Lexus lookalike: 2009 Hyundai Genesis

How long does it take to rebuild a reputation? In the case of Hyundai, about 23 years. To
me, the arrival of the 2009 Hyundai Genesis signifies the complete rehabilitation of the Korean automaker from the ashes of its arrival in the United States in 1986. Not just an excellent car in its own right, the Genesis provides an exceptional value that allows Hyundai to stack up against any manufacturer in the world.

Those with long memories may recall the arrival of Hyundai in the United States with a car called the Excel. Several hundred thousand were sold at bargain-basement prices the first year the company did business here, and many wound up sidelined, either for repairs or for repossession from less than credit-worthy customers.

That first-year debacle haunted Hyundai for years, even after it expanded its product line, sharply improved its quality, and rebuilt its sales. This year Hyundai is the seventh most popular brand in the United States, outselling Chrysler, Jeep, Subaru and VW. On the JD Power Initial Quality list, Hyundai ranks 13th, ahead of such worthies as Acura, Volvo (F), and BMW.

How good is Hyundai? For my money, the Genesis is the finest car that you can buy for $42,000. That included a rear backup camera, front and rear parking assist, and a navigation system. In size and execution, you can argue that it challenges the Lexus LS 460 — and with a base sticker price that’s nearly $30,000 less. The Genesis is bit taller, three inches shorter, and weighs 700 pounds less than the Lexus. The lighter weight contributes to its excellent fuel economy (17 mpg city/25 mpg highway) vs. 16/23 for the Lexus. During several hundred miles of mostly highway driving, I averaged 23.8 mpg.

In shape, and character, the Genesis is also Lexus-like. This is a formal four-door sedan, with an emphasis on refinement over pizzazz, and comfort over performance. Those looking for driver feedback from the steering wheel or sporting composure through the twisties won’t find it here. Like the Lexus, the Genesis is powered by a 4.6 liter V-8 that is quiet, smooth, and powerful, and, in a pinch, it can get the Genesis to 60 miles per hour in under six seconds.

Where the Genesis cannot compete with the Lexus, of course, is on brand reputation.  That may take another 23 years. But the Hyundai circle H logo, which appears on the trunk lid, looks better on the Genesis than on any other Hyundai I’ve seen. And since it doesn’t carry the kind of price premium that Lexus and other luxury makes do, it should be especially appealing in these coming months of diminished economic expectations.

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