloy wheels, power windows and mirrors, air conditioning and cruise control. Safety features include six air bags, electronic stability control with ABS, brake assist and active front head rests.
The 2.0T Premium model with five-speed automatic ($25,000) adds a power driver seat, 10-speaker Infinity audio system with XM satellite radio, proximity key with push-button ignition, navigation system, power tilt and slide sunroof.
I spent time in V-6 and four-cylinder Track models, but drove neither on a track. The V-6 Track is not intensely sprung and bone-jarring, but it sticks to the road and makes sharp cuts through corners. It seems to stretch out and lower at high speed; steering inputs are minimal. The six-speed Shiftronic gives quick shifts, but there is no engine rev on downshifts, which can feel blunt and unsettling.
For both models, the standard brakes are large, 12.6-inch ventilated discs at the front, 12.4-inch solid rotors rear. The Track models get 13.4/13-inch Brembos front/rear, which grip without grabbing but will stick the car like using a nail gun on a bulletin board when it's demanded.
The 2.0T manual gearbox could be smoother with shorter throws. The engine revs hang between shifts, which I expect is for emissions control. But it doesn't make for graceful engagement of shifts, and it seems like it would be an awkward adjustment on a track when timing is everything. The 210 hp (30 mpg on the highway) is great for the standard model, but the Track buyer may wish for a little more power. And at $27,625 as tested for the 2.0T, I'd try real hard to scrape up another $4,250 for the 3.8 Track.
I liked driving the Genesis coupe. It didn't take its pound of flesh in exchange for making me look good in the car -- and it scored big for turning heads. But does that mean someone who has always wanted a Nissan Z -- or a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger -- will buy a Hyundai instead? Or will a Honda owner defect?
And does it matter?
Hyundai is growing in all model directions. It has the least expensive new car on sale in the United States, a luxury-class sedan and just about everything in between. It is encouraging that there is money in the budget to create a fun car, not just a car that meets the core needs for survival.
2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track
Body style: compact, four-passenger, rear-wheel drive, two door
Engine: aluminum, 306-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 with 266 foot-pounds of torque
Transmission: six-speed Shiftronic
EPA fuel economy estimates: 17 mpg city, 27 highway; 87 octane recommended
Trunk space: 10 cubic feet
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.2/44.1/56.7 inches
Length/wheelbase: 182.3/111 inches
Curb weight: 3,397 pounds (3,389 manual)
Standard equipment includes: Proximity Key with push-button ignition, automatic temperature control, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, aluminum pedals, aero wipers, 10-speaker Infinity XM-MP3-CD audio system with iPod port, steering wheel audio-cruise controls, Bluetooth phone connection, auto-dimming mirror with compass, integrated garage-lighting controls, black leather-trimmed seats, power sunroof, heated front seats, power driver seat with manual lumbar, Xenon headlights and fog lights, Brembo brakes (13.4-inch front discs with four-piston calipers; rear, Brembo, 13.0-inch discs with four-piston calipers) Safety features include: six air bags (including side curtains), electronic stability control with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, active front head rests
Base: $31,750, including $750 freight charge; price as tested, $31,875
Options on test car: iPod cable, $30; floor mats, $95.
(set image) May070709-visual.jpg (end image) (set caption) The 2009 Hyundai Genesis coupe wraps power, performance and styling into a comfortable package. Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Co. (end caption)
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com .
Distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.